Oculus open-source competitor on the horizon, with multi-function controller

With the SVVR Conference and Expo underway in California, now is perhaps a timely opportunity to take a peek at what is being billed as an open-source competitor to the Oculus Rift.

Techcrunch, along with several other technology blogs / websites, covered the news a few days ago that a Chinese start-up, ANTVR Technology, is developing an open-source, cross-platform virtual reality gaming set, called the ANTVR kit.

The kit is said to be compatible with games designed for the Oculus Rift and with most PC and console platforms. It can connect to any device offering direct HDMI output, or via an HDMI adapter if no direct HDMI output is available. Supported systems include computers, games consoles, iOs devices, Android devices, and even Blu-ray players.

The ANTVR kit headset design (images courtesy of ANTVR)
The ANTVR kit headset design (image courtesy of ANTVR Technology)

The new headset is currently a part of a Kickstarter campaign, which despite the backlash over the eventual acquisition of Oculus VR by Facebook, has already seen 450 people commit (at the time of writing) almost $170,000 of the $200,000 goal in just seven days, suggesting that if the rate of pledges is maintained, the ANTVR Kit could end-up going that same way as both Oculus VR and Technical Illusion’s castAR, and exceeding its modest target by a good margin.

The headset unit has a 1920 x 1080 high definition, 1.03 megapixel per eye, display with a 4:3 ratio offering a 100-degree diagonal field-of-view. A dual aspherical lens arrangement is apparently included to help eliminate image distortion when projecting standard ratio images. Like the Oculus Rift, it has an internal 9-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) for head rotation and movement tracking, and it can be worn with prescription lens glasses.

Comparing the ANTVR with Oculus SDK2 and Sony's Morpheus
Comparing the ANTVR with Oculus SDK2 (which actually has a 5-inch screen) and Sony’s Morpheus (credit: TechInAsia)

A novel aspect of the headset is the inclusion of a “glance window”, a slide-up port on the front of the unit which can be pushed up to allow the wearer to re-orient themselves in the real world or their keyboard. While still not a real solution for those needing to use the keyboard and can’t re-orient finger positions easily (no tactile indicators on F, J, and numeric pad 5, for example), it at least means the headset itself doesn’t need to be pushed up to the forehead to see things.

Is it a Controller? Is it a Joystick? Is it a Gun? It’s all Three – and more

A further interesting feature of the kit is the inclusion of the multi-function handset controller. When completely assembled, this forms a gun which can be used in first-person shooter games and the like. However, the “barrel” of the gun can be detached, and the “pistol grip” becomes a joystick, suitable for use with flight simulators, etc., or as a Wii-style controller. This further opens-out into a game controller handset.

The three-part handset
The three-part handset (image courtesy of ANTVR Technology)

A further unique aspect of the handset unit is that it also includes a 9-axis IMU, which tracks body movement and actions, allowing the wearer to control a degree of on-screen character movement via both head and body movement, and to simulate a range of actions (crouching, jumping, throwing a grenade…).

The dual 9-axis IMUs translate body movements into on-screen character movements
The dual 9-axis IMUs translate body movements into on-screen character movements (stills via ANTVR promotional video, YouTube)

An additional WHDI unit can be added to the assembled handset (and is shown in the image above), allowing for a reported low-lag (less than 1ms) fully wireless gaming experience. The WHDI unit is not supplied as standard, but the company states it will offer it for $200.

As with the Oculus Rift, a software development kit (SDK) is to be made available with the ANTVR kit. The open-source nature of the kit means that there is potential for it to be used with a range of systems beyond those for which it initially supports.

“We wanted to make a gaming system that is universal, but it’s very difficult to make your product compatible with every kind of gaming platform,” Qin Zheng, ANTVR Technology’s founder, said in the Techcrunch report. “We’ve worked on making it compatible with Xbox, PC, and PlayStation, but there are many other gaming systems. If there are developers with other gaming systems or just device developers, they can choose to modify the firmware inside our hardware.”

Qin Zheng, ANTVR Technology's founder
Qin Zheng, ANTVR Technology’s founder (image credit: TechInAsia)

The Kickstarter campaign is being run along very similar lines to the Oculus VR, up to and including an opportunity to visit the ANTVR Technology studios in Beijing for those willing to pay-out $5,000 (plus meeting their own airfares, etc.), which will also include guided tours of China’s capital. For $270-$300, supporters get the ANTVR kit and other goodies, while for $470-$500, supporters get the kit with a WHDI wireless unit as well.Those offering less that $270 get to choose from other reward options. Qin hopes that following the kickstarter campaign, ANTVR Technology will be able to start shipping kits in September 2014.

The following promotional video examines the ANTVR kit, and shows it in use with the additional  WHDI wireless adapter.

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