It seems like everyone is working on a lower-cost mixed reality headset right now, and we’ve seen coming-soon versions of these devices from Acer, Lenovo and now HP. And if they all seem strangely similar, that’s because they’re built off the same Microsoft reference design, with the same specs, the same displays and the same mixed reality and virtual reality software.
We’ve previously seen the Lenovo headset briefly, and spent a good amount of time with the Acer version. Now we’ve had a chance to strap on the HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset for a hands-on test drive, and — you guessed it — it’s pretty much exactly the same.
Both the Acer and HP models are available to preorder now as “developer edition” models, which means they’re intended for people who want to create virtual- and mixed-reality experiences, and they’re not really ready for general consumer use yet. The Acer headset developer edition is $299 (equivalent to £231 or AU$400), and the HP is $329.
That price difference is accounted for by some of the extra design touches on the HP model. It has a knob on the back of the head strap for tightening, as opposed to a buckle on the Acer version. It also has more head strap padding and, HP claims, a bigger cutout for your nose. Trust me, as someone who has used almost every VR headset imaginable, good space for noses and eyeglasses is key.
In use, the experience was virtually (no pun intended) the same as the Acer mixed-reality headset. Cameras embedded in the front face take the place of the external sensors used by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of which cost hundreds more. Those room-sensing cameras give you “six degrees of freedom,” which means you can move your head forward and back, not just left, right, up and down. That’s the biggest difference between these VR headsets and simple phone-based ones like the Samsung Gear VR.
In practice, both the Acer and HP mixed-reality headsets are impressive for VR first-timers, but don’t yet feel up to the level of the more expensive HTC and Oculus VR systems. The 1,440×1,440 displays have an impressively high resolution that minimises the “screen door effect” that hampers so many VR experiences, but objects and menus in these systems don’t move as smoothly, even when you turn your head at a reasonably slow speed.
But, note that we have only tested these devices out in a handful of preloaded demos from Microsoft and there’s a long way to go from the developer kit to an actual consumer-level product, although Microsoft says the consumer versions should be on sale by this holiday season, and they won’t require the same ultrahigh-end PC hardware as gaming VR headsets.