StarVR: The rising virtual reality star that caught E3 by surprise (hands-on)


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Now that everyone and their uncle is making a VR headset, it's getting harder for newcomers to stand out. But there's always room for new products that push boundaries, and Starbreeze's PC-based StarVR headset is trying to do just that.

Anyone who's familiar with the specs of virtual reality headsets is going to do a double-take when they look at StarVR's spec sheet. While most current headsets use either a 1080p or Quad HD panel split among two lenses, StarVR uses two Quad HD panels – one for each eye. This gives it an insane total resolution of 5,120 x 1,440.

StarVR's unique two-screen approach also means it has a wider field of view: a ridiculous 210-degree FOV, which the company says covers more than 75 percent of vision for us humans.

Needless to say, we were eager to strap this monstrosity on to find out whether those specs translate into a more immersive experience. In some ways, it did.

Starbreeze's demo of Overkill's The Walking Dead was one of the most effective virtual reality experiences I've had. Armed with a shotgun, I was pushed around in a wheelchair in the virtual world, while I sat in a real wheelchair in the demo area. A Starbreeze rep even gave my chair some gentle shakes to add to the sense of presence, as I blasted away at "walkers."

The shotgun controller felt lifelike – I had to pump it after every shot – and was mirrored with imperceptible latency in the virtual world. There was even a satisfying click every time I pumped another round into the chamber. Aiming felt accurate and lifelike.

A game where you're confined to a wheelchair is a pretty genius crutch for VR. It's on-rails, which cuts down on the potential for motion sickness (I experienced none), and also adds to the sense of presence, as both the real you and virtual you are sitting on your tushes.

So the demo was quite the roller-coaster ride. And we mean that almost literally, as these guys could get away with selling tickets for this demo at Disneyland. But what about the headset itself?

Well, the resolution and field of view were very impressive. Maybe not to the degree that its specs would suggest (twice the pixels doesn't make it twice as immersive as the Gear VR or Oculus Rift), but it certainly doesn't hurt. The FOV had a slightly angular (rather than circular) shape to it, which was a bit odd at first, but once we jumped into the game it didn't detract at all. Being able to take in such a wide landscape only added to the sense of presence... and in a game like The Walking Dead, there's a practical aspect as well: a wider field of view means you're more likely to see zombies coming.

There were a few things working in the other direction. First, we couldn't wear glasses under the headset – and it also didn't have any focus controls to compensate for lousy vision. So if you need corrective lenses, you're either wearing contacts or seeing things a little blurry. Hopefully one of these fronts changes before StarVR's consumer launch.

There was also a little bit of judder (the virtual world would shake very slightly every now and then) in our demo, suggesting that the game may still require a good deal of work before it's ready for prime time. Or perhaps those two Quad HD displays simply require a gaming PC that the demo couldn't quite provide.

There's a layer of polish that we're starting to see with rivals like the Oculus Rift that StarVR hasn't yet found.

Still, StarVR impressed us enough to consider it another major player in these burgeoning virtual reality days, along with the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, HTC Vive and Gear VR. Once they fix the software judder and find some kind of solution for glasses-wearers, this spec-monster of a headset could sneak in and be worth keeping an eye or two on.

We don't, however, know yet how long you'll be doing that, as there's no word yet on pricing or a release date.