I've never had the best experiences with VR. Previously, the only time I didn't feel immediately sick was during the Evangelion ride at Universal Studios Japan. Which is weird because it's a rollercoaster.
I once nearly vomited during The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and that's basically just a walking sim.
Suffice to say, I was nervous about trying HP's Mixed Reality headset. And what I found was a pleasant surprise.
What Is It?
- Display Size: 2.89" diagonal (x2)
- Resolution: 1440x1440 per eye (2880x1440 combined)
- Refresh Rate: 90Hz (HDMI 2.0 port), 60Hz HDMI 1.4 port
- Field of vision: 95 degrees
- Connectivity: 2–in–1 HDMI 2.0 + USB 3.0
- Accelerometer, gyroscope, and proximity
- Dimensions: 338.84 mm (W) x 176.02 mm (L) x 127.76 mm (H)
- Weight: 834 grams
- 3.5mm combo jack
It's worth noting that you should take the term 'Mixed Reality' with a grain of salt. They may be future-proofing the technology through the name, but right now it only offers VR, despite any. You won't find any augmented reality here.
What you will find is a virtual reality offering with lower system requirements than the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. Sort of.
Like with any VR headset running through Windows 10 (such as Acer, The Dell Visor and the Lenovo Explorer) you have a choice between Windows Mixed VR and Windows Mixed VR Ultra.
Machines with comparatively low specs will suffer with 60fps, which makes for a pretty bad gaming experience. You'll be limited to pretty basic VR experiences and apps. Anyone with high enough specs will be ready to party.
HP's headset also has similar specs to its competitors in the Windows 10 space so there's no real change here.
Similar to other MR headsets, the HP contains sleek black visor with an adjustment dial at the back. It's pretty sexy, and the visor can be flipped up if you need to momentarily step out of VR, which is a nice touch.
There is a fair amount of padding, which makes for a comfortable experience, but it also means that it gets quite warm. The design could definitely benefit from a little more airflow.
The headset clocks in at 834g, which is quite heavy compared to some competitors. However, I honestly didn't notice it to be any more encumbering than other sets I've tried. The comfortable design certainly helped with this.
There is a single socket for the HDMI/USB 3.0 cable, as well as a conveniently placed headphone jack on the underside of the headset. As far as corded design goes, these were smartly placed. However, I would still prefer a full cordless setup. Even with a 4m long cable - I still found myself consistently aware of it.
I'm a big fan of the controllers, which have the standard ring design that you'll find with other Windows 10 Mixed Reality hardware.
- Clickable touch pad
- Windows button
- Menu button
- Analog sticks
They were easy to use, intuitive, and comfortable. Pro Tip - they aren't interchangeable. If you're too lazy to pop the visor before picking them up, you're going to notice if they're in the wrong hands.
This was far easier than what I expected.
All I had to do was plug in the USB 3.0 and HDMI connectors to the laptop (in this case a HP Omen 17) and I was in business. The setup process proceeded to check the system specs and guided me through pairing the controllers, which was just the click of a couple of buttons.
Next came setting up my perimeter. You have the choice of standing or sitting, and I opted for the former. One option out there is the HP VR Backpack - which means you won't have to worry about cords stretching from your computer to your headset. I didn't have this option, so I just plugged into my laptop.
I then used the headset to trace the perimeter - it comes into play for every game and experience to ensure you don't run into things and hurt yourself.
I was genuinely impressed at how quick and easy this setup process was. This should be the benchmark. I was ready to go within minutes.
What's It Good At?
The user experience is fantastic. Not a single controller or perimeter dropout. The only time I ran into anything is because I straight-up ignored my perimeter to lunge for a gun in Superhot VR. This was entirely my fault and the chair probably deserved it.
Despite having some initial beta issues last year, I found Steam VR to be a dream. Everything ran smoothly and I didn't suffer a single crash. There were also a huge variety of games to choose from. Honestly, this is made me want to utilise VR more. The games are getting good.
I spent most of my time with Superhot VR - which was incredible. I genuinely lost track of time playing. The visuals were great and the controllers worked beautifully with the game play. I was impressed.
The Microsoft Cliff House interface is lovely. It's a minimalist space with ocean views and the ability to add your favourite apps to the walls, or pretty much anywhere else you want.
As defaults you'll find Skype, Microsoft Edge, the Microsoft Store, and Hologram. Naturally, I added Steam and Netflix immediately. These app windows can be moved and resized easily with your controllers. Alternatively, you can use Cortana to open, close and resize.
I have always been skeptical of watching TV and movies in VR. I never really saw the point of watching a screen through another screen.
It makes more sense when it comes to live events like sports or concerts - having the ability to choose which camera you want to watch is pretty cool. But with TV, the view is already chosen for you.
But I had to admit that there was something oddly relaxing about the experience. Cliff House makes for a beautiful backdrop, and being able to create your own ultra widescreen in that environment is cool. You can completely shut yourself off from the world.
The only downsides I found, was the headset itself - you can't lie down or lean back all that comfortably with all that bulk. Also, the perimeter was consistently visible in front of the screen which was distracting.
What's It Not So Good At?
My main issue with this headset was blur and the inability to adjust on the headset. Fortunately, you can make adjustments in the Mixed Reality settings on your PC, where you can change the visuals and calibration. It's a more fiddly process than simply adjusting on the headset.
I also found that there was some blurred edges during game play. They were noticeable but not enough to be an annoyance or deal breaker.
Despite the Cortana integration, it's still quite minimalist and basic. I regularly had to repeat instructions and ended up just using the controllers be default. What she would be really useful for using the keyboard in any capacity, but that isn't possible yet. On that note - virtual reality keyboards are still slow and annoying to use.
Despite the hundreds of apps available on the Windows store... there aren't enough apps. HTC and Oculus are still dominating this space.
Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some cool things available in the Microsoft store. One of my personal favourites was ABC News VR. I never thought that I would get the chance to explore a marijuana plantation or Pyongyang, and yet here we are.
My main concern is that a lot of these app and even game experiences are fleeting or gimmicky. And often expensive.
Sure, there are free games and experiences, but they aren't the best and don't think that they justify the cost. Especially when you're already dropping $799.00 on the hardware - not to mention your PC cost. That being said, I don't think this is specifically a HP issue. It's the high-end MR and VR market in general.
It seems like the Microsoft MR experience is relying heavily on Steam VR to make up the bulk of the missing content - but the same price problems can be found there too.
A huge part of what is so compelling about VR right now are the longer, in depth games being released. But they're pricey. And in the cases of Fallout VR ($US59.95) and Skyrim ($99.95 and only available on consoles) players are likely to be buying them for the second time.
Even mid length to shorter games such as Virtual Rickality ($US29.99) have relatively high price points for only a couple of hours of game play.
I'm not against laying money down for a great experience (Superhot VR is worth every cent), or even buying games for a second time. However, I know that I'm going to get a second dose of fun.
Again, this issue is more about the market in general. We need more affordable apps and games with replay value.
I found the padding to get warm pretty quickly, and had to physically readjust the headset occasionally during particularly movement-heavy games.
And although I didn't find the weight to be any worse than most headsets I've tried - it is heavier. I definitely had a bit of a sore and stiff neck after jumping in for a couple of hours.
This is particularly problematic for gamers. VR headsets in general are just too heavy and uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. Although I have come more around to VR gaming, I still don't see how it can feasible long term with the current bulky hardware.
As someone who enjoys long gaming binges, I would love to to play the likes of Fallout 4 VR for 5 hours and have truly immersive experience. But it's just not comfortable for more than an hour or so at a time.
Should You Buy It?
I genuinely enjoyed my time with this headset and it made me believe in VR in a way I never had before. But I just can't see myself dropping $800 until there are significantly more affordable games and apps. However, it's not the most expensive headset on the market either.
The mixed reality elements aren't available yet and bulky headsets in general aren't at a point where I can comfortably wear them for long periods. I know that it would end up sitting on a shelf after a week.
This will change. VR is increasingly being treated more seriously and I think that the next couple of years will see more serious and immersive apps and games enter the market. The gimmicks and short experiences will fade.
If you're just dipping your toe into the VR waters - you may still want to wait. However, if you're a big VR fan then HP's offering may be the headset you've been looking for.