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When is VR not VR? When It’s Razer’s Project Ariana

Razer is taking Microsoft’s IllumiRoom technology a whole lot further.

A company very keen on virtual reality (VR) technology, Razer has used CES as a platform for annual unveiling since the surprise debut of the OSVR Hacker Dev Kit back in 2015. In the years that followed the head-mounted display (HMD) has taken on many new forms, pushed itself towards education and industrial application, and become a known quantity to VR gamers worldwide. But at this year’s CES Razer took a different approach to VR, unveiling Project Ariana.

Project Ariana

Back in 2013 – also at CES – Microsoft unveiled a concept technology called IllumiRoom. The idea was to expand the play scene beyond the limitations of a television screen, projecting related material onto walls and surrounding objects to enhance immersion. As a concept it was a wonderful idea, but as a product nothing has materialized in the years since. Now however, Razer plan to capitalise on the principle technology with the core PC videogame demographic begging for greater immersion.

Razer is billing Project Ariana as technology designed for the ‘pre-VR world’. One might argue that it’s a little late to be making such a statement as consumer VR devices are becoming more-and-more prevalent. Indeed, only today Samsung has claimed to have sold in excess of 5 million Gear VR HMDs. However, there’s still a very large gap between high-end VR adoption and the scaleable PC gaming audience, for which Project Ariana might be a stepping stone.

In principle, Project Ariana is a projection system much like IllumiRoom. It disperses light across the environment surrounding the player’s television or monitor to expand the play scene. The player’s focus remains central on the television, however the peripheral gameplay is cast upon the wall around the screen. And this is the core difference between IllumiRoom and Project Ariana: Razer’s technology isn’t just flashing lights, it is actual gameplay footage that would normally be inaccessible.

An extension of Razer’s Chroma programme, the product that is Project Ariana is essentially a high-definition projector that communicates with the videogame to project in-game elements to the dimensions and features of the physical environment.  A pair of 3D depth sensing cameras automatically calibrate to the environment, including recognition of furniture and room lighting, to provide an enhanced display for any room.

Project Ariana

Showcased using Devolver Digital’s Shadow Warrior 2, Project Ariana filled the full field of the wall surrounding the television with in-game visuals. Greater detail of the in-game environment and the action therein; enemies lurking in what would normally be outside of the field-of-view. However, the image remains flat. There’s no relation to the user, either with head movement or stereoscopy, and thus Project Ariana is not quite VR without a HMD.

Project Ariana is an interesting technology, though it will face many hurdles. The same arguments that can be levelled at the likes of Kinect and PlayStation Move – space requirements, room arrangement, supported videogames – can also be presented to Project Ariana. Furthermore, the cost is likely to be a significant hurdle: though VRFocus hasn’t yet been privy to any technical specifications, it’s hard to believe that Project Ariana will be an impulse-buy product. So then, why would a core PC gamer looking for greater immersion invest in Project Ariana over an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive?

It remains up to Razer to provide a convincing argument in that respect.

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