Review: Stark Technologies Retina and Focus VR headsets [video]

Review: Stark Technologies Retina and Focus VR headsets [video]

Review: Stark Technologies Retina and Focus VR headsets

Note: This company is no longer in business.

Stark Technologies offers a range of VR headsets in the “sophisticated Google cardboard” category. I have recently received the Retina VR Headset and the Focus VR Headset from Stark to review.

As an overview, here is an overview video from Stark that shows the headsets and a couple of applications.

Review

Here’s the problem Google Cardboard-based headsets: the apps aren’t made for sophistication.  Being able to take a phone in an out of an actual cardboard headset is pretty easy. Unfortunately, the basic cardboard headsets require you to hold the device to your face, use your own headphones for enhanced audio (or listen through the air over the phone’s speakers) and they all include only the most rudimentary of focusing mechanisms.

Enter companies like Stark to engineer away the basic issues of wearing the headset, a better listening experience and improved ways to focus on the phone.

Engineering away those issues, however, introduces new design problems that keep the “cardboard’ VR experience less than optimal.

To be fair, the biggest issue with phone-based VR is the lack of an OS. Unlike the Oculus-based OS that takes over Samsung devices when inserted into a Gear headset, “cardboard” VR requires users to fiddle with the phone to start the app, and then be cautious not to touch the phone’s buttons or screen while inserting the phone into the headset. Each new app requires touching the phone in some way. That places a premium not just on the in-app experience, but in the transition experience between apps where the physical headset will always be a factor until an OS evolves that unifies the launch and navigation between phone-based VR apps. General headset manufacturers aren’t going to fix this problem because they don’t own the ecosystem—they are forced to do the best they can until Google makes sense of it VR environment.

Retina VR Headset Review

This VR headset, as the marketing text suggests, offers all the upgrades to help you move beyond basic cardboard headsets.

What I like:

  • The headset strap is comfortable.
  • Audio is good from built-in speakers.
  • Good field of view (FOV) at 120°
  • Leather cushions. Feels nice and comfortable.  Haven’t experienced moisture build-up on lenses during use.

What I don’t like:

  • The faceplate only folds out partially and doesn’t fall flat for ease of phone insertion. It also isn’t clear if the phone goes in front of, or behind the u-shaped plastic piece at the front of the faceplate. The answer is it goes in front of this piece of plastic. The piece of plastic is used to put pressure on the phone and hold it in place after closing the faceplate.
  • The audio input cable must stretch significantly to reach the port audio port on phones like the HTC 10 where the port is at the top of the phone. It puts a strain on the cable that I fear will ultimately cause the cable to fail.

Focus VR Headset Review

A high-end headset that is a bit overengineered for its own good.

What I like:

  • The ability to adjust focus for each eye.
  • Better field of view (FOV) at 130°
  • Leather cushions (as above).
  • Audio is good from built-in speakers.
  • Full fold-down on the faceplate to provide better access to placing the phone properly.
  • Magnetic faceplate cover that switches from VR to AR mode.

What I don’t like:

  • The rigid headband doesn’t fit my head. I have to wear it more as a crown. And even then, I can’t comfortably adjust it for wearing, as it pushed the headset away from my face. The headband either needs better tilt adjustments where it adheres to the headset or to be replaced with Velcro straps. I don’t see any advantage to this design over the Velcro version on the Retina model. Would suggest they stick with a more universal design to save on material costs and support.
  • Audio cable length/placement.
  • The thinness of materials used to hold the phone on the faceplate. Worry that under repeated use the pieces that hold the phone in place could break.

Bottom-line

Overall, I think Stark has too many headsets in its repertoire.  The Retina’s basic design includes integrated sound, but the phone repository and sound connections don’t work well with all phones. I would love to see Stark focus on the Focus. Replace the headband and simplify the phone placement mechanism with a more robust design. Install a longer, more flexible audio cable. Make one really good universal headset at a good price. Current discounts suggest there is a fair amount of price elasticity in the list price which means swapping features shouldn’t affect profits if they consolidate their offerings and create a best-in-market solution.

Pricing and availability

The Retina and the Focus are both shipping from Stark Technologies.

Retina VR Headset, list price: $139.95

Focus VR Headset, list price: $179.95

Stark runs occasional specials that bring down the price significantly.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

8 comments

    comments user

    Gina C Hanson

    Same here, I bought the VR Focus for my brother for Xmas. It makes him extremely dizzy everytime he tries to use it. I’ve the toll free number, left numerous messages on their website, wrote numerous emails to the sales address. Nothing!! I found where they are out of Canada, but there is no address. I tried to report them to the BBB, but they wrote me back saying they are new and don’t handle the USA. So looks like this company has gotten away with it! It sucks when you buy a present for someone at that price and they can’t use it!

    comments user

    Jill

    BEWARE!!!!!! THIS IS NOT A LEGITIMATE BUSINESS!!!!!!!!! SCAM SCAM SCAM!!!!!!

    I need to return the VR headset I purchased for my son for Christmas. It doesn’t fit and the quality is poor. I have called their phone number, 1-800-546-2124, over and over again for weeks. Here is what I get…”The number you dialed is temporarily unavailable.” Every email I send is returned as undeliverable.

    Any help or direction would be appreciated.

    comments user

    Jason

    I’ve seen the Starks on sale on Touch of Modern but these reviews are putting me off. Is there a ‘best’ VR headset for phones?

    comments user

    Donovan

    I am trying to return the focus headset i bought. I emailed them 3x and got no response.
    They do not have a phone number to call. The headset is junk and they do not respond.
    Made in china $5 garbage.

      comments user

      Daniel W. Rasmus

      Sorry to hear that. All of this class of product has issues as they don’t offer real VR. I found their quality better than many others though. Assuming you tried sales@starkvrpro.com. You can try this number: 1-888-546-2124. Best of luck.

      comments user

      Jim

      I am experiencing the Same issue. I set e-mails from 4 different accts, all failed. dug a bit deeper, I did run a MX check on their mail servers, they are BAD, their mail server is mis configured, No DNS record, No Dmarc setup. just bad all around, and about to be blacklisted. Loooks like they never intended to get e-mail. So it sure sounds like a scam to me.

    comments user

    Eesha Zaveri

    Interesting blog, good information given about stark retina and focus vr headsets. Was very helpful, thanks for sharing the blog with us.

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