While the world of Virtual Reality has been around for a long time, I lovingly remember watching “VR Troopers” as a kid. We’re now living in a time where VR is happening here and now. It is the next big thing in gaming, whether it is the next step in gaming will remain to be seen, but for now it is the next big thing.
As is often the case, when new technology comes out it does so in different price ranges. From the cardboard cases you can slot your phone into all the way up to the “Ferrari’s” of the VR world, the HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift – and everything in between.
For many of us there is little interest in those cardboard phone cases which allow you to look at the night sky or play a few mobile games. But we also can’t justify the cost of the top of the range VR kits. Partially because it is a bit like when a new console comes out, there’s not many games designed for them just yet, and it’s a LOT of money to spend – it’ll be much more of a realistic purchase once more games make it more worthwhile.
A few of the phone VR headsets come in under the £100 mark. Whereas the PC Based kits are mostly over £500 – and those are definitely impressive bits of kit! But between those there aren’t that many options. There is the PlayStation VR (PS.VR) at £350 but at release there were few games available to justify that price point to us gamers who can’t afford all the latest kit at release. But even the £100 to £350 is a big jump up in price. If only there was something in between…
I present to you the MVR Ascend:
MVR is a new, emerging British company who are aiming to fill that current gap in the market. Last week Darkworld Gaming were invited to MVR’s press day in London showing off their prototype VR System which immediately piqued our interest, partly because of the technology they’ve implemented, but largely because of the price they’re planning to launch with.
The MVR Ascend is the middle ground between the cheaper smart phone based headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR and the PS.VR, both in cost and in what it can do. Part of the reduction in cost is due to, like the Gear VR, the MVR Ascend uses your smart phone as its screen. But rather than just running smart phone apps and games, it will actually be able to be used on existing First Person and Open World PS4, Xbox One and PC titles.
How you might ask? By using remote Wi-Fi streaming services that already exist, or shall soon exist. The MVR Ascend VR Headset uses your phone which is live streaming the content from your gaming system combined with a sensor mounted on the back of the headset which attaches to their own, custom made controller – which will be available in both PS4 and Xbox One variants – for whichever your preference is. This custom controller can also work stand-alone as a controller for the respective system when you’re not using the headset.
The streaming to phone features partially exist already – PS4 can stream to SONY phones, and the Xbox One can stream to Windows 10 tablets – all of which are slight issues that the MVR team already have plans in the works for. When the MVR representative explained how the system worked, my initial thought was “eeek, surely that has severe lag?!”, but I was assured that it was ok. And from our demo experiences I’d agree, it seemed to play just fine with no noticeable lag – when I pressed the fire button, the gun fired at the same time. It might not hold up for severe lag sensitive games such as my beloved Street Fighter, but most certainly for casual games it works perfectly.
The headset sensor and controller work together to effectively take over the use of the right analogue stick (or whichever input is used for “looking around”) to make it so where you look is where the camera moves in game. The controller will come with pre-loaded settings and configurations for many of the popular games (Black Ops 3, GTA5 and Project Cars were examples on the day), but can also be programed with your own configurations for other games, or if you want to tweak the titles included.
Due to this sensor controlling the “look function” technology MVR have implemented; their Headset can be used on just about any existing game on the systems it supports. Cleverly they have also thought about aiming difficulties. While looking and turning with the H1 Headset works quite well and soon feels fairly natural, aiming needs that little bit more finesse. Bring in the next little snippet of genius from the people at MVR. Holding the assigned button for looking down the sights or zooming in (usually L2 or LT) will allow the right stick on the controller to take back control for that precision snipe that you need.
On the demo day, when the sensor tech was explained I thought it’d work exactly like the right analogue stick on the DS4 controller in COD, but it’s not actually quite the same as there is no “centre” spot, so you actually need to be standing so you can turn 360 degrees, which may have taken me a good 10 minutes or so to figure out – I kept resetting the centre using the L2 aim down the sights button…
I’d be tempted to suggest including the option of having a “centre point” if it’s something MVR could do, so that it can be used just sat on the sofa rather than needing to stand. I have often compared VR to Wii Remotes – a cool concept but actually detracting from what gaming is for many of us. While the Wii Remotes had some cool features on first party games, they often made other games more hassle than you wanted. I remember playing a Tony Hawks Pro Skater game on the Wii, the kind of game you just sit down to relax after a long day at work, the last thing I wanted to be doing was waving my arms around like a loon.
And I have a similar concern with VR as a whole, not MVR specifically, some really immersive games could work fantastically with standing, walking around and using the VR headset to its fullest. But a lot of the time, when I come home to play games after a long day at work, or a long gym session, the last thing I want to be doing is wondering around, waving my arms around and all that jazz. I just want to sit down, relax and play some games while enjoying my beverage of choice. MVR adding the ability to use their headset more like how you actually use the right analogue stick, so look right and hold it to turn and then once you’ve turned enough return the view to centre to stay in a straight line – would mean you could enjoy VR in a more relaxing way. But those are general VR concerns, rather than the MVR Ascend.
Another feature that made it stand apart from the PC high end headsets is the tether free aspect. The only wire is the one running from the sensor to the controller in your hand, which they hope to turn wireless by launch as well. So you don’t need to worry about tripping over your wires while playing (just the coffee table!). The front of the headset also flips open, so you can easily find your cup of tea and have a drink without having to take the whole headset off – and possibly needing to readjust the fittings.
Many VR headsets have had awesome demo experiences, where they combine whichever VR headset you’re demoing with some top end audio headsets. But they “neglect” to tell you that those aren’t included with your VR Headset you’re expected to pay hundreds of pounds for. The PS.VR includes some in ear buds, but those hardly provide the same immersive experience as a surround sound over ear headset. Sure many gamers have these already, but many don’t. The MVR Ascend actually has over ear earphones built in to the headset. So no putting the VR Headset on and then trying to guess and feel your way around putting an audio headset over the top. It’s all built in! And MVR hope that by the time of release the built in earphones will be surround sound as well but currently also have built in controls for volume and call answering.
While many gaming and technology fans have been following the build-up of VR technology within the gaming spectrum since it first kicked off. Many, more casual, gamers are only just seeing it now that the PS.VR has launched and have started asking questions about VR in general. A common question I’ve seen asked on social media is that of headaches, focal lengths, wearing glasses and similar questions that people have with 3D cinema experiences.
The MVR Ascend comes with two lens adaptors, both a 2D and 3D variant, so you can switch into whichever you prefer, or whichever you find works better with the game you’re playing. The 2D variant also works perfectly with those who need to wear glasses. Once your lens of choice has been clicked into place there are tabs on the side of the headset to adjust the focal length to your needs for getting everything looking nice and sharp. The current focus method on the prototype was a little fiddly, but is something they do plan to greatly improve by time of release.
There is probably a lot of technology that they’ve thought about and put into this Headset that I’ve either not remembered or not yet read about, but if they do everything they plan to do, and at the prices they’re looking at, it could be a great entry level way to get into VR at home. MVR don’t intend to compete with the “Ferraris” of the VR world as they called them at the press day, the technology they have based their kit off is off on a slight tangent, but makes it much more affordable.
But that is where the gaming community comes in. As I’ve said, the MVR Ascend I’m writing about was just the prototype, and even that was pretty damn impressive for what it does. The team have allayed some of my VR concerns, as well as some of the concerns that I had about the technology they’ve used to make it work. I look forward to seeing how MVR progress.
But being just a prototype they are looking to improve it further by running a Kickstarter campaign to fund further R&D, cover production costs and to hire more staff to really make the MVR Ascend as good as it can be.
Kickstarter campaigns often come with early bird deals on the end product and this is no different, with the super early bird offer some of the headset and controller packages start at £129.99 – nearly half the price of the PS.VR. With release aimed at Summer 2017.
For more details on both the MVR Ascend (including lots of videos) and the Kickstarter campaign follow the link below to the Kickstarter page: