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Vrvana Announces Oculus Competitor With Onboard Cameras, Hardware Acceleration

by Mike Futter on Sep 16, 2014 at 05:50 AM

At GDC this year, I spent a lot of my time checking out different virtual reality solutions to see if there were any real competitors for the Oculus Rift. Sony’s Project Morpheus was the most impressive contender, with the mobile-powered Gameface branching off in the direction of self-contained experiences without a PC.

Since then, we’ve seen other names and technologies pop up, though none have seemed to offer anything better than the Rift. Vrvana, which is heading to Kickstarter today, is solving some of the problems that many VR proponents have identified with its upcoming Totem head-mounted display (HMD).

If you speak with anyone whose pondered virtual reality in the home, you’ll hear the same concerns echoed. Most of us can’t safely close ourselves off from the outside world. There’s also the issue of set-up and configuration with an external camera in a space where things might get jostled during normal use.

Whether these issues persist in the yet to be revealed consumer versions of the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus isn’t yet known, but Vrvana is tackling them right now. As you can see in the header image, the headset features two onboard cameras. These serve a couple of purposes.

Addressing a primary concern of home VR, Vrvana will enable the Totem to immediately switch to passthrough video. This will allow you to quickly look around your home environment without removing the HMD. The cameras also provide the opportunity for augmented reality and “reverse augmented reality,” that is tracking your hand movement and modeling them in the game.

The cameras also address the problem of motion tracking differently than the Oculus Rift and the Project Morpheus. Both of these feature an external camera looking at the wearer. The Totem points outward, tracking the features of the room.

Vrvana’s device offers 1080p resolution and features 90-degree field of view (the same as the Project Morpheus, but less than the Oculus Rift’s 100-degree FOV), an OLED display, and adjustable lenses that can compensate for lens prescription. The HMD is usable by glasses wearers, but the tuning provides an option for those that don’t want to wear corrective lenses while in VR.

The system connects via HDMI to any source, and can model 3D (side-by-side) from game consoles as virtual reality right now. The Totem is currently compatible with all Oculus developer kit 1 applications, and Vrvana is working on getting DK2 experiences working.

The prototype I wore was a good proof of concept, but didn’t yet feature the OLED screen. This led to increased persistence due to the LCD. The head tracking also wasn’t perfect, requiring some software tuning to prevent drift (something easily surmountable down the road).

The clarity was impressive, rivaling some of the best experiences I’ve had with a Rift or Morpheus. The demo was brief, but I’m interested in seeing how the Totem evolves and whether it will be a legitimate competitor long-term.

In order to make a go of it, the company has launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $350,000 CAD ($316,000 USD). Developers can back at the $495 CAD ($446 USD) level to secure a unit. The HMD comes with all the necessary cabling, documentations, and code in order to get to work. Included plugins will allow the Totem to work with Unreal Engine, Unity, CryEngine, and Havok.

You can read more about the Vrvana Totem on the Kickstarter page.