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gdc 2014

Seebright Is Tackling Virtual Reality With Smoke And Mirrors

by Mike Futter on Mar 19, 2014 at 12:47 PM

Virtual Reality is one of the predominant themes at this year's GDC. Sony and Oculus are clearly the headliners, but others, like Seebright, are tackling this revived medium in different ways.

Unlike Project Morpheus, Oculus Rift, and even Cortex, Seebright is creating immersion without isolation. The headset, which is currently in prototype form, sits on top of the head and relies on a magnetically attached mirror to reflect the image down and into the eyes.

The image is generated from an iPhone (Android will be coming later), which is inserted into a "nest" at the top of the unit. In order to put it on, CEO John Murray had to fit the Seebright onto my head. It was heavy and uncomfortable, and given the calibration required to line up the mirror, it's hard to see how the company will reach its goal of a 90 second setup.

I tried the fully reflective lenses designed for virtual reality. The half-silvered augmented reality lenses weren't available.

The first demo was a space shooter, though Seebright's nine-axis proprietary controller isn't yet ready. Instead, I used a second iPhone touchscreen. It was a suboptimal situation, even though I could peer under the reflectors to see the screen.

It wasn't as well-designed for a virtual reality experience as something like EVE Valkyrie, and it was hard to find my orientation. I didn't feel immersed in the experience at all.

The second demo was a port of a game called Rube Works. There wasn't much to it beyond a demonstration that the view was, by design, extremely limited, which broke the immersion.

Seebright does have a few things going for it. Because it is designed to build upon the technology already available in mobile phones, research and development is focused on improving the optics. Additionally, if the company is able to reduce the headgear's mass, it provides an alternative for glasses wearers.

Seebright's device might not be ideal for gaming given the choice to eschew immersion. However, for other functions, such as entertainment viewing, it might be better suited.

It needs more work, especially in the areas of user experience and convenience. I can't imagine wearing the prototype for extended periods of time, especially since the few minutes I was using the device gave me a headache, possibly due to the game content competing with my exposed peripheral vision.

It's too early to suggest that Seebright's approach to VR is incorrect, but if it's going to compete with the heavy hitters, improvements need to be made. The company is launching a Kickstarter soon (no funding target has yet been announced), and I'm interested to see how developers respond to this entry in the burgeoning market.