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Breakthrough Intel RealSense Phone Puts Your Hands in VR

LAS VEGAS - You don't need controllers to use your hands in the virtual reality world. I know because I just experienced Intel's innovative RealSense Smartphone Developer Kit, which combines an Intel-powered phone with IonVR's headset to deliver six degrees of freedom. The dev kit will be available for $399 in the first quarter and the IonVR headset is available for pre-order now for $229.

During a demo here at CES 2016, I not only controlled a virtual paintbrush with my virtual hands, I could walk forward in the environment.

Intel's dev kit includes a phone that features a RealSense ZR300 camera, which uses stereoscopic depth-sensing technology an inertial measurement unit and a wide-angle tracking lens to capture real-world objects (like your hands) and insert them into the virtual world. The phone plugs into IonVR's headset, which uses MotionSync technology to eliminate motion blur and avoid nausea.

During my demo, I painted lines in different colors and I could stop and start painting by just pressing my thumb against my index finger. I could also change colors by spreading my fingers apart.

MORE: What's Next for VR: More Useful Content, Less Nausea

It gets cooler. By walking forward, I could move forward in the VR space, which added that much more depth to the experience. As I continued to paint, I could see the lines I drew earlier as I walked back. The visuals stuttered a bit, but I could see that there's a lot of potential here for developers.

This is the first time someone has enabled users to interact with virtual objects using their hands in a mobile VR setting. The Gear VR, for example, doesn't let you do this; you have to use a game controller or a touchpad on the headset itself to interact with VR experiences.

There's a third partner that's making this innovation a reality. Intel's ZR300 camera supports the Google Project Tango specifications, enabling things like indoor mapping and navigation.

"This literally is a couple years ahead of where we thought it was going to happen," said Jeff Fishburn, spokesperson for IonVR. It might not be that far, but it's definitely a leap.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for nearly 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.