Home Features Interviews Alienware's Joe Olmsted on the current state of VR

Alienware’s Joe Olmsted on the current state of VR

One step closer to a holodeck.

Stevivor used PAX AUS to chat about all things virtual reality (VR) and Mixed Reality with Joe Olmsted, Director of Gaming Products at Alienware.

Steve Wright, Stevivor: Two years ago, it was all VR. VR was this gigantic, huge thing. We were all going to a headset; I don’t think that’s really happened. That said, what’s your take on VR? Is it going the way of Kinect — a novelty?

Joe Olmsted, Alienware: To me it’s been adopted faster than what I expected. It is still very nichey. The investment by game devs are growing. We’re working with [brands like Oculus to see what] the specs are to make certain that it works with everything we have. It’s backward compatibility options for everything that we have.

I think Microsoft is kinda the game changer with¬†Mixed Reality. You have to devote space to an Oculus or a Vive. You have to have your light boxes set up, space laid out, and you gotta have padded brickwork. Microsoft got rid of those. They put them in the device itself, and it sees your hands this way, but it also allows you to control the OS from within the VR environment. Right now, there aren’t any great games for it. There will be — Minecraft is a great game. I don’t play it, but it’s a great game for those who want it.

That’s going to bring the entertainment content to the couch in VR. The Mixed Reality platform works the same whether it’s for me or for you. We want it to be comfortable, so our headset sits above your, off your face, because if you wear a visor for an hour, I mean, it’s like a swamp.

This [headset] is not pushed against your face, it’s off your face to allow the heat and humidity to escape. It tilts up, so if someone walks in the room you can go, ‘hey! Hey mate.’ And put it back down.

We’re actually the heaviest visor because we add weight to the back. It’s kind of like a PlayStation VR kinda dial, so it’s comfortable on your head as well; it’s not so forward, and it comes with an incredibly long cord. We believe that it’s gonna allow you to start doing things in the living room without committing the room to VR, and it will bring the second level of content, which is entertainment, music, videos. It’ll be awhile before Fox is gonna project … Do a live on game day. I’d love to watch a movie in [Mixed Reality].

To me, that’s what is gonna help take… it’s a little bit cheaper too — not much, but it’s also a bit cheaper. I think it’s gonna bring VR into the people who weren’t ready to dedicate the space, ready to get into VR.

Stevivor: It’s a great technology, but still very cumbersome — the cable still leads to issues. Technology-wise, I think the dream is to have something that’s just doing all of that in front of your face without any cumbersome connections. How far are we away from that?

Olmsted: There are at least three major companies driving standards to do them wirelessly. I think all three have legs. I think that in the agency world we don’t mind having the best batteries on it, ’cause you eat a lot of batteries to play that game. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Zero Latency? That’s one extreme, because the PC’s on your back, but the technology to do that much data wirelessly is sixty gigahertz.

You can’t use it around windows ’cause it’ll bounce right through glass. You can’t do it in a room of windows… it bounces off everything and then finds the receiver. It’s called WiGig when it was a data only, but now it’s coming into video as well. I think you’ll see things go throughout that technology. We’re looking at peripherals with those kinds of transmitters. You’ll have a pack on, because the batteries needed to drive two LCDs… that’s not a watch battery.

Stevivor: I’m assuming there’s a cost barrier automatically attached to that?

Olmsted: No, no, no. I think it’s absolutely backward. If you’re gonna spend 1,000 bucks on an Oculus system, what is another $200 for a battery-powered one?

You’re gonna make that other $200 happen. When you get down to the Microsoft kit, which is cheaper, you can get just the headset itself. We bundle it here in Australia together with the hand controllers.

We think it’ll be a little bit cheaper for the average consumer. You might not be upset because you’re sitting down. You don’t want the wire because you’re moving around, but if you’re sitting down, just enjoy, some content. The cable being off over there, maybe you’re not so worried about it. Audiophiles did it for years right before they got wireless headphones. We think that’ll be more acceptable in that world, but for the gaming stations, you’re gonna strap on batteries and be thrilled to death that you can do it, and it’ll be in your garage.

We [Dell and Alienware] have a huge commercial organisation. They’re looking at the Vive for a number of commercial activities. Even in this show, last year, we created a relationship with a company that’s… an architecture firm for stadiums. I didn’t know you could specialise like that, but you can. They want to build in VR for their stadium stalls, that way you can actually watch. They are developing cameras that can superimpose you in the replays. That needs to be wireless.

All kinds of things are coming. Certainly there’s a lot more commercial activity than consumer, because commercial’ll pay for it. I think the second you can see a feature film on IMAX, on your couch, you’re not gonna wanna watch it in a flat room anymore. I think that’s almost a better application than what we’re seeing from most game offerings.

I think that content will slowly dial in. I know my mother, my seventy year old mother, loves playing Audioshield. She uses it when she’s at my house as exercise.

For thirty minutes she gets to do dance, and move around, and it’s not too much. It’s also pretty exciting. I think it’s like any other new technology. We’ll buy things for it. I think gaming is gonna drive it.


Steve Wrighthttps://www.stevivor.com
Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.