GDC 2017: Hands-on With LG’s SteamVR Headset

by Ian Hamilton • March 1st, 2017

LG’s upcoming VR headset powered by Valve’s SteamVR Tracking represents an important milestone in the development of the industry, and we just got the first hands-on.lg-flipped-up

The prototype revealed at the Game Developers Conference uses the same tracking technology from Valve that’s used in the HTC Vive which shipped last year. It also runs at 90 frames per second and flips up away from the face like the Microsoft headset we tried earlier this week. This should make VR developers very happy.

Here are the specs provided by LG:

  • Two panels (one for each eye) with a resolution of 1440 by 1280 each
  • OLED display from LG
  • 3.64 inches diagonal
  • 90 Hz refresh rate
  • 110 degree FOV

These dev kits are going out to “select partners” by the end of this week. Representatives from the company were reluctant to commit to a time frame for a consumer release, but said an announcement should come some time this year after they get feedback from partners and developers.

The tracking base stations used for the headset were made by LG but didn’t look too different from what we’ve seen already. I got to spend about six minutes inside the headset, two minutes each in three experiences including Longbow from Valve and Firebird. While the fit on my head could probably have been tightened a bit and LG made sure to be clear this is an early version of the device, to my eyes the visuals inside the headset already felt roughly comparable to the Vive. From my six minutes in there I don’t feel like I can say whether FOV or resolution felt higher or lower than the Vive. I can say, however, that it felt at least on par and that’s pretty significant. In other words, there’s another player in the SteamVR ecosystem using different components and the quality of it feels a lot like what we’ve come to expect from room-scale VR powered by Valve’s tracking technology.

“It’ll be similar prices” compared with the current generation of VR hardware, said Richard Taylor, an assistant research engineer at LG. As far as improvements we can expect before consumer release, “it completely depends what feedback we get, but…I can probably say the display will improve, the weight will probably get lighter.”

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in LG’s headset. It features a pass through camera as well, but we didn’t use it. The tracking sensors are nearly invisible hidden along the surface of the device. I was asked by LG when I came out whether I noticed any visual problems in the headset, and I really didn’t. It felt like a smooth, highly detailed visual experience from start to finish and I look forward to a hopefully longer visit with the new headset in the future.

 

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  • Chris Malone

    So many questions! 1440 x 1280 per eye or total? FOV? What does the wire look like? What does the back look like? How is audio handled? How are the controllers charged? IMO this is the biggest story out of GDC this year.

    • indi01

      -1440 x 1280 per eye or total

      Of course it’s per eye

  • Xron

    So it has ~42% more pixel density than vive or rift, nice, we needed a push in that way (thats if FOV is the same).
    Biggest was Nvidias showdown, better graphics for lower price = more people that might get into vr market!.

    • Crunchy005

      True higher resolution is nice, but it also increases the amount of GPU power required to run it. We are trying to get VR more affordable and can’t really be bumping up the minimum spec constantly.

      • Mourz

        Thats gonna come from the PC hardware end some too. Bumping min spec is the future of all technology, only so much you can do.

        • Crunchy005

          True, but I think VR needs to be more mainstream before they start bumping minimum spec. Lowering minumum spec is goign to help drive adoption. Once VR is more mainstream you can have the higher end VR headsets(higher min spec) and the lower end VR headsets(lower min spec). VR tech is just to young to start pushign headsets that might require an enthusiast GTX 1080+ to run.

          • Xron

            1st. gen. devices aren’t fully ready for general consumers yet. They lack resolution, depth of vision is locked. Most people will check them, but then they will ask, can I watch a movie wearing it and will it look better than on my 4k screen? the answer is short. Not yet.

          • Crunchy005

            Actually I find movies to work quite well, and the resolution is fine at the moment. Screen door effect isn’t noticed while playing, you really need to focus on it to notice it. I think they are fine for consumers, it’s the price thats the biggest issue. It will get there, it’s still young.

          • Mourz

            Yah 1st gen has me on the sideline, not because of price. I got a 1080, but the quality of gen 1 headsets is not worth it for me yet. I have big hopes for gen 2. Cant wait to try LG and vive 2 that is in the works.

          • Carlos

            amen bro!

          • Xron

            Rift just sliced prices of their Hmd and controllers, 499 + 99 now, instead of 599 and 199.

          • Crunchy005

            Ya I saw that. That’s awesome. The Vive did have a black friday sale at $700 so i wonder if they will follow suite and drop their price back to that sale price. Although it is still $680 for full room scale on the Rift so only $120 saved. So either this is a great sign, or a bad one as Rift sales are supposedly half that of the Vive, on top of the Lawsuit against rift, tracking issues, etc. I hope facebook doesn’t end up giving up on the rift or anything like that, but the status of the VR headset seems a bit more grim than I would like, this price reduction will hopefully help.

          • Mourz

            They cutting price to reduce inventory before being forced to pull it from the shelves from an injunction.

          • Xron

            If they would like to remove themselfs from competition, there should be some punishment for them, because adapters of cv1 would be left hanging with unusable tech.
            Eh… ofv Vr will grow even without them, if they’re really strugling, but it would dishearten some devs to enter this line of work…
            Anyway, hope that this price cut is a sign that Oculus want to get Vr into mainstream as soon as possible.
            P.s companies like Amd and Nvidia start seeing Vr as their next target for selling even more gpu’s because it will be Vr that will push perf req, to the sky’s. For our usual gaming, using monitor, we won’t need anything past 4k 144hz.

          • DougP

            Re: “still $680 for full room scale on the Rift so only $120 saved”

            Depends on what you mean by “full room scale”.
            I’ve got a 5m x ~4.5m large room, and would most likely need to go with FOUR camera Rift setup.
            So NOT “$120 saved”, but only $60 *savings* on the base equipment.
            Now….
            I’d have to ADD:
            Additional USB card to add enough 3.0 ports
            Additional (expensive!) USB extension cables (4x of them all across my room) [ Note: I also suspect the base cable on the Rift wouldn’t cover my room, so need longer HDMI ]

            So… it would still cost might a bit MORE to go with the Rift for the same capabilities & room scale.
            Oh yeah… and I still wouldn’t have the camera built-in to the HDM, which comes in very handy.

          • Carlos

            shame of them!

          • John Nemesh

            Amazing what happens when you find yourself selling at half the rate of your competition! 🙂 Rift is garbage anyway.

          • thoiter

            Garbage in what sense? Mine’s great, couldn’t be happier with it.

          • John Nemesh

            Garbage tech, bad tracking, no “roomscale” by default (only a SMALL percentage of users will shuck out for the 3rd (and even less for a 4th!) camera, and sales of about 250,000 (including pre-consumer versions) when the Vive has TWICE that, and the PSVR has FOUR TIMES that number. They didn’t cut the price out of the goodness of their hearts!

          • DougP

            Re: “598$ vs 798$”
            Nah….not for a lot of us.

            I have 5m x 4.5m room, so I’d have to ADD $120 for 2x additional sensors (cameras).
            Then I’d have to add USB card to my computer for enough ports.
            Then I’d have to add expensive (4x of ’em!) USB extension cables to cover my room.

            So it would still cost MORE for the Rift than the Vive (& I’d not have the handy built-in camera I use).

            Still… it’s good that the Rift now comes closer to price & feature parity.

          • elev8d

            I really notice it the screendoor. It’s hard to use my Windows desktop in VR even when it’s the size of a movie screen because text is a pain to read.
            I’ve had my Vive since April 2016, I was hoping for an immediately noticeable improvement in optics and SDE and was completely ready to throw money at the next gen. It sounds like this product might not deliver 🙁

          • Crunchy005

            I agree, On the desktop is where screen door is the worst, otherwise it’s fine.

      • cegli

        It doesn’t actually change the minimum. There’s no 1:1 pixel mapping on VR headsets, so running at the Vive’s resolution would be possible on this LG HMD. The image quality would then look the same as the Vive. Higher resolution panels just give you the option to go higher resolution when your GPU can handle it.

        Even if you only have a RX 480 or GTX 970, you could take advantage of the higher resolution panels when using virtual desktop, watching videos, or playing low poly games.

        • Crunchy005

          Ok, fair enough.

    • Leonardo Phillips

      In Aliasing the important number is linear number, not the total number of pixel. Vive 1200×1080 LGVR 1440×1280. Aliasing reduction 1/(1440/1200) = 0.83

      • Mourz

        Nvm found your comment below.

      • Full Name

        agreed that total pixels aren’t necessarily the most important but the screendoor effect comes from the area around each pixel. If there are more pixels and the size remains the same, each “border” will be thinner and less noticeable.

        On a sidenote, not confirmed 100% but it appears the LG is actually using a single 2880×1280 screen.

  • Mike

    They need to move away from these controllers and move the knuckle controller

    • Full Name

      I really wish to have both. For shooting and swords these will be great. For a lot of other stuff, I think the knuckle controllers (or Touch for that matter) would be better.

  • Robbie Cartwright

    looks pretty interesting, can’t wait to try out those newfangled controllers! XD Or, uh, a new controller style, anyway.

  • Michael Quiroz

    No built-in Audio!?? C’mon – this should be a standard feature now just like the camera should be on the next Rift….

    • Michael Quiroz

      That being said – great ID on this. Much more svelte than the Vive. Excited to see more options hit the market.

    • Mourz

      I’d rather bring my own audio, depending on its impact on price.

    • McKoy

      I’d rather use my HE400i + FiiO A3 Portable Amp. Bumps up the immersion to a new level.

    • Carlos

      Should I use my AKG k7xxx or my HE400i, uhmm, damm now I do not know which one I’m going to use! Dammit

    • DougP

      Some of us have more discerning tastes in audio. As well, a great many people already have decent headphones (better than the built-in ones with Rift or HTC’s add-on strap) & would rather the $ savings/spent went to the HMD.

      • InfiniteConstraints

        “Some of us have more discerning tastes in audio.”

        Do you carry around a jar of your own farts from which you inhale deeply before typing stuff like that?

        • DougP

          Ummm…why yes, of course!
          Everybody who buys high end audio or video equipment obviously does it because they like the smell of their farts!

          Paul Klipsch discovered this back in the 1940s which led him to market horn-driven speakers to people who were actually “ass acoustics” fans.
          Similarly the bluray consortium found that they could introduce UHD (~4K) media and players, selling to unwitting players of personal “butt tubas”.

          And… I believe the reason Elon Musk includes those crazy (biohazard proof) filtration systems … is to trick the people into buying the Tesla, trapping their ass juice vapours inside the car, thus subconsciously convincing them to pay the exorbitant prices when they’d otherwise be happier with a Smartcar.

          Yes indeedy … you called that one right!

    • Charles Bosse

      Audio is pretty easy to add post-dev. I wouldn’t take this model to be a one way or the other on that… but even if it has included audio, its nice to have the option of something else. Maybe it will have a USB 3.0 or higher port for 3D audio or other tech with some nice tech included but the option to switch out, which would be a better case than the digging into the case that you need to add stuff on the Vive.

    • MiddleOfTheRoad

      As long as it has a headset jack on the HMD why would it matter?

  • Mourz

    Sexy

  • Michael Gardner

    Can we mix and match vive controllers with this headset and vice versa?

    • Full Name

      should be fine yes

      • jesse ficarra

        If not, Valve or HTC could simply release the USB dongles for them.

      • Guygasm

        Do you have a source for this? The controllers communicate wirelessly to the headset. I did’t think this communication channel was in anyway specified/standardized by SteamVR. They certainly could be interchangeable, but is there anything preventing LG from implementing their own protocol for the controller/HMD link?

        • Aaron Davis

          The Vive controllers and the base stations use Bluetooth, with the receiver in the headset (it’s not directly accessible from windows as a standard Bluetooth receiver though)

          • Nicholas

            The Vive controllers use a custom 2.4 wireless connection to the HMD, not bluetooth. The lighthouses use Bluetooth to the link box for firmware updates and power control.

          • Justin Wheeler

            the controllers do not use bluetooth, and the bluetooth module for the basestations is in the linkbox

            I believe it is standardized 2.4ghz range signal though, the steam controller uses very similar signal and to use a third Vive controller for Mixed reality you use a Steam controller dongle, which means it’s likely a steamvr standard

        • Full Name

          The LG controllers are basically a blueprint copy of a version Valve showed off a few months ago. The lighthouse units are a slightly tweaked version from what HTC uses. While we can’t be 100% certain of course, it seems highly likely that these will work, keeping in mind that Valve’s plan all along is to make the tracking tech fully standardized. They see this as the tracking equivalent of USB.

  • Full Name

    Looks great but wish they had added an extra camera, so we could do stereoscopic mixed reality!

    • Mike

      Probably no way to do that exactly right, since the cameras would be several inches in front of your actual eye position. The image angles would be wrong. It could be approximated, but it would be a little off.

  • delrael_death

    Can you share what optics it uses? Is it still fresnel?

    • Ryan

      How was the screen door?

      • perfectlyreasonabletoo

        They said the screens they’re using aren’t the ones that’ll be in the version they sell, so it’s too early to say what sort of improvement it’ll be.

    • Sven Viking

      In the video they say they’re using refractive lenses for the dev kit, but could possibly switch to fresnel for the consumer release if the technology improves or based on user feedback.

      • JustNiz

        Urgh god I hope they don’t. Fresnel lenses suck ass for image quality. The only reason they use them is because they’re significantly cheaper and slightly lighter than conventional lenses.

    • JustNiz

      Please answer this.

  • Leonardo Phillips

    With the increase of the resolution (and the same FOV) aliasing will be reduced by 17%, the perceived pixel will be 83% of the pixel of Vive / Rift and 75% of the pixel of PSVR 😉

    • Full Name

      Though I’ve heard that the PSVR display is using a RGB array(?) that makes each pixel a bit “better”. Not sure if also makes the screen door effect less noticeable on the PSVR?

      • Enverex

        That’s exactly why it’s less noticeable on the PSVR.

        • JustNiz

          The only reason screendoor is less noticable in the PSVR is because its significantly more blurry.

  • wrapter

    FOV needs to be higher than 110 for me. Its good that the resolution has increased since things are a bit blurry but just above acceptable on the current HMDs. The Vive is heavy for me so lighter would be a nice change. Side note, I think they should allow us to purchase models that don’t have glasses distance options so we can get a better FOV. Just a thought.

    • JustNiz

      How do you figure that just providing the option to move the lenses necessarily limits the FOV? The vive CAN move the lenses but you can still have them almost touching your eyes if you want, especially if you get a skinny facepad.

  • Nicholas

    HTC finally has some proper competition to be concerned about!

    • ohh.word

      shots fired

    • NooYawker

      Sounds like a nice alternative to the vive. Too bad the price will be about the same.

      • Nicholas

        Initially yes, but the market is still too small for both of them to maintain that. I suspect HTC will blink first since they have the older product with a lower spec, at least until their next major headset release.

  • MikeVR

    This dev kit already has better industrial design than the Vive…

    • Carlos

      well this is not very hard.

    • DougP

      Re: “This dev kit already has better industrial design than the Vive…”

      Hate to break it to you…but the one to come out next year will “already have” a better design – it’s called progress. Things in tech world get smaller, better, lighter, etc.
      This unit might even be using the new (lighter+cheaper) sensors, which were the main reason for the size/layout (design) of the current gen (1yr old now) Vive.

    • Look in awe for when the third iteration will be even better.
      You know, like it’s [almost] always the case.

  • Sean Lumly

    It seems as if Steams tracking strategy has paid off in a big way! It’s accurate flexible, and cheap for integrators. The other tracking solutions seem to have at least one major limitation. And I’m really glad that LG has differentiated this headset with a slightly higher per-eye resolution and a flip up visor.

    If reviews for this product are good, this may be the HMD that I get. Of course, I would love to see a higher resolution still, not so much for world fidelity, but the ability to clearly read small text in a virtual space. My dollars will go towards a high resolution HMD that doesn’t compromise on the other aspects of quality (comfort, tracking, etc).

    But why manufacturers do not build in headphones, I will never know… I find that juggling headphones to get into VR is time consuming and sloppy. One fewer thing to worry about is a great boon to the experience. With any luck we will get 3rd party ‘clip-on’ headphones that work with most headsets. Failing that, I may have to make my own..

    • Joe Dredd

      They probably don’t build in headphones because they know people have all manner of preferred headphones of their own – and its more versatile to make a product that can accommodate any set the user wants to use – from apple ear-buds to a big set of Astros. (see replies below!)

      • Jim Cherry

        Also it allows them to sale lg vr ready headphones;)

      • Sean Lumly

        While a subset of the market would be particular about the headphones used, I expect that this would be a relatively small portion. In any event, there is nothing preventing companies from including headphones that are detachable giving individuals the option.

        Consider what Oculus has done with the Rift. Individuals that swear by their particular headphone models are free to detatch the included pair, and use their own.

        But I am willing to wager that the majority of consumers would prefer included headphones, and if they are detachable, everyone can get what they want with negligible inconvenience…

        • Steve Hirjak

          Kind of agree. I think most people just want something convenient and comfortable. I love the comfort of aftermarket headphones with my Vive, but it’s probably the biggest pain in the rear of the Vive.

          • Sean Lumly

            I can say the same thing about my PSVR, and would bet that it will be the same with my future Vive (or whatever PCVR headset I end up buying). The amount of things that I have to juggle just to get started sadly has me doing a cost-benefit analysis every time I want to jump into a VR game.

            On the PSVR, I need the Dualshock 4 controller (trying to navigate menus with the Move is painful), the move controllers (for some games), the headsets, and the headphones. As such, I have to physically move all items over to my playing position, plug the headphones into the headset, put the headset on, then put on the headphones, adjust everything, find and pick up the controllers, and play. If the headphones were attached, and the move controllers were standard for all games, then it would be a simple matter of putting on the headphones, and picking up the controllers to get started.

            I was thinking of making my own clip-on headphones for the PSVR, but instead will invest my money and time into PCVR as I am somewhat disappointed by Sony’s handling of VR and wish not to invest further into the eco-system.

  • DougP

    Great to see that SteamVR & Lighthouse tracking are becoming the standard for PCs.

    So this will also be compatible with the new Tracker (puck) for peripherals – great, standards! 🙂 VR needed this.

    Now if someone would just bring-out & bundle the *knuckles* controllers!
    Still …In the PC world we like options & to pick&choose. 🙂

  • spazzium

    What about the foveated rendering technology that was purported to be implemented on this headset? Was that evident in your demo or is that not yet an included feature?

  • Sebastien Mathieu

    Did you noticed any “God Rays” ?? wich I found more annoying than SDE??

  • DougP

    Great article & interview Ian – thanks for publishing this!

    Really excited hearing that bit about wireless.
    Bet HTC & TPCast are gonna want to get that product out fast, otherwise mid-year some people might be very tempted to hold-off for this product.
    Regardless, it will be very interesting to see where this lands as far as resolution (/panel) & optics. That alone could make it worth an upgrade.

    2017 – Exciting days ahead for VR!

  • jimrp

    As reporters you think there would be details. But today journalist nothing.

  • Adrian Meredith

    But is it a pentile display? It made such a difference to the readability if text in elite if you make the UI green

  • Richard Hessels

    Do the LG screens come with real RGB pixels or shared pentile pixels?
    As the Samsung Oled used in the oculus and vive do not have 3 colors for every pixel, making the real pixel count somewhat 30% lower than the resolution.

  • McGamer

    Hey editor…they just said in your own embedded video the headset uses ONE lens, not two so fix your article.

  • Dominic Tesch

    Hopefully we can use those controllers with the Vive because they look pretty swank.

  • Uncle

    Whats important is if they using RGB OLED panels or the same cheap pentile AMOLED HTC and rift has?
    PSVR with lower resolution but full RGB OLED has higher pixel density than HTC/RIFT, also no SDE whatsoever.
    I would love to buy a good PC kit, if the LG has proper RGB OLED i might get it, but honestly I NEED higher resolution and I want Thumb sticks, these stupid touch thingies annoy me, I rather use Oculus Touch controllers, they are superior to these abominations.