The lights are on
One of the big challenges that virtual reality hardware pioneers need to surmount is the convenience conundrum. Making sure that users can easily get their headsets on and into the experience quickly is crucial. One company is looking to take that a step further by completely cutting the cord with a self-contained unit.I had the opportunity to use Gameface's current prototype in a number of demos, and while it isn't yet up to the level of the Oculus Rift and Sony's Projet Morpheus, it has the best chance of any of the other experiences I tried at GDC to make a dent in the market. It's important to understand that Gameface's approach is fundamentally different than that of the two heavy hitters.First, Gameface is 100 percent self contained. The two prototypes that CEO Ed Mason had with him are powered by a Tegra 4 and Snapdragon processor. When the final devkits are ready, he tells us they will contain an Nvidia Tegra K1. These chips are about one and a half times as powerful as PlayStation 3 and are capable of running Unreal Engine 4. Because Gameface is a self-contained unit, the company is working to establish a platform in addition to the hardware. And since everything is completely wireless, you'll be able to download content directly to the Android-powered headset and move between experiences without removing the device (currently via three buttons on the front of the device). Mason also says that because everything is natively installed (directly from an app store that will be coming), latency is minimized.As for audio, Gameface is exploring integrated headphones in the band. Bluetooth headsets will also be supported. Because Mason is committed to a completely wireless experience, you won't even need to plug Gameface in to charge. It will do that with a charging mat.I tried a breadth of experiences, including a virtual cinema (with the capability for multiple users to stream from the same device simultaneously), roller coaster, Oculus' "Tuscany" experience, and a couple of different games. The first was a spaceship title created by Defective Studios called CosmoKnots (available as a paid alpha now) that required me to maneuver through rings to collect barrels. The second was a Unity demo called Angry Bots. With regard to comfort and ease of use, it took moments to put on and remove the headset. The single, thick band is designed to wear halfway up the back of the head (instead of directly across the back). Gameface might benefit from a top strap to help distribute the weight, but it's fairly light and wasn't the least bit uncomfortable to wear.As a proof of concept, the current Gameface sells the convenience and potential of a Tegra-powered, self-contained unit. I'm more enthusiastic about it than other Oculus and Sony alternatives, and Mason is clear in his desire for Gameface to fill the need for a mobile solution. I'll definitely be ready to try it again once the Tegra K1 devkits are ready.
Image credit: Jon Partridge/Red Bull Gaming