It's just a prototype. The specs may change, and it might not look anything like this tomorrow. But LG's HMD Prototype already feels like it could be just as good as the HTC Vive -- currently the gold standard in VR headsets -- if not better.
That's not too surprising, because it's basically a clone. Like the HTC Vive itself, LG's new headset was developed to the specifications of Valve, the PC gaming giant that owns the platform -- Steam -- where compatible games will be sold. Like the Vive, it uses Valve's Lighthouse tracking technology to let you walk around a room, or reach out and grab things, thanks to a pair of spinning laser emitters. (No kidding.)
And the result -- again, like the HTC Vive -- is an experience that feels surprisingly natural. I picked up a bow in VR, nocked an arrow, and let fly almost as if they really existed in my hands.
It's a breath of fresh air compared to LG's last attempt at a VR headset. We called the LG 360 VR "practically unusable."
LG's new controller, based on Valve's "Viper" platform and similar to the original Vive design. Holding it, the curve reminds me of a phaser from "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
But why might you consider an LG headset now, if it's basically an HTC Vive? Well, there's the fact that LG's headset is better balanced, with a cushy, comfy ratcheting headband (which bears far more than a passing resemblance to the PlayStation VR headband) to keep it affixed to your skull. It's still a bit heavy, but LG says it'll get lighter.
There are also the updated controllers, based on Valve's newer "Viper" concept, which are a little bit easier to grip than the Vive's smooth surfaces, and what LG claims is slightly better tracking. (I had a couple jitters in my demo, but generally it felt fine.)
There's the display, too: a single LG-built AMOLED panel with 1,440x1,280 resolution -- per eye -- at a smooth 90 hertz refresh rate, with a 110-degree field of view. I could still see the pixels (the dreaded "screen door effect") but it was easy to ignore, and I was able to walk up close to text on a Windows desktop, inside the headset, and read it without straining quite as much.
Plus, the whole display flips up and out of your face if you need to take a break:
It's pretty cool.
Here are a few other random details that might matter to you:
- No built-in headphones -- yet -- but there's a 3.5mm headset jack on the headband so you can use your own.
- There's a passthrough camera on the front, but it's not enabled yet
- The headset uses refractive lenses, not fresnel-type lenses -- LG tested both, and decided the refractive has better contrast.
- There's no IPD adjustment yet, but a consumer version will include it.
- The headset uses a standard USB-C cable to connect to its breakout box, which has USB and DisplayPort jacks to connect to your PC.
- There's no HDMI input because HDMI can't support the panel's resolution, according to LG.
A betting man might wager that the single AMOLED panel, instead of two screens, might allow LG's headset to cost a bit less than the two-panel HTC Vive and Oculus Rift do today. (Industry experts have previously told me that doubling the electronics inside those headsets led to higher prices than originally expected.) Then again,Oculus just dropped the price of a full kit by $200.
The padded headband definitely looks like Sony's PlayStation VR -- which isn't a bad thing.
But really, the price, release date and all the pertinent details of an eventual consumer version of the headset are still up the air, according to LG.
The company says it's at GDC to get developer feedback, and it plans to actually change the hardware depending on what those developers want -- increasing the display size, reducing the weight and adding built-in headphones were all suggestions that LG mentioned before I even asked.