If you think about AR and VR accessories, you might think about dedicated accessories manufacturers like bHaptics. However, depending on who made your preferred headset, that same manufacturer might make accessories to improve or extend your experience.
Here, we’re going to look at AR and VR accessories made by headset manufacturers, as well as how the demand for more personalized experiences may shape the future of these technologies.
VR Accessories From Headset Manufacturers
When we talk about VR accessories and peripheries today, we’re looking at those that change the way that the headset is used in a significant and novel way. This has likely led to any big-name omissions that you might have been curious about.
For example, HP sells gaskets and meter cables for their Reverb headset. Oculus sells battery packs and prescription lenses for the Quest. These VR accessories make the headsets more comfortable or convenient, but they don’t change the way that the headset works in terms of delivering experiences.
One of the reasons that HTC VIVE is an ARPost perennial favorite headset manufacturer is because the company doesn’t turn out a headset every day. Instead, they regularly release adapters, add-ons, and VR accessories that make headsets wireless, allow them to read lips, allow wider field of use or longer battery life – all without the need to buy a new headset.
The downside is that, despite an on-again/off-again consumer focus, the company doesn’t put out a lot of accessories that change gameplay. There are two main exceptions to this. The first is the line of racket sports adapters – a cooler and more sporty (if less-versatile) wand-style tracker. The second is the audio kits and facial trackers making social VR even better.
For more on how VIVE’s VR accessories help them compete with other headset manufacturers, read the entry on them in our article on competition for Varjo headsets.
Sony makes some of the coolest VR accessories of any company out there. Their wand-style hand-tracking controllers “Playstation Move” and gun-adapting “aim controller” make game play more natural and more immersive, while the PlayStation Camera aims to reinvent the ways in which we experience movement in VR.
Of course, the biggest downsides are that these VR accessories aren’t exactly meant to be compatible with other hardware offerings and PlayStation itself hardly leads the industry in terms of consumer content. However, that same site also directs to exciting hardware from third-party manufacturers, so even if you don’t play PSVR, it might be worth taking a look.
The makers of the Valve Index sell one of the most expensive consumer headsets on the market. We’re not saying it isn’t one of the best, we’re just saying that you pay for quality.
To make the headset more versatile and more affordable, the headset can be purchased separately from an optional base station that allows room-scale tracking. At least two base stations are recommended, and buying them both separately runs around $300, though you can save some by buying the all-inclusive VR Kit for just under a grand.
DecaGear also landed on our list of dedicated VR accessories, but we’ll give the outfit a double-count. A high-performing, highly affordable headset from DecaGear is promised in the near future, but we haven’t seen it yet.
However, the company is already selling DecaMove, a motion controller worn on the hip. Users point their hips in the direction that they want to move instead of using a button or point-and-teleport controls. This gadget works with some other headsets and is already available for purchase.
The website also says that more VR accessories are coming soon, and we’re hopeful that they’ll be cross-compatible with other headsets too.
“Modular” AR Glasses
Also in the headset manufacturer category but on the other end of the XR spectrum, Lenovo ThinkReality and DigiLens are blurring the line between “accessory” and “headset” with their “modular” AR glasses.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3
ThinkReality came to the field first with their A3 glasses announced at CES, which just became available on the market as this article was being written. It was exciting to see but all of the components of their modular smart glasses are dumb. By “dumb” we mean, they affect how the glasses fit the user or the use case, but they don’t expand the functional software offerings.
That said, ThinkReality has an industry focus and both industry AR and VR manufacturers are more likely to rely on specialized AR and VR accessories than consumer focused models. As a result, it’s typical for industry-first manufacturers to focus more on compatibility and less on making their own accessories.
DigiLens Design v1 Developer Glasses
A few months after CES, DigiLens announced their Design v1 Developer glasses. The modular design was built into the product both so that designers could construct their own glasses from offered parts and so that DigiLens can update a user’s hardware without sending a whole new headset – similar to how VIVE uses adapters. As CEO Chris Picket told ARPost in May:
“We are creating an XR blueprint for the ecosystem to take, add to, and adapt as needed for their individual markets and their unique XR software development needs. . . . Every month we can send [developers] new waveguide displays that are better in some material way, and they can click off the old one and change it.”
While this article was being written, DigiLens did just that. With the rollout of the Transparent Resolution Expander or “T-REx” for short, DigiLens operators were able to double their display resolution without changing anything else about the formfactor.
A Brief Disclaimer
To be clear, the ThinkReality AR3 is strictly for enterprise and the DigiLens Design v1 isn’t intended to reach end users in its modular form at all. However, both of these models bring strengths that are likely to become a part of the future of AR wearables as we know them. As Picket explained in an august email to ARPost,
“In the future DigiLens expects both modular and end-stage wearable hardware to be offered in the market .The major difference with head worn wearable technologies like smart glasses when compared to smartphones is that one-form factor will not fit all. Instead, head worn devices are going to be tailored for the specific use case of the user.”
Similarly, Lenovo Head of AR/VR Development Nathan Pettyjohn said in an online event four months after the release of the A3 at CES that the headset has received “more interest than we ever anticipated” and that “longterm,” they intended to work with more software content providers to increase the versatility of the headset.
The Future Comes in Pieces
Many industry analysts and experts agree that large-scale adoption will take place when Apple releases head-mounted displays. And, when they do, those displays will be introduced into a whole ecosystem of branded AR and VR accessories already available.
Any XR kit has to be built around a headset, but as consumers ask for increasingly immersive experiences, the makers with the best accessories may rule the day.