Razer just announced a bunch of ambitious things here at CES, including an open source initiative to jumpstart the virtual reality ecosystem, complete with its own VR headset to get devs started. Is that headset any good, though? Uh... let's just say it's no Oculus.

Keep in mind that the headset I just tried is a prototype of an inexpensive development kit, so I wasn't exactly expecting it to be top-notch. It's a tool, not a product. Unlike the Oculus Rift, Razer doesn't intend to sell this device to gamers, or have it compete with anyone. Razer plans to build VR controllers instead.

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But it's just so far behind the latest Oculus Rift prototypes, and the Samsung Gear VR, and Sony's Project Morpheus, that I feel kind of sorry for it.

It's not that this Rift lookalike is particularly uncomfortable to wear, or that the screen is bad or anything like that. It's actually got some really nifty features like fully adjustable lenses and padding made of bamboo carbon microfibers that Razer claims are hypoallergenic and antiseptic, so you can pass it around to friends without worrying (as much) about sharing germs.

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The aspherical lenses also mean the images don't need to be all distorted and spherical, and the screen can be a shorter distance away from your head, which in turn means the device can be smaller and not stick out quite as much. The two-element lenses weigh more, though, so it's not any better balanced on the head.

Look ma, no distortion!

The problem is that in just about every way that counts, the OSVR prototype is laughably far behind the rest of the pack. The field of view is uncomfortably tiny: I felt like I was boxed in on the sides. 1080p may sound like high-definition, and 60Hz may sound fast for the screen, but competing headsets are already going way beyond both. What's a fairly glassy, smooth experience with the competition is pixelated and a bit blurry when you turn your head.

And the problem with virtual reality is that you're either there or you're not. You feel a sense of presence or you don't, and then how long the illusion lasts. I wasn't there. I punched some buildings with robot arms, but it was definitely me in a headset playing a simple video game, not me in the giant robot suit I've always wanted.

This headset is totally open source, totally hackable, according to Razer, so maybe it drastically improves from here. I sure hope so! No way Razer (and partner Sensics) will convince developers to build for this open ecosystem instead of Sony, Samsung, or Oculus if they don't have a quality headset to show. The $200 dev kit won't ship till June, so that's a little time to figure things out.


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