Today we will have a look at a Windows Mixed Reality headset, more specifically the Lenovo Explorer. First let us have a look at what Windows Mixed Reality headsets are. Despite their naming, Windows Mixed Reality headsets are not a mixed reality technology like the Microsoft HoloLens, but are Virtual Reality Headsets and Motion Controllers based on technologies developed by Microsoft and manufactured by OEMs like Lenovo, HP and Dell to name a few.
Each of the manufacturers made minor changes to their headsets, for example the HP Headset introduced detachable cables, which is a great feature, however also reduced the field of view to 95° (Compared to a 110° field of view for most of the other Windows Mixed Reality Headsets) which results in a rather terrible binocular effect. So, part of the challenge is selecting a headset that meets your requirements based on the differences between the headsets in a variety of areas, such as field of view, fit, comfort and weight.
Below are the high-level results of my research for each headset I considered:
- Samsung Odyssey: Great headset, however at time of making my purchase it was over double the price of the other headsets.
- HP WMR Headset: Detachable cables are a great feature, however the field of view (95°) is a deal breaker.
- Dell Visor: Has a terrible fit and has the worst light bleed of any of the headsets from the headset not properly sitting on the users’ face.
- Acer WMR Headset: Good all-rounder, however I really did not like the visual design of it.
- Lenovo Explorer: Good all-rounder and more muted design compared to Acer.
- Asus WMR Headset: Out of Stock at time of my Purchase, also its price is comparable to Samsung Odyssey.
All the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets have a per eye resolution of 1440×1440@90Hz, except the Samsung Odyssey which has a resolution of 1440×1600@90Hz, compared to 1080×1200@90Hz for the Oculus Rift, 1080×1200@90Hz for the HTC Vive and 960×1080@120Hz for the PlayStation VR.
The three above mentioned headsets do however utilise OLED Displays whereas the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets (except the Samsung, which uses AMOLED) use LCD displays, resulting in the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets experience slightly less colour saturation and contrast, however most people would have a hard time noticing the difference if they did not compare the headsets side by side.
Another area in which the Windows Mixed Reality headsets differ from the other major VR headsets is in the way it handles position tracking. In the case of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, these headsets utilize some form of external components, such as the Oculus Cameras, Vive Lighthouses and PlayStation Camera, to track the users position in the virtual world. This is great for tracking accuracy, but it is not ideal from the perspective that additional devices are required, that often must be purchased separately, as well as the additional configuration and cables that need to me managed and kept out-of-the-way.
For many people space is also a problem and setting up a designated VR space is simply not an option and packing up everything between uses is very cumbersome. Thus, with these headsets, although the results are amazing, the setup is tedious, and they are far from easily movable once setup.
This is where Windows Mixed Reality takes a different approach, using what is called inside-out tracking. This technology is based on the learnings and technologies Microsoft refined in the development of the Xbox Kinect. Instead of using external components to track the users’ position, all user tracking happens using sensors, such as cameras and Infra-red, contained within the headset. The results are surprisingly good, with the only real trade-off being that the motion controllers are tracked only if they are in view of the headset. Thus far I have not found a VR game where this resulted in any problems.
As far as configuration is concerned, things are very straight forward and easy with the headset requiring one USB 3.0 port and one HDMI 1.4 (2.0 is however recommended) port.
Microsoft lists the minimum GPU required as an Intel HD620, however what can be run on this GPU will be seriously limited. A more realistic GPU requirement can be ascertained by looking at the SteamVR and Oculus minimum requirements, which lists a GeForce GTX 970, however certain games do require a more powerful GPU. All my testing was done on a GeForce GTX 1080.
Now that we have covered all the hardware related information, let us have a look at some of the content and games available for the headset.
There are three main platforms on which you can get content and games for Windows Mixed Reality Headsets, they are Mixed Reality Portal, SteamVR and Oculus Store.
The Mixed Reality Portal is the Microsoft platform and is designed for Windows Mixed Reality headsets. The games and content available on the Portal is however by far the most limited of the three platforms.
With SteamVR the user will need to install “Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR” from the Steam Store. Once this is completed SteamVR titles will be playable on the Windows Mixed Reality headset. Titles officially supporting Windows Mixed Reality will have the following icon:
However, all SteamVR titles I tested, the majority of which did not have official support worked perfectly. So, do not feel restricted to only titles that list official support for Windows Mixed Reality.
To play Oculus games on your Windows Mixed Reality headset you will require an application called Revive. The complete setup instructions can be found here. All titles I tested from the Oculus store worked perfectly.
Now that you know your options regarding where to get games and content, the next question is what to get? I can recommend the following VR games which are my favorites:
- Batman: Arkham VR
- The Blu
- Space Pirate Trainer
- Job Simulator
- Doom VFR
- The Brookhaven Experiment
- Superhot VR
Windows Mixed Reality headsets have a list price of between $400-500 (USD) dependent on model, however most Windows Mixed Reality headsets have been on sale consistently over the past few months on Amazon and the Microsoft store for around $250 and even less if you would consider a refurbished headset.
Given the price of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (including the Oculus Cameras) is nearly double that, the Windows Mixed Reality headsets become a very alluring offer for anyone wanting to experience Virtual Reality without breaking the bank.
I am very pleased with my purchase and I have really enjoyed the experience with my Lenovo Explorer headset. I would recommend the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets to anyone interested in getting a VR headset who might be scared off by the $500 price tag or the complicated setup. Windows Mixed Reality gives the user a more affordable, more compact and easy to use alternative, with only minor trade-offs, and I would recommend that anyone in the market for a VR headset give Windows Mixed Reality a serious consideration.
Just as a side note, I use the Skywin Universal VR Holder and Cable Organiser to store my Windows Mixed Reality headset and it works great. It is an inexpensive way to keep your headset safe and looking cool when it is not in use.