Virtual reality has been something of a technology trade-show tradition for decades. Even today, most examples involve strapping a massive contraption to your head to create an immersive stereoscopic experience.
HP takes a different route with the display-based Zvr, a new platform for what the company calls "blended reality," which it describes as a method to "help reduce the barriers between the digital and physical worlds."
The Zvr is closer to 3D television, built around a bulky 24-inch monitor. The 1,920x1,080-pixel display shows a stereoscopic image, while the user wears simple, lightweight passive 3D glasses, making it easier to use than VR headsets with active shutter lenses.
Images appear to float above the screen, which is set at a roughly 45-degree angle (which is adjustable). The monitor has four big parallax camera sensors built into its top edge, which track the movement of the user's head -- it actually tracks white markers on the 3D glasses -- and adjust the image on the fly. In practice, that means you can move around a bit and turn your head to see different angles on a 3D object.
The demo software we tried wasn't movies, video games or other consumer entertainment applications, but instead was educational. We fit together mechanical gears, turned a butterfly model around and navigated a 3D user interface. An included stylus will grab any 3D object with the press of a trigger button, and allow you to move or rotate it.
The effect is similar to other 3D displays or headsets we've tried, but the stylus reaction felt very real-time, with no discernible lag, and a real sense of actually interacting with the virtual objects. You'll need a hefty computer to power this, and while we don't have the exact required specs yet, HP would clearly prefer that you use one of its Z-series workstations.
Besides educational software -- the example repeatedly mentioned by HP reps was dissecting a virtual frog in a classroom -- we could see this working for CAD or design programs, or building virtual real-estate tours, all of which points to some overlap with headset devices such as the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR . But by taking a clear commercial/educational focus, HP hopes to stand out from the flood of consumer-level VR gear at CES this year.
HP has not yet announced price or availability details for the Zvr, beyond saying it should be available in spring 2015.