The new ZED mini attachment adds an augmented reality twist to your HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. It sits on the front of the virtual reality device, feeding in a view of the real world that can be mixed with computer graphics.
The ZED mini wearable device is actually two cameras, 65mm apart, designed to mimic the human eyes. The cameras can sense user position and depth, so digital graphics can be programmed to interact with real-world objects in a way that looks and feels genuine, complete with realistic lighting.
Support for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive controllers is baked in and – thanks to object tracking – the two cameras are capable of tracking your hands so you can bat away laser fire or make selections from a menu floating in front of your face.
All this depth information is fed through a USB-C connection into the Vive or Rift, at a 720p resolution running at 60 frames-per-second. That's not the maximum resolution these headsets are capable of when they are rendering VR worlds, but if apps do not need the high FPS rate then the resolution can be upped to the full 2K.
As always, developer support will be crucial, ZED mini maker Stereolabs says 30,000 apps makers are already using its existing SDK, built for the original ZED camera, and an updated version will be pushed out soon. It is building a handful of demos with the ZED mini, but Rift and Vive users will want to see some compelling games and experiences appear before they splash out on the hardware.
There is no doubt that Apple's ARKit in iOS 11 has sparked a fresh wave of interest in augmented reality and, in the future, it is likely that the best headsets will be able to switch between AR and VR quite easily. Until then the ZED mini offers the best of both worlds, provided we see enough titles written for it.
You can taste what's on offer in the video below.