There is a new interesting project on Kickstarter called vrAse that reminds me a lot to Oculus Rift, however the goal of the project here is to provide you with an easy way to turn your existing smartphone into a stereoscopic 3D-capable VR and AR device. You can think of the vrAse as everything that the Oculus Rift provides besides the display and the display along with the extra features comes with your smartphone when you insert it in the vrAse. The idea is to provide an easy and affordable solution that can provide good results just by adding your smartphone in the mix and you are not limited to just a single model smartphone, meaning easy upgradeability at a later time by just changing the phone – for example to get higher resolution, faster processing for games, or better camera for AR. Sounds and looks very promising and the project is already getting quite a lot of attention and backers on Kickstarter, so you might want to check it out.
The makers of the vrAse are saying their device is good for use with different stereoscopic 3D content – the stereo 3D support is a key feature as the device uses very similar design like the Rift with lenses and Side by Side output on the display of the smartphone in order to achieve the 3D effect. This means not only for stereo 3D gaming, but for 3D videos as well as Augmented Reality (AR) applications and even for video capture of what you see. The major problem here is the general lack of content, just as is with most stereoscopic 3D solutions targeted at end users and it seems that the goal of the project is the hardware and not as much the content and software (unlike in the case with Oculus Rift). It is important to not only provide good hardware, but also help with the content for it and we already have some similar hardware solutions for turning your smartphone into a 3D-capable viewer available on the market that did not succeed precisely because the lack of content for them.
You can always say that there is a lot of stereoscopic 3D content available on YouTube that you can watch directly on your smartphone in Side by Side format and while this is true in general, the problem here is that there is another issue here. The thing that almost everyone conveniently forgets to tell you is that when viewing a 3D video on YouTube in Side by Side format it is not being displayed in the correct aspect ratio – instead of the full resolution per eye you get it with half horizontal resolution. And if you are converting stereoscopic 3D video in Side by Side format for watching it on your smartphone in the correct aspect ratio you will face another problem – lower resolution and black bars on top and bottom of the screen as most content is in wide aspect ratio and this does not work great on devices like the Oculus Rift and as the vrAse. The good thing is that you don’t need to convert video to a format suitable for your phone, but may instead just play it on your PC and stream it to the smartphone with the correct aspect ratio, though that may not be an easy thing to do for some people.
As for the games, there are still almost no games designed to be played in stereoscopic 3D mode with Side by Side output mode and though you may be able to stream games rendered in Side by Side 3D mode with TriDef 3D from your PC for example it again makes things harder for non advanced users. Furthermore being able to utilize the accelerometer of your smartphone as a head tracking solution would be nice, but it requires even more advanced skills and knowledge. And then there is the thing about the lag for the streaming and the control of the game action when streaming games in stereo 3D mode from your PC…
Moving to movie recording and Augmented Reality use. Here the camera of the phone takes a very important role. For video recording you will most likely be using a single camera that will output a single fullscreen video feed on the screen that would not be suitable for the separate image for each eye type of display that will be used, so a special software taking into account these specifics needs to be developed. The same goes for AR applications, you will need software that can offer augmented reality experiences that will output specifically in Side by Side format in order to work properly on a device such as the vrAse.
There are some more things to consider such as will the lenses provide distortion that needs to be corrected like on the Oculus Rift. Apparently not as such thing is not mentioned and as this would make the content support even harder even though as we’ve seem with the Rift this may also has its own advantages. The good thing is that the lenses will be interchangeable, meaning that they can be replaced with ones that can work for people with less than perfect vision (diopter correction) as apparently this design is also not great for people wearing prescription glasses. Then there is also the concern of “wearing” your smartphone close to your head for long periods of time due to the all of the wireless radios inside (GSM, WiFi, Bluetooth…) as that can be considered as a potential health risk by some people.
At the moment the estimated delivery for the vrAse is set for February 2014 with the lowest early bird price of 48 UK Pounds (all slots for these are full already), and the special (normal retail) Kickstarter price is 78 Pounds or about $121 USD or 90 Euro. Now, with all that said there is a lot of interest and potential for this device as it apparently is taking things much more serious than any similar product being released before both in terms of quality and functionality, but then again we should not forget about the useability and the content as well. I’ll definitely keep a track on how things progress with the vrAse and you might want to keep a track of the project even if you decide not to support it on Kickstarter at the moment.