Intel’s Project Alloy – too little, too late or VR’s saviour?

Intel has entered into the virtual reality (VR) fray with what it is calling Project Alloy.

The company announced Project Alloy yesterday during the day one keynote at the 2016 Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. During that conference, Intel showed off its own VR headset and two particular technologies which it hopes will make it stand out in the increasingly busy realm of VR hardware. 

Firstly, Intel is promising a fully untethered and cord-free experience where the head mounted device (HMD) itself does the processing rather than a computer.

This puts it in stark contrast to the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and even PlayStation VR that all require the device to be tethered to a computer or console to power it. 

Secondly, the headset does not have any external sensors, instead opting for Intel RealSense cameras attached to the headset. This means that there is no complicated setup and, again, puts it in opposition to the the afforementioned headsets which can be a headache to get up and running.

In addition, the device presents what intel is calling merged reality. Merged reality seems like it’s the next step of augmented reality (AR) whereby users can interact with elements of the virtual world using their hands.

This announcement comes two weeks after HTC upped the UK price of the Vive and a day after Oculus’ announced its UK pricing and release strategy for the rift.

Up against the already known names in the VR market, Intel has a lot of catching up to do if it is to be competitive with the platforms which are already – or are soon to be – available in shops.

Project Alloy isn’t a direct competitor to the other HMDs – not yet at least – and there is plenty of things to be sceptical about. 

For starters, Intel in its announcement has kept schtum about the device’s specs. For Project Alloy to create an experience to rival the Vive or the Rift (both of which require expensive and powerful PCs) in terms of graphical fidelity, framerates and screen resolution, it will need to have pretty stunning processing power. This could potentially make Alloy incredibly expensive unless Intel are willing to cut corners.

In addition, what we have been shown is likely not the final form of the device.

Intel has promised, in 2017, to open the Alloy hardware and provide open APIs for the ecosystem, allowing developers and partners to create their own branded products from the Alloy design.

While this seems a positive move in making the platform unrestricted to developers, if there are several versions of the Alloy floating around consumers could further be confused. The VR space is, after all, still in its infancy, and non-tech savvy customers could be put off by the swathes of devices in stores which, essentially, look the same. 

In spite of the possible critiques we may have of Project Alloy, the platform’s openness – along with Intel’s familiarity with the channel – could potentially put them in good stead to leapfrog Oculus and HTC who are working with select retailers. 

Perhaps most important to the message presented by Alloy is that it is in stark contrast to the increasingly gated off platforms presented by HTC and Oculus. In creating an open platform, Intel is puting itself at the fore of being pro-deveoper and pro-consumer. 

Should this mentaility be carried over to its retail strategy then Intel can thrive. If Intel has a non-exclusive distribution platform that puts Project Alloy in every retailer from the likes of John Lewis and Amazon to indies, it could quietly become the VR headset of choice. 

Similarly, if consumers aren’t required to buy a £1,000+ gaming PC in addition to their VR platform and don’t need to go through complicated setups, they could easily be convinced – even if it doesn’t have the brunt of power that its rivals do. 

Ultimately, however, this is all speculation until Intel dishes out more details on specs, availibility and pricing.

If Intel can deliver on its promises to create a premium VR and AR experience without the pitfalls of its rivals, there is a strong chance that Project Alloy will be the defining device of VR’s 1st generation.

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