Razer’s $399.99 Hacker Development Kit 2 is a weird beast, especially if you’re looking at it as a consumer-level virtual reality headset. It’s not as capable as the $499.99 Oculus Rift consumer headset, nor the $799.99 HTC Vive.
The hardware’s latest suite of software makes it relatively easy to get up and running, but the cabling and tracking solutions are more on par with the Oculus Development Kit 2.
So why are we were talking about it at all?
THIS IS FOR ENTHUSIASTS AND TINKERERS
Razer now feels that HDK2 offers enough value and ease of use with the new Windows Installer that people who just want a VR headset and aren’t interested in tinkering or development may consider this headset a viable option. There are also plenty of OSVR games ready to play and easily searchable via Steam.
The $400 price is competitive, and setup is easy enough for new customers to figure everything out on both the hardware and the software end ... hence the press being sent “review” units from Razer to talk about the product as a retail device and not just development hardware.
The biggest differentiator between this hardware and the consumer version of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive is the tracking. Both the Rift and the Vive offer at least two sensors, and the Rift can go up from there, but Razer’s HDK 2 is stuck with a single camera that sits on top of your monitor or mounted to the wall. This allows for depth tracking, but it removes the range and versatility of its competitors.
The upside is that you can take the HDK 2 apart and do whatever you’d like with it.
The hardware comes with an unlimited license to do whatever you want to the software or the hardware. If you want to tear it apart, improve the optics or add some sort of hand-tracking solution before reselling the rebranded hardware? You can. If you want an inexpensive virtual reality headset that you can take apart easily to explain how every part works for your classroom, this is likewise a good solution. The external USB 3.0 port also allows for other hardware or accessories to be connected to the headset, if you’d like to experiment with adding on hardware.
Students and developers even save 20 percent when purchasing the hardware. This is a headset that’s designed to be opened, fussed around with and then put back together, and that itself brings a lot of value for developers or students who may want to tinker or begin their own experiments with hardware by using a base that’s already functional rather than start from scratch.
It’s also easy to find compatible games on Steam; there is an OSVR tab you can select to see all the games that support the hardware and can be controlled with a standard gamepad.
BUT IS THIS A GOOD VR EXPERIENCE?
The resolution is comparable to what you’d get with a Vive or Rift, and the ability to adjust the distance between your eyes and the lenses with the sturdy dials under the headset mean that most people with glasses should be able to use the headset without them — a very welcome feature.
My biggest beef comes from the distortion you’ll see around your peripheral vision as you look around in VR. There is a very noticeable “warble” that happens as the image moves from the sweet spot in the middle of your view to the other edges of the screen. The cable from the tracking camera also has to be connected to both your PC and the headset itself, although all the lengthy cabling connects to a small box that clips onto your belt to avoid tangles.
Tracking with a single camera is also never going to be able to match what you get with the two sensors of the Vive or Rift, but the tradeoff is a lower price, especially for students or developers who can take advantage of the permanent 20 percent savings when buying hardware.
The ability to easily open the hardware to have a look around or to modify it yourself is also something that may not appeal to most people, but students or enthusiasts could see it as a major selling point.
The HDK2 sits in an interesting spot between the Oculus Development Kit 2 and the retail versions of the major virtual reality headsets, but Razer is ably filling a niche by giving the purchases unlimited latitude to hack or modify the hardware, even for reselling. If you’re only interested in a VR headset for playing games, I would still suggest the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. But the lower price, versatility and open nature of the HDK2 makes it an attractive platform for VR enthusiasts who may want to dig a bit deeper.