For a dev kit platform the interactions and performance feel really, really good. Using the left stick on my controller I can press forward to bring up a teleportation node wherever I’m looking and use the right stick for snap turning and rotation. When I accessed the “Movies & TV” app it even auto-loaded a 360 video section. When I picked a video it auto-launched all around me without having to load up another 360 video player app of any kind.
And, well…that’s really about it right now while the development world is busy making stuff. The most robust experience I found was called HoloTour, which was similar to the “Welcome to Virtual Reality” videos I’ve seen on the Samsung Gear VR. I got to go on a virtual tour of Rome and marvel at the potential of VR tourism.
Finally, there is a heavy focus on voice-controlled interaction during some of the intro and setup processes. Cortana greets you for the “Mixed Reality Platform” welcome application and I can do things like open the Home Start menu with my voice, or select things. During HoloTour I could even respond to the program and initiate events that way. Tapping into Cortana’s potential and mixing that with immersive worlds could be a really fun use case that helps Windows VR stand out a bit from competitors.
The HP VR headset’s design
When you wear the HP VR headset there’s no other way of describing it: you look like Robocop. This is a very good thing in my book. Especially compared to the Acer, which kind of looks like a toaster and a microwave had a baby. As a huge fan of the PSVR from a design perspective, I greatly enjoyed wearing the HP headset. The headstrap fits around my head easily and the knob on the back works just like the PSVR’s for adjustment. My only gripe is that it’s lacking a slider for the actual lens part of the headset itself, which causes it to hang just a little bit too far from my face. It’s comfortable, but I’d have liked to get my eyes a little closer to extend the field of view. As it stands, I can clearly see the black edges around the lenses in my peripheral vision and it feels sort of like looking through a tunnel at first. That goes away and I ignored it after a while, but the lack of ability to adjust lens distance feels like an oversight. The only way to change the IPD is via an option in the platform’s settings. Hopefully those features are streamlined for a consumer version.
Resolution is a step up from the other headsets on the market, which is great. Since the Windows VR platform is being positioned as a bit more of a productivity suite with the app pinning and web browser-focused access higher resolution is extremely important, especially for reading text. There is still a screen door effect but it’s about the same as on the Rift and Vive in my experience, while it still maintains the same need of finding a “sweet spot” near the center of your view to see everything clearly. Interestingly I noticed more vertical pixel lines than I did horizontal, but text was much more clear with the HP Windows VR than on either Rift or Vive.
It’s also worth noting just how light the whole thing is. Oh, and I can flip it up using the hinge design to easily look around and check things outside of VR with no hassle.
From a design perspective HP has done a really nice job. It’s comfortable, it’s high-quality, and it feels appropriate given the use-cases. The cord is long enough to let you walk around freely, but it does still get in the way. With a few tiny adjustments this could become one of the comfiest headsets on the entire market.
I tried using the HP Windows VR headset in both full roomscale and standing/sitting configurations with great results. Since you don’t need to setup any lighthouse base stations (like with the Vive) or plug in tracking cameras (like with the Rift) I’m honestly shocked the tracking works so well. Using the two embedded cameras on the front of the device, the HP VR headset always knows where you are inside your environment.
The framerate was smooth and it tracked my movement without issues. That alone makes this device an impressive piece of tech and I hope this solution is used going forward. Since the controllers aren’t out yet it’s hard to tell what the full system will be like, but an inside-out PC VR headset for $299-329 is a pretty good deal, even without motion controllers, especially as a dev kit.
Since this is a newly launched dev kit, there are still a lot of questions. I’ve asked our rep at Microsoft’s PR firm if non-Windows Store apps will work easily (I was able to navigate to my desktop in a pinned window and access things like Slack and Steam, but it wasn’t intuitive or ideal,) if SteamVR will ever be accessible like it is on Rift and Vive, and what the ETA for the Windows Mixed Reality Motion Controllers is looking like. You can see those in action in the video above.
To get started with creating content for the device you don’t actually even need the dev kit. Microsoft released a Windows Mixed Reality Simulator to test apps for their “Immersive Headsets” similar to the HoloLens Emulator they released previously. They also recommend building apps with Visual Studio 2017 and Unity’s Mixed Reality Technical Preview build (although it looks like you’ll need to contact a Microsoft Account Manager for access to that.)
The biggest strength of the Windows VR platform though is perhaps the mere fact that it doesn’t require a bunch of third-party programs to work. You plug it in with a USB and HDMI connector and you’re good to go. It runs off of Windows itself and that’s it. No cameras, no trackers, no Steam, no Oculus Home. It’s just Windows in VR. There’s something really appealing about that simplicity.
This story originally appeared on Uploadvr.com. Copyright 2017