The current boom in virtual reality tech is progressing along roughly two lines: big, complex, and expensive VR headsets driven by full-power gaming machines, like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and small, cheap headsets that slot a high-resolution smartphone in to pull double duty as processing unit and display, like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. Users who don't have four figures worth of money to burn have had to make do with the latter. But a new app is hoping to change that.
VRidge is a system that adapts the stereoscopic output and head-tracking input for the Oculus Rift to an Android smartphone app, allowing games and demos to be played on a cheap headset like Google Cardboard and its various doppelgangers. The idea is ingenious - after all, modern smartphones have screens that are dense enough to replicate VR, sensors for motion tracking, and enough power to handle the back-and-forth video without too much trouble. VRidge (VR-idge? Vee-ridge? Vridge? Videos from developer Riftcat seem to indicate the third option for pronunciation) is currently in beta, running as a server on a Windows machine and a client app on an Android phone.
The tool works fairly simply: start the server program on your PC, connect the app over the local Wi-Fi network, then launch either a demo provided by RiftCat or manually launch a local VR-compatible game from PC storage. VRidge was initially designed only to emulate the function of the Oculus Rift hardware, but a recent update added functionality for games compatible with Valve's SteamVR standard, like the popular space sim Elite Dangerous or the somewhat flippant Job Simulator. The PC program includes a variety of free demos and a download manager.
It's not perfect - players will either need to hold up their headsets View-Master style and operate games one-handed, or else get a more elaborate version with a headband. Early users say that not all VR-enabled games will work with the tool. Even so, it seems like a great way to get a feel for full-sized PC VR games without dropping several hundred dollars on a dedicated headset.