DIY VR Headset for $80 (DIY VR Part 2)

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The purpose of this series of posts was to look at ways to experience VR at home for the lowest cost possible. In Part 1 of DIY VR, we took a look at using a smart phone and a Google cardboard compatible headset to stream computer games to the phone in stereoscopic 3D. The main problem with this approach was that it was still relatively expensive as it required a smart phone (iOS or Android) to function.

Now in part 2 we will look at building a VR headset from scratch. My initial goal was to do this for under $150(USD), however after shopping around and changing some parts out for alternatives I managed to get this down to around $80. So let us get started.

The parts required are:

  • Toggle Flick Switch
  • 2x LED
  • 1x resistor 150 Ohm
  • 1x Micro USB cable (at least 2 meters long)
  • 1x HDMI Cable (thin ones work best as they hinder movement less, also at least 2 meters long)
  • Some jumper wires
  • DC Adapter plug 5V 3A (Raspberry Pi compatible one works great)
  • Push Button
  • Google Cardboard Compatible VR Headset (I recommend one with a phone compartment door that opens as it gives better access than the ones which uses a tray that slides in)
  • 6DOF MPU 6050 3Axis gyroscope and accelerometer
  • Arduino Micro (can use off brand alternative)
  • 5inch RaspberryPi LCD Screen 800×480 with HDMI interface

All of these parts can be acquired on AliExpress for about $80 ($82.78 to be precise), as shown in the image below:

Resistorflick_switchwireDC AdapmicroUSBHeadsetpushbuttonledMPU6050lcdHDMIarduinoMicrototals

You will also require Tridef3D or similar software (there are some free alternatives, but I have not had a chance to give them a try at present). Tridef3D is used to convert any Direct X 9/10/11 game into stereoscopic 3D. Tridef3D offers a 14-day free trial, which is plenty to give this a try. The full version of Tridef3D retails for $39.99.

Now that we have all the required components, let us begin with the assembly.

The assembly comprises of 3 main elements:

  1. The Arduino Micro circuit (containing the MPU 6050, push button and led)
  2. The Wiring (providing connectivity to Arduino Micro and power to Screen)
  3. Inserting the screen in the headset and connecting the micro USB cables as well as the HDMI cable.

The Arduino Micro circuit

The diagram below illustrates how the different components need to be connected to the Arduino Micro:

vr_bb1

The push button uses digital pin 5 and the MPU 6050 is connected to the Arduino Micro as follows:

– MPU 6050 SCL pin to Digital Pin 3 on Arduino

– MPU 6050 SDA pin to Digital Pin 2 on Arduino

– MPU 6050 VCC to 5V pin on Arduino

– MPU 6050 GND to GND pin on Arduino

The code to be loaded on the Arduino is as follows:

#include <Mouse.h>
#include <Wire.h>
#include <I2Cdev.h>
#include <MPU6050.h>

MPU6050 mpu;
int16_t ax, ay, az, gx, gy, gz;
int vx, vy;
int inputPin = 5;
bool enableMouse;

void setup() {
Serial.begin(9600);
Wire.begin();
mpu.initialize();
enableMouse = true;
pinMode(inputPin, INPUT);
if (!mpu.testConnection()) {
while (1);
}
Serial.println("Running...");
}

void loop() {
int val = digitalRead(inputPin);
if (val == HIGH) { // check if the input is HIGH
//Place logic here to execute when button is pressed
//Disables mouse movement while button is pressed, this allows you to set your view angle easily.
enableMouse = false;
}
else
{
enableMouse = true;
}
if(enableMouse)
{
mpu.getMotion6(&ax, &ay, &az, &gx, &gy, &gz);
vx = -(gy)/150;
vy = (gz+100)/150;
Mouse.move(vx, vy);
delay(20);
}
}

Just note that the orientation of the MPU 6050 makes a difference to which of the axis of the gyroscope will be used. For the above code the MPU 6050 was mounted on the side of the headset as shown in the pictures below:

IMG_1795

In the event of the MPU 6050 being mounted with a different orientation you might have to substitute between the gx, gy and gz values until the desired configuration is achieved.

For my configuration I am rotating around the Y and Z axis.

Also the numbers associated with calculation of vx and vy might have to be tweaked to get the results (movement speed etc.) you desire.

I also added a push button, that when pressed temporarily disables the gyroscopic mouse movement. This is useful when you want to reset you point of view in games.

I attached all the parts of this circuit to the VR Headset using double-sided tape.

The Wiring

In order to have as few cables as possible connecting to the VR headset I modified the USB cable so that it pulls external power from a DC power adapter (a single USB port will not be able to power both the Arduino and the 5 inch LCD) as well as splitting into 2 micro USBs on one end (one only provided power to the LCD and the other one both power and connectivity to Arduino.) the below diagram shows how the wiring is connected:

VR2_bb

For reference a USB cables contains 4 wires:

  • Red wire – +5V DC
  • White or Yellow – Data connectivity
  • Green – Data Connectivity
  • Black – GND

I also included a switch to turn the power on and off (this is useful to turn off the mouse functionality until it is needed, otherwise it will interfere with mouse movement when it is not desired) as well as an LED to show when the headset is powered on.

IMG_1807

Inserting Screen in Headset and connecting all the wiring

The LCD screen is held in place by the clamps in the headset used to hold a phone (it is a snug fit). Then simply connect the 2 micro USBs to the LCD and Arduino respectively (ensuring the plug with the data connections is plugged into the Arduino and that the power only micro USB is plugged into the power socket on the LCD display). Try to run the cables in the extra spaces in the Headset around the screen in order to keep them out of the way.

Lastly connect the HDMI cable to the LCD.

The assembly is now complete.

IMG_1817

Connecting headset to PC and setting up software

To connect the headset to your PC do the following:

  1. Plug the DC adapter into mains power.
  2. Plug the USB connector into an available USB port in your PC.
  3. Connect HDMI cable into and available HDMI port on your PC graphics card (You can use a DVI port with an adapter)

Go to display settings and click on detect displays, then set Multiple displays to “Duplicate these Displays” and make sure your resolution is set to 800×480.

Open up Tridef3D and start-up a game.

You might have to play around with each individual games graphical settings as well as mouse sensitivity to get the best results.

For future enhancements I will look at getting a higher definition LCD screen and also work on head movement tracking by using infrared LEDs and a Wiimote (Wiimote used as a IR Camera).

And there you have it a DIY VR Headset for $80. Give it a try.

Here is a short demonstration video:

DIY VR Headset for $80 (DIY VR Part 2)

Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

cover1

I picked up Just A Geek based on the recommendation of various people, and I can say I do not regret doing so.

Just A Geek is the memoirs of Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stand by me (and Big Bang Theory) fame. It is an honest and brutal look at his rapid rise to fame as a young teen and his subsequent and dramatic fall thereafter. He goes into a great deal of detail describing his love\hate relationship with Wesley Crusher, the character he portrayed on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the doubts and self loathing he experienced as a result of him deciding to leave Star Trek.

In the book he writes of his time as a struggling actor who could hardly find work, to him discovering comedy and being part of a successful sketch comedy group and later starting his blog, WilWheaton.net. Starting his blog resulted in him learning HTML and teaching himself Linux and also helped him rediscover his love for writing. The rediscovery of this love helped Wil redefine himself as an author, helping him find balance and success in his life.

Just A Geek is a really enjoyable journey, starting with a young boy on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more interested in Dungeons & Dragons than Star Trek, to a normal guy dealing with the complexities of everyday life, like paying bills and working on the relationship with his wife and step-sons.

Just A Geek is an inspiring and feel good book that I would really recommend. It shows how life hardly works out how we plan, but even so great things can come from the most unexpected places.

back1

Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

In a previous post, I has a look at the original Google Cardboard or the version 1 as it is now known. The version 1 of the Google Cardboard was initially released in 2014. It was very well received with over 5 million units sold. In 2015 a new updated and improved version 2 was released, so how does the Google Cardboard version 2 measure up to the amazing version 1? Let us take a look.

Firstly from a fit and comfort perspective the version 2 has significant improvements compared to the version 1. The nose hole on the version 2 is much larger and has foam padding around the rim, which greatly improves the comfort of using the headset, especially for longer wear times.

The version 2 also comes bundled with head-straps, whereas with the version 1 they had to be ordered separately upon initial release.

Another difference between the version 1 and version 2 is how they interact with VR applications. Both have an action button, but how they function is very different. They version 1 has a magnet which slides up and down and triggers an action on certain android smartphones similar to a screen tap. The problem with this magnet based action button is that it only works with certain android phones and not on iPhones, thus limiting the Cardboards’ functionality on all but fully supported phones.

The version 2 on the other hand utilises a lever based design which presses a conductive pad against the phones screen, fully replicating a finger touching the screen. This works on all touch screen smartphones, including iPhones, and is a great improvement over the version 1, especially for people using non-Android Smartphones.

The version 2 is also designed in a manner that holds a phone more securely, thus reducing the anxiety resulting from the fear of having your phone fall out mid VR experience.

Additionally the version 2 contains much larger and better lenses, which are fitted more securely and flush, than the version 1.

Use is made of protective plastic tape in the version 2 where your forehead comes in contact with the headset. This protects the headset from damage due to sweat, a common complaint in the version 1.

So, up to this point the version 2 has clearly taken the lead. But there are however 2 key areas in  which the version 1 outperforms the version 2.

The first of these key areas is price. The version 1 costs approximately half what the version 2 does.

The second area is the support of Augmented Reality Apps. The version 1 has a cut out where the phone camera is located, whereas the version 2 does not. Without this hole for camera access, Augmented Reality Apps can not function due to their reliance on the phone camera.

Even considering these 2 areas, except if you are extremely price sensitive or dead-set on AR apps, the version 2 is a much better option, especially if you have an iPhone or any other non-Android phone. 

The improvements and design changes made in the version 2 are all vast improvements over its predecessor. Although the price did roughly double it is still not a large amount of money, and in my opinion the version 2 is well worth the extra cost.

As an iPhone user I am very happy with the Google Cardboard Version 2 and how it was enhanced for better support of non-Android phones.

If you have never owned a Google Cardboard, I would definitely recommend picking up the version 2 over the version 1. And even if you already have a version 1 I would still recommend upgrading to the version 2 due to its improvements and better phone support.

The Google Cardboard Version 2 is a great upgrade to an already great product, so pick one up, for the money you won’t regret it.

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

DIY VR – Part 1

In this post we will look at ways to experience VR at home for the lowest cost possible. In Part 1 we will look at using your smartphone and a Google cardboard compatible headset to stream computer games to the phone in stereoscopic 3D. Basic “head tracking” will be achieved by linking the mouse look in the games with the gyroscopic sensors of your phone.

There are many applications available to achieve the above mentioned and we will look at a few options available, comparing features, performance and price. All of the mentioned software have free trial versions available in the event you want to give them a try. All you will need is a smartphone (iPhone or Android), a PC capable of running some Direct X 9 3D games and a Google cardboard compatible headset (one with head-straps will work best).

All my testing was done on an iPhone 6S, a 2012 MacBook Pro Retina (Nvidia GeForce 650M 1GB) running windows 7 using Boot Camp and a SensofinityVR headset.

The games I used to test were Doom (original), QuakeHD, Dear Esther, Subnautica, Minecraft and Fallout New Vegas.

We will be looking at 3 different products (All of which consist of a phone app and a server windows application) that stream computer games to your phone and also link the games mouse input to the phones gyroscopic sensor. They are TrinusVR, KinoVR and IntugameVR.

First let us look at Tridef3D, a software product that will be required for the best results by all the before mentioned VR Streaming software products.It converts the game screen image into stereoscopic 3D before it is streamed to the phone.

Tridef3D

As mentioned above Tridef3D converts any Direct X 9/10/11 game into stereoscopic 3D, and I can say this software works great. Just note that its website states that it does not support VR headsets, but this is not the case if you enable windowed mode using this script. Tridef3D sells for $39.99 directly on the company site, however there is a free trail version available.

Most of the games I tested worked best in windowed mode except for Doom and QuakeHD, which only worked in full-screen mode.

Now let us have a look at the VR streaming software options. Firstly with all the mentioned software products, one of the most important things to configure correctly is mouse sensitivity. This is extremely important as getting this wrong can result in slow or jerky head-tracking which can cause the user to feel sick.

TrinusVR

Of the 3 products looked at TrinusVR was by far the best from an interface and general usage perspective. I also found it to be the most stable with the least amount of issues. At the time of my testing there was however no support for USB tethering in iOS.

I did experience issues connecting the phone to the hotspot created by the TrinusVR server software, and it appears that the phone is not assigned an ip address.

When I connected the phone to my MacBook via my home Wi-Fi network performance was extremely slow and unplayable.

I got around these issues by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot on my phone and connecting my MacBook to it. The server software and client app could then see each other and performance was really good and games highly playable. This configuration delivered the best results of all the tests performed.

Just note that in the TrinusVR server settings, on the Main tab, there is an option called “Capture mode”. For most games the best results are achieved by setting this to “Fast”, except for Minecraft that only works when this is set to “Compatibility Mode”.

TrinusVR sells for $9.99 on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store), but as mentioned earlier trial versions are available and the server software can be downloaded for free from the company website.

KinoVR

KinoVR does claim to support USB tethering in iOS, however in practice the results were far from perfect. The client app continuously disconnects from the server software every 15 seconds or so and then takes approximately 5 seconds to reconnect, thus rendering this feature unusable.

When connecting the phone to my MacBook via my home Wi-Fi network the performance was good, even with a good level of graphic details configured in the games.

KinoVR is however found lacking from a user interface and ease of use perspective.

KinoVR Pro sells for $9.99 on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store), and once again there is a free trail version. The server software is freely available here.

IntugameVR

Of all the VR streaming software I tested, IntugameVR is the only one I could not get to work properly. It does not support USB tethering in iOS so once again I configured it to connect over Wi-Fi. Irrelevant of what setting configuration I used the image rendered to the phone display was distorted and squashed. I cannot comment on the performance of this product, as I just could not get it working in any way that was even remotely usable.

IntugameVR Premium is also available on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store) for $9.99 with a free trial version also available. The server software is once again available for free from here.

So given all this, what were my findings? And would I recommend this as a low-cost VR solution?

Well, as long as you do not expect an experience on par with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vibe, you might be pleasantly surprised. Given the low cost of giving this a try, assuming that you have either an iPhone or Android smartphone and utilize the trial versions of the software products mentioned, the cost of this experience will add up to $10 for a Google cardboard compatible headset. Although I would recommend splashing out and getting a plastic headset with padding and better head straps, which you should still be able to pick up for under $20. This will greatly improve the experience from a comfort and usability perspective.

Many people have not had the opportunity to try a premium VR product, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vibe or PlaystationVR, and this solution is a great deal more accessible and affordable.

So my recommendation is to give it a try. Who knows it might even convince you to invest in one of the premium VR products available at the moment.

Watch out for DIY VR Part 2, which will be coming soon. In Part 2 I will show how to construct a custom-built VR headset, but in the meantime a few other posts are lined up for your reading pleasure.

DIY VR – Part 1

Dev Day 2016

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On the Tuesday 27 September 2016 the first Dev Day occurred in Johannesburg South Africa. Dev Day is best described on their twitter page as “A community-owned and driven gathering of technologists, investors, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and anyone with a strong sense of curiosity”. And I was invited to showcase some of the robots I have been working on. The event was extremely well organised with various people and Maker groups showcasing what they were working on as well as numerous speakers including Uncle Bob (Robert C. Martin). I really enjoyed the event and the experience of showing some of my work and the feedback and questions I received were amazing. It really was a great experience getting to talk and interact with similarly minded people. Many thanks to the organisers for a great event, hopefully one of many to come.

Here are some photos of my stand and the event.

Dev Day 2016

Double Book Review

Today we will have a look at 2 books, both related to video games, so let us get started.

1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die – Updated Edition

1001 games

This is a very hefty book, weighing in just shy of 1000 pages. The book is beautifully printed in full colour on high quality glossy paper similar to what you will find in a  high-end magazine.

As indicated by the name 1001 Video games are covered. The Video games  are categorised and  divided into section based on the decade in which they were released, i.e. the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

There is a detailed description provided for each game as well as a screen shot.

I really like this book as it triggers nostalgic memories of paging through video game magazines as a child, looking at what the next big release will be. I do however believe that this is not the kind of book you will pick up and read from cover to cover, I for example have limited interest in video games released in the 1970s so I skimmed through this section and found the best use of this book is simply picking it up from time to time and looking up a specific game.

Just keep in mind that the game selection is based on the authors’ personal preferences, so there is a chance that your favourite game might not be included in the list. But even considering this, I found this to be a great book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in video games over the last few decades.

An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games

151games

The first difference between this book and the previously reviewed one is that this is more of a coffee table book. It is also fully colour printed on high quality glossy paper and is beautifully hardbound. The book also divides the games into the decades they were released in, but also focuses on the systems on which they were released.

This book has a much more artistic feel with screen shots, box art and marketing artwork for each game covered as well as information about the game, its history as well as little factoids relating to the games.

I really enjoyed reading this book and although it covers a lot fewer games, found it to be of a more consumable size.

There is also a few pages dedicated to the leading consoles of each decade along with accompanying artwork and information.

I would recommend this book as it is great simply paging through it and looking at the amazing video game artwork over the past 40 years.

Double Book Review

E3: The Games that excite me the most

E3

With the recent conclusion of E3 I thought this would be a good time to share some of the games announced that I am the most excited for. Here are the 8 games I am looking forward to the most, in no particular order:

The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

Finally a new Zelda game and not just a HD remake! I am extremely excited for this game and from what I saw it looks fantastic. This game looks amazing with an open world, some form of crafting and resource gathering and a lot of freedom.

Days Gone

I will start out by saying I loved State of Decay on the Xbox 360, an open world survival zombie apocalypse game that I got really into during a time where I was binge watching the Walking Dead. And now finally an  open world survival zombie game for the Playstation 4. I can’t wait. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the hoarding in this game, what appeared to be thousands of zombies flowed like water towards the protagonist. Truly astonishing.

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard

Myself along with many others were extremely disappointed when it was announced that Silent Hills was cancelled. The Playable Teaser had caused huge waves and was truly one of the most scary gaming experiences I have ever experienced. Resident Evil 7 took more than a little inspiration from the Silent Hills Playable Teaser, and this is not a bad thing. I have played and completed the playable demo of Resident Evil 7 and although I found it less scary that the Silent Hills Playable Teaser, but it was still great. I can’t wait to see what the full game will be like.

State of Decay 2

As I mentioned earlier I am a huge fan of the original State of Decay, so I am more than a little excited to see more of its sequel.

God of War 4

God of War 4 appears to be vastly different from its predecessors and that is refreshing. I loved all the God of War games, but while playing God of War 3 Remastered on the PS4 I couldn’t help feeling that the gameplay dynamics started feeling rather outdated. This might breath new life into the series.

The Last Guardian

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were both masterpieces, showing how games can be far more than most people ever expected, some might even say becoming art. After years of delays and falling silent, finally a release date has been given to one of the most anticipated games.

Death Stranding

After the debacle between Kojima Productions and Konami, which resulted in the cancellation of Silent Hills, no one knew what would be next for Hideo Kojima. Now we know and not surprisingly it weird. As with Silent Hills it stars Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame.

Detroit: Become Human

I loved Quantic Dreams’ previous two games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, and I am eagerly awaiting their next endeavor. Once again it appears that choice plays a major role, however from the trailer shown it appears that the choices available have significantly been increased, and the consequences of those choices appear to be  vastly different.

E3 this year was great, and we have a lot to look forward to.

 

E3: The Games that excite me the most