WindowsVR November 20, 2017 by Innes Garden
258

Looking for the best Windows VR headset? Here’s our in-depth rundown of the largest selection of new VR headsets ever!

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit More Sharing Options

Now that the first volley of Windows VR headsets have started hitting the market, it’s time to do a proper round-up of the options available.  With more choices than ever before when it comes to the full and premium PC VR experience, it’s really worth taking a proper look at each.

On this page you’ll find our up-to-date thoughts on each of the headsets currently available, which ones are worth it, and how they stand up against the Rift and the Vive.

 

Why chose a Windows VR headset?

First things first:  You will need an up-to-date Windows 10 setup, with one available USB 3.0 port and one HDMI to connect the headset itself.   Once connected, you’ll have access to not only Microsoft’s own VR titles, but all VR games on Steam as well.  This means that, like Oculus, owners of these headsets will benefit not only from Windows VR exclusives, but also the wider selection of VR games out there.

We would also like to clear up any confusion that Microsoft has created by referring to these headsets being  ‘Mixed Reality’. While such headsets have cameras on the front—the sort that could provide pass-through video for augmented reality —actually none of these first Windows Mixed Reality headsets do any form of augmented reality. They are VR headsets through and through.  The confusion comes from Microsoft using ‘Mixed Reality’ as an umbrella term to describe a spectrum of AR and VR technology.  Let’s stick to the well-established terminology, eh Microsoft?

Unlike other PC VR headsets (i.e. the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive), Windows headsets include inside-out tracking thanks to the on-board vision processing sensors, meaning there’s no need for external sensors or base stations— so they offer a truly ‘plug and play’ experience. While this inside-out head tracking is perfectly serviceable, and while the motion controllers are more than functional (clunky ergonomic design notwithstanding), they might not make the grade for hardcore gamers or content creators demanding the most robust hand input.  Regardless, avoiding the hassle of having to wall-mount external cameras – especially if you’re someone that likes to move their kit around a lot – is going to be a huge positive for many.

As products of the same base reference design, the headsets have somewhat similar specs, although the build quality and design aesthetic seem to differ along price lines. So when it comes to specs and tracking performance, you can expect the headsets from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo to be very similar. The one major exception is Samsung’s Odyssey Windows VR headset, which appears to have taken a more custom approach with unique lenses, displays, and integrated audio.

So with all these headsets soon to be available, which one is worth your money?  Let’s look at each in detail.

Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset

  • Acer has the big advantage of being the first to market,  and at the lowest price tier (deals available below £400 with controllers) is certainly looking to grab a nice chunk of the market share.

    The headset goes for a somewhat retro aesthetic, with a blue and black plastic styled chassis. Like most of the Windows headsets it features a halo-style head strap and a flip-up design, which anyone who has used a PSVR will be familiar with. It uses less expensive materials in its construction, making it seem a little less premium than some of the competition, but ultimately does the same job.

    There’s only one way to adjust fit, with the click-wheel on the back, and in some of our tests it seemed difficult to get the headset into focus. The Rift and Vive have multiple straps you that can be adjusted to find the perfect fit, without having to wrestle with the way it rests on your nose. For the Acer headset, however, sometimes it feels like you can spend ages re-adjusting the position only for it to never feel quite right.

    On top of that, the frontal padding – which separates the hard plastic of the headset from your face and the bridge of your nose – is thin and flimsy, like the foam covering on a pair of cheap headphones. Additionally, like most VR headsets, it’s not the most breathable, so it can get pretty stuffy after a while. That’s where the flip-up visor comes in handy — it’s nice to be able to pop out of VR and let your face breath for a few minutes. But flipping the visor up puts the full weight of the headset is on the top part of the headband, so it slips down your forehead. That means re-adjusting the whole thing – again!

    Tracking and overall seamless movement are not up to the high standard set by Rift or Vive, nor were the visuals as crisp and detailed. If you’ve used one of those other headsets extensively, the WMR experience will pale in comparison. And with the prices of the Rift and Vive getting lower and lower, it feels like this headset needs to be substantially cheaper in order to be worth it.

    Asus Windows Mixed Reality Headset

  • Asus is pushing its headset as simple plug and play. Indeed, the company claims the headset can be up and running in 10 minutes.

    Asus has also put quite an emphasis on design, with the headset sporting a distinctive 3D polygonal pattern on the visor itself – and again that visor can be flipped up conveniently, for when you want to come back into the real world.

    Perhaps the key difference between the Asus and other Windows headsets is that it uses a single display rather than one for each eye.  This gives a field of view of 95 degrees, comparable with the Acer and HP headsets, but less than the Lenovo (105 degrees) and the Dell and Samsung (both 110 degrees).  Overall though, a strange choice considering it means this device has a marginally lower pixel count than its siblings.

    As with Dell’s offering, there’s also a premium on comfort levels here, with the headset designed to be comfortable on the face, and to feel nicely ergonomically balanced when worn – plus it weighs less than 400g. The idea is to keep any ‘VR face’ fatigue to a minimum. However, for some head shapes it can feel like a bit too much light is getting into the headset.

    Hygiene has also been considered, because as Asus noted in its IFA presentation:  everyone wants to share incredible VR experiences with friends, but when those friends get a bit sweaty all over your fancy new device, it can be a bit gross.  To minimize this, this headset is made with very breathable materials to help keep the skin cooler, and anti-bacterial, quick-drying surfaces have also been utilized here. All of which reinforces the general comfort and quality of the design.

    Asus aims to provide a more affordable entry point to the world of VR than the likes of the HTC Vive, although it is pitched at a pricier level than Acer or Dell’s product, with an expected UK retail price of around £450.

    A release date of December is rumoured.

    Dell Visor

  • Smooth and futuristic-looking, Dell’s Visor falls in line with some premium styling. A rubberized texture gives the headset good grip without collecting fingerprints. Dell has clearly been paying attention to Oculus, HTC and the rest of the VR world, and avoided stepping into the same potholes of discomfort. Instead of putting the bulk of the weight over the front of your face, dragging your neck down under the heft of the headset, the Visor is balanced so all the weight is shifted towards the top and back of your head.

    And, for the most part, Dell has got it right. The headset attaches via a band that runs around the top of your head, with a handy wheel letting you tighten it. The visor flips down, hanging off the headset. It’s lightweight, and seems not to push into the nose. It can also be easily worn with glasses with no apparent discomfort. It helps that Dell has packed the edges of the visor with soft foam, cushioning the impact.

    The headband is designed so you can wear it for extended periods without feeling like your face is tired. A consequence is that the Dell Visor does not try to block out light in the same way that other VR headsets do. Because the weight of the headset is taken by the strap, the flip up visor sits lightly on your face, meaning the bridge of your nose takes less pressure, but there is also a bit more light bleed.

    This is part of Dell’s plan for where this headset will fit in the market. Rather than a straight competitor for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the Dell Visor is aiming to be for the ‘lifestyle’ market. 

    According to  Joe Olmsted, Dell subsidiary Alienware’s Global Gaming Product Director, he said that other headsets already had the market tied up for “fast twitch gaming” and so the Visor would be better suited for “livestreaming, YouTube, watching a thematic movie. It’s like IMAX in your living room.” 

    “It allows your eyes and face to breathe. The Oculus and HTC are really jammed on to your face,” Olmsted continued, “whereas this is something you could sit on your couch for an hour or two, and watch something and not be overwhelmed by the weight and the tech.”

    And that feels like quite a bit difference, as the Visor doesn’t try to separate you from the outside world.  Because of that it feels like a more ‘casual’ VR experience, at least compared to the gaming-focused Rift and Vive, and will be a top choice for non-gamers looking for that VR magic. 

    Fujitsu Windows Mixed Reality headset

  • This is a late entrant to the game, and so little is known about it at this stage.

    It sports a fairly safe design, somewhere between understated and underdeveloped depending on your tastes. Unlikely to be the top choice for the fashion-conscious,  but ultimately if what you’re after is a top VR experience, how important are looks?

    Fujitsu understood that looks are important, but only on the inside.  That’s why this headset has a higher field of view than most of its rivals, pushing 100 degrees and making for a more immersive option.

    It will be sold with a pair of wireless (Bluetooth) controllers, and has the ubiquitous  visor, which can be flipped up, all of which is pretty standard for these devices.

    The company also wants to emphasis the portability of the device, looking to provide bundle option that includes a laptop powerful enough to run the VR experience smoothly.  With the Windows VR standard of outside-in tracking (no external cameras needed), this seems like a smart idea.

    The headset (plus controllers) is set to retail at around £400.

    HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset

  • Looking like a black-tinted Robocop, the design of this one certain stands out a bit from the crowd, without being too garish.  As with the other headsets it has a front hinged display allowing the visor to be raised to help with setup and when not actually using the VR element. The visor is mounted on a single continuous double padded headband with s single adjustment knob at the back.

    It cosy’s £380 with a pair of controllers.  

    As with the Fijitsu, there are few reports of actual reported experience with the headset at the time of going to press, so we await more feedback on it. Interestingly HP markets with picture showing a person using it worth a computer (laptop) strapped to his back. Perhaps looking to emphasise the ease and portability of the headset.

    Lenovo Explorer

  • The Lenovo Explorer is the Chinese company’s first foray into the world of mixed reality headsets and will be landing later this year for you to connect to your PC.

    The Lenovo Explorer has a particularly simple design, somewhere between the look of the Fujitsu and the HP headsets.  You get a two-tone dark grey on black, broken only by the protruding stripe on the front that houses the company logo and the external cameras. There’s a click wheel on the back of the headset to pull it back for the shape of your head, and reports are that  the strap felt comfortable.  Made entirely of plastic, the headset is one of the lighter options available.

    One reported issue with fitting is that it’s key to align the centre point of the internal lenses with your own eyes, otherwise the peripheries of the image will blur. If you wear glasses then this is exaggerated, so if you’re a glasses-wearer it’d probably be best to look elsewhere.

    Another possible issue is the foam padding on the inside of the headset. It’s very soft and comfortable, but it’s also rather thin. It is also not attached to the nose section. While there isn’t a problem with light bleeding in, there are concerns about its longevity.  Only time will tell, but being able to buy a replacement would be useful at some point.

    However, worries about the foam aside, the Lenovo Explorer is certainly comfortable to wear. Like many other Windows VR headsets, the front flips up easily for when you absolutely must get back to reality!

    It costs £400 with controllers.

    Samsung Odyssey

  • Samsung are already one of the major players in the VR industry, with the most popular mobile VR headset and a dedication towards ensuring all their phones are VR-compatible.  Unsurprisingly, then, their Windows VR headset sits at the top in terms of quality and specs.  It lays claim to the highest resolution among all currently available dedicated VR headsets, with a pair of 1,440 × 1,600 displays (capable of up to 90Hz).  On top of that, their uniquely OLED-based panels means noticeably richer colours and better blacks.  The Odyssey is also the only one of the Windows VR headsets (so far) with integrated headphones and a microphone, which gives the headset a leg up in usability.  Unlike a lot of other Windows VR headsets, though, it lacks a proper flip-up hinge, instead flexing forward when putting on or taking off (similar to the Rift).

    While all the other Windows VR headsets are offering the same motion controllers, Samsung has crafted their own (slight) variation. The difference is subtle, but the ergonomics are better; a curve to the handle positions the thumb stick in a more comfortable place for your thumb, which is a solid improvement over the standard controller’s somewhat awkward-feeling design.  Aside from the slight ergonomic change, the controllers seem to be entirely identical in function and performance.

    The killer, though, is that this headset isn’t currently available in the UK, with no clear indication of it ever reaching our shores.  So for now your only option is to have one imported, although it seems inevitable that one will hit the UK market eventually.

    Review

    As these  headsets all come from the same Windows specification, differences are mostly superficial and subjective.  Much of the differences are down to choice of materials, design (and colour!) and some minor ergonomics.  If you’re a glasses wearer, or the proud owner of a particularly odd-shaped head, it’s absolutely worth going into a brick and mortar store and trying them on, because different people will find some more or less comfortable than others.  Just hurry on back here to pick one up for cheaps: don’t be lured in by an overzealous PC World salesman!

    The big question, of course, is why buy one of these headsets over a Rift or Vive?  For some of the above, there’s clearly no answer to that question.  Others, like Samsung’s, certainly boast significant advantages in some areas, but still lose out in others.  Ultimately, one of the main drawbacks of this new selection of headsets is the price.  Their releases have been badly timed with some recent price cuts for both the Rift and Vive (and PSVR), making their full retail price seem hard to justify.  Especially for some of the cheaper-feeling headsets now available, it feels like the price difference needs to be considerably bigger in order to make them an attractive budget option.

    Specs Comparison

    Brand Display Field of View Weight Audio Price
    Acer  1440 x 1440 per eye, LCD, 90Hz  95′  350g  3.5mm combo jack £400
    Asus  2880 x 1440 single display, LCD, 90Hz  95′  400g  3.5mm combo jack  £450
    Dell  1440 x 1440 per eye, LCD, 90Hz.  110′  590g  3.5mm combo jack  £380
    Fujitsu  1440 x 1440 per eye, LCD, 90Hz  100′  415g  3.5mm combo jack  £400
    HP  1440 x 1440 per eye, LCD, 90Hz  95′  834g  3.5mm combo jack  £380
    Lenovo  1440 x 1440 per eye, LCD, 90Hz  110′  380g  3.5mm combo jack  £400
    Samsung  1440 x 1600 per eye, OLED, 90Hz  110′  645g  Integrated AKG headphones, in-built microphone array  $500*

    *not currently available for purchase in the UK

Don't miss out...

Sign up to our price alerts to receive notifications when a great VR offer starts!

Close (X)

Sign up for the latest posts and interviews!

Submit your email to receive our best content monthly.