VR vs. Peripherals

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Remember the music genre? Though it may feel it, it wasn’t too long ago that everyone was excited to fill their bedrooms with plastic instruments to accommodate for the annual releases that eventually all but murdered the movement. Now many of us have small collections of fake guitars and drum sets shamefully nestled away in corners and attics, destined for distant future car boot sales and charity shop trade-ins. It’s a sorry sight, and we’d hate to see the same thing happen to virtual reality (VR).

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That’s not to say that VR is going to go the way of Guitar Hero and Rock Band; there’s little doubt at this point that the technology will see at least some degree of success. But right now the gold rush that has a range of starts ups and developers striving to become the must have peripheral for the Oculus Rift is starting to get a little overwhelming.

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey has himself said that input is ‘the next big obstacle’ for VR. It’s an issue we’re yet to crack. Yes, we can replicate the sights and sounds of VR, but locomotion continues to be an issue. As a result a range of third-party hardware has sprung up. Off of the top of our heads we can think of YEI Technology’s PrioVR full body motion capture suit, Sixense’s STEM motion controller, Virtuix’s Omni motion platform, Cyberith’s Virtualizer locomotion device and Survios’ VR platform as some of the frontrunners gunning to be the definitive companion to the Oculus Rift.

This article isn’t questioning the validity on any of those company’s technologies; each has its own set of pros and cons. But the sheer number of contenders right now threatens to fragment the incoming slew of VR supported videogames. What if a title supports the Omni but doesn’t include compatibility with the Virtualizer? They’re similar products made by different companies; can they exist in the same space? Will consumers have to risk a large amount of money betting on perhaps the wrong platform?

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The industry needs to decide on the best means of input and fast.  Otherwise we might be facing a confusing launch period in which the first wave of VR titles offer varying amounts of compatibility for varying types of devices, and the last thing anyone wants is to have a huge multi-directional paperweight sitting in their living room,or a high-tech motion suit hanging up in the wardrobe.

Of course, not each and every device will have to go. Co-existence is perfectly achievable, just not with as many peripherals that are currently eyeing our wallets. The smaller, less expensive methods do seem to offer more of a ray of hope. Matthew Carrel’s Stompz, for example, is looking to be a lower-cost, convenient solution to VR input. It’s an angle that might just prove to be a secret weapon against the bigger companies currently in the running.

Other answers, much to the dismay of these companies, may come from Oculus VR itself. It’s been suggested that the company is looking into its own form of input with the Oculus Rift, perhaps in the realms of hand-tracking. If the consumer version of the headset launched with an effective means of input then it could well spell doom for these other technologies that hoped to thrive on the device. Perhaps Oculus VR itself, now armed with the financial might of Facebook, could elect one of these devices an automatic winner by acquiring their work.

Over on the PlayStation 4 side, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) is left with its own problems with its Project Morpheus headset. None of the above peripherals have committed to the console. The company itself has promoted its PlayStation Move motion controllers as input devices, but without analogue sticks for direct control, they can only go so far. How will the company deal with its own VR problems?

Again, this isn’t an article aimed at choosing the winner itself, rather highlighting the need for one to be picked. It’s clear that VR isn’t best experienced with a traditional controller. A solution needs to be found, and it needs to happen before we have a battle on our hands in which consumers can only lose.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions. 

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3 responses on “VR vs. Peripherals

  1. Michael Sutherland

    Disclaimer: I work with PrioVR.
    This is definitely an important discussion to be had and I think it’s also one that device makers are concerned with as well. The VR industry is still very formative and generally everyone is very friendly, open and ready to collaborate. We’re certainly happy to work with other VR peripheral makers (and in most cases I think we’re all talking already) to find ways to take the burden off developers having to choose which platforms to develop for. The ITA (Immersive Technology Alliance) was brought together in part to talk about these issues and collectively find ways to prevent the type of fragmentation you mention in the article. However to have a truly hardware agnostic approach, IMHO the solution won’t lie in alliances or agreement between vendors but will need to come in the form of a middleware layer or (arguably better) direct engine support through some type of an abstracted interface into the virtual world. By exposing direct hooks into the player model at the engine level, the burden is taken off the developer to chose supporting hardware platform. In theory this would allow peripheral makers to at least have a base level support for all games running on the supported engine with the possibility to provide extended API’s directly. If Unity or Unreal doesn’t look into this (as they may not given how early VR is) I could definitely see opportunity for a dedicated VR engine coming along that would also address some of the performance issues that could be optimized for VR. I’d be interested to know what others think about this approach?

  2. kellan

    how about they all [edited by admin] off and let me use my 360-dualshock 3/4 controllers. ffs the only way i actually want to experience VR (until its actual holograms) is sat on my couch with a nice HD screen and surround speakers strapped to my head (Oculus rift/morpheus) and a controller. a PROPER controller. the Wii took a different approach game input and it resulted in 90% of the games being either dogshit or frustratingly awkward to control.

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