Report: Valve OpenVR joins OSVR (open source virtual reality) initiative

Virtual Reality is almost here. A year from now there should be at least three consumer level VR headsets on the market (The Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and Samsung's Gear VR) with more soon to follow, including Sony's Project Morpheus.

It's great that the hardware is coming but the next big hurdle is some kind of standardization. If you're old enough to remember the days when PC games would only work with sound and video cards from specific hardware manufacturers, you're probably not looking forward to re-living those kinds of situations with VR. And from the other side of the equation, I'm sure developers aren't going to want to have to create different versions of their software for different VR visors.

As things stand today there seem to be three competing VR operating systems (I'm using that term somewhat loosely) headed to the PC. The Oculus OS (used in the Oculus Rift and Gear VR), Valve's OpenVR and OSVR which stands for Open Source VR.

According to a post at VentureBeat the situation may be improving. They're reporting that Valve's OpenVR is joining the OSVR initiative. They say that "Valve will support OSVR plug-ins on OpenVR, rather than adopting the standard as its own." and it's not exactly clear what that means to the consumer but I'm hoping it means your OpenVR headset will also run OSVR programs, and vice versa.

All told there are now 118 companies supporting OSVR, including game developers Ubisoft, Gearbox and TechLand.

The first OSVR dev kit is supposed to arrive in June and once both it and Valve's OpenVR dev kit are in the field we may know more about how easily developers can support both of these systems.

Even if this works out perfectly and we have just Oculus and OSVR left standing, that's still one system too many, unless someone comes up with some kind of middleware to make the hardware OS agnostic. Obviously no one is going to want to have to buy two (or three!) different VR headsets in order to have access to all the good VR content that comes out once these things mature, and no one wants to wind up with the 'also ran' choice.

The best we can hope for, I think, is a situation similar to modern PC video cards. You can have an Nvidia GPU or an AMD GPU and your software will work either one, though some titles will have more issues on one system than the other.

The worst outcome will be something similar to the iOS vs Android vs Windows Phone situation in mobile. One VR system will be an early favorite and the others will struggle to gain acceptance. That's fine if you happen to have picked the winner I suppose, but even then you'll probably miss out on some exclusives for the other platforms.

The good news is we consumers still have at least six months before we have to start researching which visor to buy. I'm guessing developers are already making hard choices on what platform(s) to support. Personally I'm probably going to take the easy way out and choose Project Morpheus on the PS4 since I'm not sure my PC is beefy enough to handle VR anyway.

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