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Open Source VR - Heads-On with HTC Vive Cosmos
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:36pm 19/10/19 | Comments
We had a chance to go heads-on with the new HTC Vive Cosmos and walked away woozy with excitement...

Up First: System Specs:
  • Screen: Dual 3.4" LCD diagonal
  • Resolution: 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye (2880 x 1700 pixels combined)
  • Refresh rate: 90 Hz
  • Field of view: 110 degrees
  • Audio: Built-in stereo headphones
  • Required PC connectivity: USB 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2
  • Peripheral Ports: USB-C 3.0, proprietary connection to mods
  • Tracking: no minimum space requirements for standing/seated, minimum 2m x 1.5m for room-scale mode
  • Module Faceplates: Vive Motion Mod (ships with Cosmos) and Vive Cosmos External Tracking Mod (sold separately)
  • Vive Wireless Adapter support: Yes, sold separately with attach kit. Available PCIe slot required

Of all things, it was an interactive weightlessness installation in a museum where I was ‘space-walked’ around a black and white art ‘universe’ full of moving abstract images that I started to feel odd. Maybe it was the extra wines the night before, but this one interactive experience through the newly-minted lense of the HTC Vive Cosmos, which has an 88% increase in optics through its 2880 x 1700 combined pixel resolution, actually made me light-headed. I even had to sit down.

"There are numerous ports under the faceplate to allow Cosmos to develop over time depending on the types of additions third-parties and modders want to bring to their Vive party..."

Nandun Abeynayake, product manager for HTC’s VR business across ANZ empathised as he ran me through more tech details of the surprisingly light and modular Cosmos headset. I say modular because this is truly open-source; the faceplate is easily changeable, while the headset features internal and external tracking. There are numerous ports under the faceplate to allow Cosmos to develop over time depending on the types of additions third-parties and modders want to bring to their Vive party. HTC is also emphatically in support of an open-source, mod community.

“We wanted to future-proof the next step in VR,” he tells me as my sweated brow cools and my feet feel more planted in reality. I’ve never had an issue in VR spaces with things like vertigo or spatial unease. And this is not to be read as an indictment on Cosmos, rather, the clarity of that 88% increase jarred me enough coming off my home PSVR headset (that outputs at 720p). Once we’d had our break, I jumped back in, now armed with an expectation, and it was all smooth sailing. And by smooth, I also mean this new device simply sings -- a new “Vive Reality System” means moving forward users won’t solely lock themselves into endless thumbnail click-to-click screens -- rather, the idea will be to realise a more fluid UI (for lack of a better way to describe it). And of import, Abeynayake reminds me that Cosmos is equally compatible with the Vive Wireless Adaptor, so you know, untethered and all that.

The Cosmos headset is also really comfortable. The built-in headphones have multiple positions for variable audio comfort and ‘room’ options (as in, say, having one up higher than the other to make sure your kids aren’t burning the house down while you’re half lost in a virtual world), while the emphasis on being more lightweight just makes it feel less like you’ve put on the Batman cowl from the movies, instead retrofitting Adam West’s paper mache cowl from the 60s. In a sort of analogous irony. Ahem. Moving on…

One of the main reasons for the visual leap in Cosmos is that HTC jumped deep into LCD tech, minimising the “distance between pixels” in concert with “real RGB displays”. This makes the usual VR “screen-door” effect largely a side-effect of yesteryear. Most of that came from the tech information we got in written form, but what I can express is that the experience is clearer. Like, 100% 88% clearer. What this does is, maybe unexcitedly from a hype point, help with text in games and apps. That museum experience I mentioned is largely community-run, which means installations and submissions go through an open vetting process. However, successful VR artists (and this is a growing field to keep an eye on) get their space in the museum and like real-life museums you get a plaque explaining the point behind the piece. And with Cosmos this was as clear as I’ve ever experienced.

"I declared VR all but floating in still-waters not too long ago, but a boom exists upon the horizon that threatens to reignite this..."

Get excited, people, about being able to read text. Seriously though, do.

The HTC Vive Cosmos is actually available now for around $1300 dollarydoos and firmly stands as the best headset on the market. HTC has eyes on keeping the VR world growing, both in users and participation through design and modding, and the Cosmos best represents this stance through its future-proof design -- especially from a hardware perspective. You can bring software and hardware here -- this is the PC equivalent of open-source in the VR world and will set the standard. I declared VR all but floating in still-waters not too long ago, but a boom exists upon the horizon that threatens to reignite this (still young, contemporarily) subgenre within gaming and smart tech. When we reach untethered, affordable site-designed (read: made for VR exclusively) games, apps and UIs the Lawnmoer Man movie references will finally come full circle.

The pipe dream has been realised, now it’s just a matter of ensuring water flows, nothing leaks and other plumbers can come in to to build upon the fountain foundation. And make something free-flowing. And drought-free.

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