The AuraVisor is an untethered ‘all in one’ VR headset which strive to address issues with both mobile and desktop VR. The Kickstarter has just passed its £100,000 goal, and we went hands-on with an early prototype to see how it’s shaping up.
Desktop VR, the kind offered by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, offers high fidelity visuals and will likely prove the testing ground for cutting-edge virtual reality in the short to medium term. Mobile VR, such as Samsung’s Galaxy mobile phone powered Gear VR headset, offers a wire-free experience that’s portable and shareable, but sacrifices visual fidelity due to hardware constraints – not to mention the fact that the experience is tied to a phone you most likely want to use for other purposes.
AuraVisor joins GameFace as the only headsets that sits between these two stools. It offers a low power 3D chipset, on-board battery for mobile use and is built on top of Android, potentially to take advantage of the growing list of Google Cardboard applications entering the ecosystem.
As luck would have it, the CEO of the company behind the project, James Talbot of Damson Audio, is based near me, so I reached out to see if I could take a peek an an early version of the unit that backers supporting their Kickstarter campaign can expect to see.
The unit as stated is self-contained and comprises logic board, battery, what looked to be aspherical lenses and a 1080p LCD panel. The plastic housing also includes navigation and menu control buttons on the underside of the unit. Its battery adds a little heft but it’s a pretty lightweight piece of kit. Secured to my face via the now obligatory Ski-mask style strap it didn’t feel overly heavy. One note: the nose bridge will currently be painful for most users, Talbot warned me ahead of time that this was the case and they’re already on with fixing the ergonomics.
In use, the headset’s LCD panel is surprisingly crisp and clear. This is no OLED display, so persistence artifacts are present, but blacks are surprisingly good and pixel fill is tight, meaning gaps between the elements are pretty small. This means that screen-door was present, but wasn’t overly distracting. The FOV felt quite low in comparison to DK2 or Gear VR, but Talbot assured be they’re shooting for a 100 degree diagonal figure for the shipped versions. The in-built IPD adjustment worked quite well, I was eventually able to get a pretty clean looking image with some fiddling – no word on exact range for this as yet. The focal adjustment is an oddity, radial dials atop the unit apparently bend the screen closer or further from the lenses, an approach that raised a few questions which hopefully we’ll be answering soon.
Applications are presented via a bespoke menu system which is controlled via the underside mounted controls. A 4-way button layout for navigation with back and enter buttons within the same cluster proved a speedy interface to move about the UI.
I only had a small amount of time with the unit, but tried a couple of 360 movies and a Zombie shooter the name of which escapes me at present. Visually the panel does pretty well, but as these applications are adapted versions of off-the-shelf Android software, the latency in head movement seemed quite high. 360 movies seemed to be rendered at a low frame rate too, but Talbot stated this was something at an application level they were working on.
In terms of 3D grunt, the 1.8 GHz quad-core Rockchip RK3288 APU seemed to do reasonably well rendering the Zombie title, with frame-rates veering between an estimated 30-60 FPS.
The menu system right now doesn’t obey head-tracking – i.e. it’s attached to your view constantly. That said, it was intuitive and speedy to navigate with, with the physical buttons on the AuraVisor’s underside proving a boon when compared with the less precise Gear VR touchpad.
That’s it for now, but I can confirm the project is indeed real and the team is working hard on ironing out the issues noted above. Content is perhaps still a concern for me, and perhaps the biggest challenge for the UK based company to overcome. It may well be however that Google’s VR initiatives work very much in their favour in this regard, with potentially more VR optimised content being created by developers. I’m due back for a look at the unit once things have progressed.