Earlier this week I talked briefly about a potential problem with the deluge of VR products that is apparently incoming: VR fragmentation.
As evidence that this situation is bound to get worse before it gets better, I'll point you at FOVE. FOVE is a VR visor currently on Kickstarter where it is doing well. It has almost met its $250,000 goal as I'm writing and may well have done so by the time you're reading this post, and the campaign still has 42 days to go. A $399 pledge gets you a FOVE headset with an anticipated ship date of May 2016, but anyone who's ever backed a Kickstarter project knows not to put too much faith in anticipated launch dates.
FOVE's hook is that it includes eye tracking, which sounds pretty interesting for a few reasons. First, it is supposed to feel more natural since in the real world we move our eyes first, then only move our heads if we need to, when looking around us. Second, it's supposed to reduce hardware requirements since FOVE lets image resolution taper off on the periphery of where we're looking. In other words the object you're focusing on is rendered using the highest resolution possible but objects far from where you're looking (but still in the viewport) are rendered at lower resolutions. This is called "foveated rendering" (which is where the product gets its name) and it is also supposed to reduce simulation sickness. Third, you can control software just via eye tracking which, in tests, has been used both to play video games and to enable disabled people to interact with the real world just via eye movements.
Here's the Kickstarter pitch video:
So that's the pitch. But I still have questions. Who will develop for FOVE? Will people who pledge wind up with a great VR visor that has little to no software? This is the fragmentation question I keep coming back to. If you're a VR developer are you going to support the Oculus Rift, and SteamVR, and OSVR, and Project Morpheus, and FOVE as well? And if you are going to support all these platforms are you going to customize your program to take advantages of the strengths and weaknesses of each one?
FOVE says their SDK easily integrates content from Unity, Unreal Engine and CryEngine and that it'll be easy to port your VR content into FOVE, but how many developers will then spend the additional time take smart advantage of FOVE's eye tracking rather than just 'shoveling' their content from a VR platform that doesn't include this feature?
Setting aside the fragmentation issue, there's some question as to what the requirements are for FOVE. The Kickstarter pages says both "No high-powered gaming rigs required for AAA rendering at VR resolutions." and that "A computer with dedicated graphics card with display port output capable of running modern, graphics intensive games at WQHD (2560x1440) at 100FPS or greater is recommended." Clearly the FOVE folks and I have very different interpretations of what constitutes a high-powered gaming rig.
Now don't get me wrong, I think FOVE sounds very cool and I'm glad that they're getting the backing they need to move forward. I just feel that the VR landscape seems really uncertain and I personally would rather wait to see how things are shaking out next spring before I commit money to a specific VR visor, even if it means I have to pay a bit more when the time comes.