Razer's open-source VR project eyes the future with new partners, free headsets for university labs

razer OSVR HMD

Razer's new OSVR promises to make virtual reality open source and democratic.

Credit: Gordon Mah Ung

One thing that's been endlessly fascinating about the fledgling virtual reality industry is the amount of collaboration and cooperation going on between disparate companies. First you had Valve providing its research to Oculus, then Oculus and Samsung partnered up for GearVR.

But surprisingly it's Razer taking collaboration to even further extremes with its OSVR initiative. Announced back at CES, Razer’s OSVR (or Open-Source Virtual Reality) hardware seeks to standardize some aspects of VR tech so as not to alienate consumers with incompatibilities. Basically it's virtual reality's "We get one shot at selling this to consumers, or this technology goes back in the box for a decade" Hail Mary.

In support of this, Razer just announced a ton of new partners for OSVR, including Jaunt (maker of virtual reality films), 3DRudder (lets you use your feet in VR), Pixel Titans (the team behind the game STRAFE), and a bunch of others. This is, of course, in addition to OSVR's original slew of partners—Unity, Unreal, Intel, Sixense, Leapmotion, Gearbox. OSVR will have plenty of partners when it gets off the ground.

But it’s Razer’s other newly announced effort that may do even more for the future of virtual reality.

Razer OSVR HMD Back Gordon Mah Ung

Razer's OSVR HMD features a 1080p screen and with the plans and specs being published, you can build your own.

Priming the VR pump

Once the OSVR launches, Razer will now provide ten of its headsets for absolutely free to any eligible university setting up a VR lab. The program sounds great for the VR ecosystem as a whole. Razer’s offer drastically lowers the barrier for students to hack together VR software and hardware, which could be a huge boon for the market. Ten Oculus headsets would cost a school $3,500 by comparison.

Of course, it could reap big rewards for Razer and the OSVR initiative specifically going forward, too—getting Macintosh computers into classrooms was an early coup for Apple, and the same when Microsoft cut in with Windows 95 machines.

I still don't really know what Razer's play is with OSVR. The company claims it's not an Oculus competitor, but it is one just by nature of "consumers probably won't buy multiple VR headsets." Regardless, the company's goal of "an ecosystem designed to set an open standard for virtual reality input devices, games and output to provide the best possible VR game experience" is noble.

But even with all this jockeying for positioning there’s still—still—there's no consumer-grade Oculus Rift on the market. Hell, with the exception of the ultra-expensive GearVR ($200 for the headset plus the cost of a Galaxy Note 4) there's no viable consumer VR platform on the market at all. I'm sitting here with my DK2 on twiddling virtual thumbs.

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