The Goggles, They Do Something

How do video goggles designed for gaming on Windows stack up to a Linux geek's desktop? Find out below.
Hardware Setup

There is really very little hardware setup to do. Just plug in the VGA and USB plugs to your machine. As I mentioned before, the USB port is used to power the display as well as to send audio to the goggles (it's also how you would access the accelerometer). Here is the relevant syslog output I got when I connected the VR920 to my Ubuntu machine:

Sep 14 19:51:01 moses kernel: [13069.884651] usb 6-1: 
 new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 2
Sep 14 19:51:01 moses kernel: [13070.101323] usb 6-1: 
 configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
Sep 14 19:51:02 moses kernel: [13070.291377] usbcore: 
 registered new interface driver hiddev
Sep 14 19:51:02 moses kernel: [13070.361931] usbcore: 
 registered new interface driver snd-usb-audio
Sep 14 19:51:02 moses kernel: [13070.397112] 
 generic-usb 0003:1BAE:0002.0001: hiddev96,hidraw0: 
 USB HID v1.00 Device [Icuiti Corp. VR920 Video Eyewear] 
 on usb-0000:00:1d.0-1/input3
Sep 14 19:51:02 moses kernel: [13070.397155] usbcore: 
 registered new interface driver usbhid
Sep 14 19:51:02 moses kernel: [13070.397162] usbhid: 
 v2.6:USB HID core driver
Sep 14 19:51:02 moses pulseaudio[11722]: alsa-util.c: 
 Cannot find fallback mixer control "PCM" or mixer 
 control is no combination of switch/volume.
Sep 14 19:51:03 moses pulseaudio[11722]: alsa-util.c: 
 Device hw:1 doesn't support 2 channels, changed to 1.
Sep 14 19:51:03 moses pulseaudio[11722]: module-alsa-source.c: 
 Your kernel driver is broken: it reports a volume range 
 from 0 to 0 which makes no sense.
Sep 14 19:51:03 moses pulseaudio[11722]: module-alsa-source.c: 
 Your kernel driver is broken: it reports a volume range 
 from 0.00 dB to 0.00 dB which makes no sense.

So pulseaudio does appear to see the audio mixer, and even though it throws some strange errors in syslog output, the sound worked fine. From the output, I can tell that it sees it as the hw:1 ALSA device. I also saw a new /dev/dsp1 device, and the device even showed up in my GNOME sound properties window, so I could select the device from there.

The screen itself is detected without any extra effort on my part and shows up in xrandr:

greenfly@moses:~$ xrandr
Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1280 x 800, maximum 1280 x 1280
VGA connected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
   1024x768       60.0  
   800x600        60.3  
   640x480        59.9  
   720x400        70.1  

You certainly can use xrandr to toggle whether the display is on, but you also can configure it in the default GNOME Display Preferences window (Figure 2). Personally, I set up a quick xrandr script to toggle the goggles on when I wanted to use them:


if [ -f /tmp/.goggles_on ] ; then
        xrandr --output VGA --off &
        echo "Goggles Off" | osd_cat --shadow=2 --align=center 
        ↪--pos=bottom --color=green --delay=2 
        ↪--font=lucidasanstypewriter-bold-24 --offset 40 &
        rm /tmp/.goggles_on
        xrandr --output VGA --mode 640x480 --below LVDS
        echo "Goggles On" | osd_cat --shadow=2 --align=center 
        ↪--pos=bottom --color=green --delay=2 
        ↪--font=lucidasanstypewriter-bold-24 --offset 40 &
        touch /tmp/.goggles_on

In this configuration, the goggles act as a 640x480 screen below my regular desktop, and I can drag windows there just like with any other monitor.

Figure 2. GNOME Display Preferences

General Desktop Use

The main thing to realize when you use the VR920 like a regular monitor is that even though the display supports 1024x768 input, the actual screens go up to only 640x480, and anything higher resolution gets scaled to fit. For my uses, I stayed with 640x480. Honestly, at that resolution, the screen worked pretty well as an extra screen on my desktop, and I moved IRC windows and other small terminals over to it.

The main limiting factor for how useful the screen is on a regular desktop is the resolution, but nearsightedness aside, I thought it actually was a pretty slick way to have IM, IRC or a terminal window always in your field of view. As a sysadmin, I also can see how it might be useful to tail logfiles in that screen or possibly put all of your monitoring applets there. Just realize that if you arrange the goggles so you can look up to view them and look down to view your regular screen, you won't necessarily be able to use your peripheral vision to see changes in the goggles—you'll have to look up every now and then. Also, I don't think it would work quite as well for programs like The GIMP or for word processing or anything else that might need more screen real estate.


Kyle Rankin is VP of engineering operations at Final, Inc., the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and a columnist for Linux Journal. Follow him @kylerankin


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To boldly see ...

Anonymous's picture

Hey man! That looks like Geordi La Forge's VISOR from Star Trek.
When the phasers and the transporter are coming?

headtracking driver

Anonymous's picture

A headtracking driver and an stereoscopic image viewer (needs an nvidia quadro board) for the vr920 can be found on .

Full HD is long way but have other advantages already

Anonymous's picture

You don't see these much aroung here, but i use
"computer above my head for watching movies"
Bed computer - watch TV/movie in lying position

switching works charmly with xrandr script (msg me)

and it's pretty satisfing, however picture is not BIG and you can't move your head around or play games. Can't wait to test glasses anyway

i had some 15 years ago

Anonymous's picture

15 years ago I bought some VR goggles with high hopes (VRMAXX I think they were called?) You could play the game Descent and it had head tracking... it was a horrible experience. The head tracker was jerky, the goggles were heavy and painful. I paid like $800. heh. Sounds like things haven't improved too much since then.

Resolution is still the key

Anonymous's picture

I fully believe that the resolution needs to be a crystal clear 1024x768 MINIMUM these days for using them as LCD replacements, and probably more like 1440x900 for real HD movie experience. It would be cool if each eye was like an independent screen too; a 'dual monitor' experience essentially.

I used to work at Forte (ironically, also in Rochester, NY as Vuzix is too) -- we made the VFX-1 headgear and back then (1995) the resolution was 320x200x256. Not much of an improvement in optics in 15 years.

By the way, you think the Vuzix look "dorky", go look up the VFX1. We almost lost the Johnny Mnemonic movie deal because the headset covered up too much of Kenu's face!

I think the problem with a headset that's too small is that you get bleed-in from light and the outside world -- therefore loosing the immersion effect. I can't wait till all of this is integrated into a contact lens though. Augmented reality is definitely the way of the future... and then I won't forget the names of people I've met before!