The Khronos Group has announced it will be working to form standard API’s for VR. They expressed their desire to “define a cross-vendor, royalty-free, open standard for access to modern virtual reality (VR) devices.” in a recent press release.
At present, the most common premium PC VR headsets are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The HTC Vive was developed in conjunction with Valve using Valve’s OpenVR API’s. Oculus VR, on the other hand, has their own proprietary API and SDK. Razer and Sensics have also developed Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR), another open standard. Sony has also launched the Playstation VR for the Playstation 4, and Microsoft has launched an Augmented Reality (AR) headset called Hololens.
Because of the different standards, many games and applications could be incompatible. Oculus had also previously attempted to lock games purchased in their store to the Oculus Rift by means of DRM. However, Oculus, along with Valve and Razer, is one of the companies contributing to the new standard.
“Khronos’ open APIs have been immensely valuable to the industry, balancing the forces of differentiation and innovation against gratuitous vendor incompatibility. As virtual reality matures and the essential capabilities become clear in practice, a cooperatively developed open standard API is a natural and important milestone. Oculus is happy to contribute to this effort,” said Oculus VR CTO John Carmack.
Valve and Razer expressed similar sentiments. “The number of VR systems on the market is growing rapidly. Most of these require separate API support from the developer, which is causing huge fragmentation for consumers…Khronos’ work on a standard API to enable applications to target a wide variety of VR devices is an important step to counter that trend.” said Valve founder Gabe Newell.
“Virtual reality’s success is dependent on a large thriving market of hardware where casual and professional consumers alike can take their pick without worry of fragmentation and incompatibility…This has been OSVR’s vision from day one and we are thrilled to be a part of the Khronos Group in order to push standardization of interfaces across the industry.” said Razer’s OSVR Business Lead Christopher Mitchell.
Sony and Microsoft are both conspicuously absent from the list of contributors, despite being members of the Khronos Group. Playstation VR and Microsoft’s Hololens both have their own development tools. Other Khronos API’s such as OpenGL have been used on consoles and would be free for Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo to implement.
The new API does not yet have a name, but it will include API’s for headset tracking, device management, and input/output. In addition to Oculus VR and Valve, AMD, ARM, Google, Intel, Nvidia, Razer, and Sensics are quoted in the press release, and appear to be contributing to the standard. The Khronos Group also maintains other standards such as Vulkan, OpenGL, and OpenCL. Oculus VR, Valve, and Razer have not announced plans to discontinue their API’s, but are likely to do so given the commitment to the new standard.
This is the best news for VR since Oculus shipped the DK1. There had been many concerns about fragmentation having a bad effect on VR before it could get off the ground, and Oculus’ acquisition by Facebook fueled many fears. But with Khronos writing a standard, VR will have an open standard just as there is one for graphics and GPU compute.