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February 8, 2018

Zeiss’ entry-level VR headset is about to get a lot more fun

by John_A


Normally when people talk about Zeiss, it’s regarding the company’s optics business — which has been around for more than a century. However, Zeiss is making inroads into the VR space as well. Last year, the company introduced its One Plus VR headset. This entry-level device retails for $70 and, like the Google Cardboard or Daydream, leverages your smartphone as both the processor and display unit.

What sets the One Plus apart is its optics. Most headset lenses have a focal point, which is why you have to fiddle with knobs and dials after you put on the VR gear to get to everything in focus. The ones in Zeiss’s headset have a focal plane, meaning that as soon as you put on the headgear, you’re ready to dive into your VR experience — no further adjustments necessary.

Now, that’s all well and good, assuming you don’t mind limiting your VR experiences to only what’s available through the Cardboard/Daydream or Gear VR app platforms (which really isn’t much). And, until now, unless you wanted to throw down a couple hundred bucks on either a Vive or an Oculus Rift — and the hardware to run them — Google’s offering was about the best you could hope for. But, come this May, One Plus owners will have an entirely new library of VR titles to play with.

Zeiss plans to introduce a new accessory for its current headset, dubbed the VR One Connect. It includes a pair of Bluetooth-enabled controllers (each offering three degrees of freedom), a 12-foot USB cord and the necessary software to tether your phone to your laptop and access your Steam account. Setup is straightforward. You install the Zeiss app (either iOS or Android), plug your phone into your gaming laptop so that the Zeiss and Steam apps can communicate, then slot the phone into your headset. Once you calibrate the Bluetooth controllers, you’re good to go.

This offers a significant advantage over similar VR setups. One, since the processing duties are offloaded from the phone to the PC, your phone won’t run hot 15 minutes into the gaming session. And the fact that the phone is tethered to the computer means that will remained charged regardless of how long you play. I spent around 30 minutes with the One Plus strapped to my face as I shot at drones in Space Pirate Trainer and demons in Doom VR. And, while my face did get a bit sweaty from the exertion of ducking and dodging, the iPhone we used stayed cool (and fully charged).

Don’t let the One Plus’ price point fool you, however. I didn’t experience nearly the same degree of the “screen door” effect that one does with the PSVR. What’s more, the latency with using the One Plus was far lower than what you’d get with a Cardboard/Daydream headset running everything from a smartphone. Granted, the quality of the VR experience is going to depend a bit on what handset you’ve got inside it — we had an iPhone X for the purposes of this demo — but the One Plus accommodates a variety of screen sizes. Basically, any iPhone after the 6, most of the Galaxy Notes, and even the Galaxy S 8 will work with the One Plus.

The VR One Connect is slated to hit retailers this May and will go for $130 when it does so. However, Zeiss will also offer both the headset and the Connect bundled for $150 at the same time. So even if you’re not a heavy gamer, or just want to see what all the hubbub about VR is without spending hundreds upon hundreds of dollars, the One Plus and VR Connect make for an attractive entry-level option.

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