Search Results for: virtual office
Search Results for: virtual office
We've written in the past about the virtual office and the technologies that would be needed to make it a reality. Such technologies may include real keyboards positionally-mapped against a virtual counterpart, a wrist-worn gesture tracker (not a tracker glove as such. however depth sensing cameras that can track fingers to millimeter positions in 3D, or even technology that can sense the electrical impulses in the nerves of the lower arms, hands and fingers.
Other needed technologies are higher resolution and greater Field of View. This is promised by the the Star VR headset and the Pimax 8K
But the latest visitor to the party is a hand and finger tracker glove from Canadian start-up Zerokey. They have developed a sleek and elegant glove that enables millimeter level tracking of your hands and even your fingers.
The designers at ZeroKey have made the prototype gloves of an elastic microfiber material, that is porous, reducing sweat and discomfort. The elasticity, allows freedom of movement, while maintaining a tight fit, to ensure precise location tracking.
Unlike many prototypes, this one doesn't have loose wires going all over the place. Even at this stage, they have thought about the aesthetics of the design as well as the functionality.The black microfiber that covers the hardware, has a quietly understated, conservative professional look. The blue lines - redolent of science fiction - are conductive fibres linked to the sensors.
Upon reflection, white may have been a better choice for the main color. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey. Come to think of it, consider how Apple Computers would have made it. But it's early days yet. At this stage it is only a protoype. ZeroKey are currently developing an SDK for the glove and are taking indications of interest from developers on their website.
The idea sounds very simple in principle: you strap on a headset, say the magic words (“Abracadabra” “Open sesame” or whatever) and instead of being in that pokey, dingy, stark or crowded office or that untidy home-office you were in a minute ago, you are now inside a luxury office with a panoramic view of New York City.
Yes, just a minute ago, you were Joe Public, crammed into a small office with three colleagues, or looking out onto a garbage-strewn backyard. Now you are Gordon Gecko looking down on Wall Street or Harrison Ford (in Working Girl) looking out across a panoramic view of Manhattan.
Once the dream of science fiction, we now have headsets with such high resolution that they can show you the office, the panoramic view beyond the window and one or more computer screens on which you can work. Or if you prefer, you can take your office with you to that sun-drenched beach. What is more, compared to the cost of downtown office real estate, it’s actually quite cheap. Even the most expensive VR headset costs less than a month’s rent per worker in Manhattan or London or Tokyo.
And with live streaming video feeds, you can plug an up-to-date view of the cityscape or the ocean into the background from pairs of 3D cameras mounted at appropriate locations the world over. Not a still picture, you understand. Not even a pre-recorded video looping through over and over again like in Trevanian’s Loo Sanction. No, a real time view of what you would see if you were actually there.
So why aren’t we all doing it already?
Some people would say that the reason is because the background would be too distracting. But that can’t be the answer. After all some people do work in offices in big cities with panoramic views. And some of those offices are comfortable – even luxurious. And there are people who take their laptops to the beach and even work. I’ve done it myself. I once wrote a thriller (under a pen-name) while sitting on a promontory sticking out fifty yards into the Dead Sea, listening to quiet music.
So it’s not the distractions that are the problem. Rather, the problem is best expressed in a recent article in the Guardian by Alex Hern (“I tried to work all day in a VR headset and it was horrible”):
It’s surprisingly hard to find and use the mouse and keyboard. You probably think you can touch-type. I certainly did… But it turns out that there’s a difference between being able to type without looking at the keyboard and being able to type without being able to see your own hands, even in your peripheral vision.
He goes on to describe the experience of “banging around the desk trying to find where I’d left my mouse without knocking over my coffee.”
And this is the only real problem. Although Hern also wrote about the problem of wearing the headset for too long, I think this was very much his personal experience and not representative of others. Many gamers wear their headsets for hours. And Aaron Frank, who wrote an article for Motherboard (“I Worked in a VR Office, and It Was Actually Awesome”) wrote, in contrast:
I wondered about the visual endurance required to stay in VR for such long periods of time, but Bob Perry, CEO of Envelop VR, said that some people in his company code in VR for hours a day without reporting any issues.
So, it is the practical problem of finding keyboard and mouse that is really the problem. The obvious solution would be to display a virtual keyboard and mouse in front of the user and to track their hands and fingers when they use it. The problem is that tracking technology is not that accurate… yet!
One solution might be to attach the keyboard to a tracker device and overlay the VR image with a positionally-matched virtual keyboard and a virtual image of the user’s hands (as tracked by the camera). This technology already exists. But it is at best a temporary, stop-gap solution.
However, two new technologies are making their way from the lab to the market and should be with us very shortly.
The first is accurate finger tracking. Qualcomm’s Spectra Module program has created a Computer Vision kit and Premium Vision kit. These can be used to carry out passive and active depth sensing. Active depth sensing involves firing pulses of infrared light and capturing their reflection off a surface with an IR camera. The module uses over 10,000 depth points and can discern position up to 0.125mm between dots. They have used this system to accurately track a pianist’s hands as he played the piano.
And if they can do it with a 0.125mm accuracy, they can surely do it for a computer keyboard too. Moreover, as human fingers emit infrared radiation, they can presumably also achieve accurate results with passive IR.
But there is an even more potent – not to say esoteric – technology, just around the corner. An Article in Wired under the headline “Brain-machine Interface Isn’t Sci-fi Anymore,” described demonstration given by Thomas Reardon of CTRL-Labs in which he placed a “terrycloth stretch band with microchips and electrodes woven into the fabric” on each forearm and proceeded to type into a computer without touching the keyboard. He actually surprised the interviewer by starting with the keyboard and then pushing it away, while carrying on with microscopic finger movements. Yet his typing continued to appear on the screen.
Reardon explained that the electrodes in the armband were capturing the electronic signals travelling down his nerves and the software was interpreting with high enough accuracy to be able to determine which he key he would have been pressing.
Understandably, Reardon himself described the demonstration as a “mind fuck” and the interviewer could hardly disagree. The software was so accurate that it even pick up twitches from the fingers.
This technology is not yet on the market, but it is more than looming on the horizon. And with pixel density and resolution getting better, and Microsoft working with hardware partners to bring in the Windows headset, we at bestvr.tech confidently predict that the virtual reality office will arrive some time in 2018.
For some time, we at bestvr.tech have been leading the call for the development of a virtual office. But the problem is that when you’re locked inside the immersive world of a virtual office, it’s very hard to enter data via a real keyboard. Now we can bring you the news that HTC is teaming up with Logitech to introduce the BRIDGE developers kit, an SDK to help developers create a virtual keyboard.
The BRIDGE kit consists of a Logitech G gaming keyboard, an accessory that positions the Vive Tracker, and the associated software to link the two. And the great news for developers, is that to kick things off, they are giving away 50 of these kits to selected developers FREE – and if there is sufficient interest, they may bring out more kits.
As Guy Godin of Virtual desktop has said:
Whether you’re doing work or surfing the web you sometimes need the ability to enter text, and Logitech has made it easier to use your keyboard in VR. With Bridge, you can see your physical keyboard, your hands and type without having to take your headset off.
The VR community is finally waking up to the fact that – as we at bestvr.tech have been saying all along – virtual reality needs a way of inputting data with an efficiency comparable to typing it in on a keyboard. Whilst speech recognition and even mind-machine interface are the holy grails of the computing industry, they are still a long way off. Despite much-touted advances in speech recognition, the keyboard is still the main method of entering data into a computer.
However, as long as the emphasis in VR was on games, it was assumed that body tracking, and controllers serving as stand-ins for guns were a sufficient combination to make the user experience a pleasing one.
But for some people – like us at bestvr.tech – games were always a sideshow to the main event under the big top. From the beginning, we saw the future of VR in work rather than play. And work calls for an efficient means of entering data. Even browsing, requires the ability to enter words as well as click on hot links.
But finger and hand tracking are also not quite there yet, and people like the haptic feedback of actually feeling a real keyboard. However, when one is immersed in a virtual world, the real keyboard isn’t visible, and even if one can touch type, one does occasionally need to see the real keyboard to re-orient oneself.
So how did the solve the problem? By creating the means whereby the real keyboard, that actually takes the input, can be synchronized positionally with a virtual keyboard that is shown to the user through the headset.
What they have created is a piece of software that presents the user with an overlaid representation of their keyboard on any VR application, even to the point of showing when a key is pressed.
With the software running, the overlay appears automatically as soon as the associated Vive Tracker is turned on. It also allows the opportunity to skin the keyboard in a variety of ways. Best of all, they have even created a way for the Vive’s existing tracking to see your hands as virtual hands, mapped out against the keyboard.
HTC and Logitech are now looking to the developer community, to take this interface to the next level. We believe that the next level will be the virtual office and the use of virtual reality in the workplace. Imagine turning a dull and dreary office into an executive suite with a panoramic view of a great metropolis? Instead of looking at a wall or a back yard, you can now imagine that you are Gordon Gecko looking down over Wall Street!
Or you can turn up the central heating, put on the headset and abracadabra! You are now sitting on a sun-drenched, sandy beach looking out at the Caribbean, Pacific Ocean or Mediterranean Sea as you work. Yes it’s true, you still have to work… but in a much more pleasant environment.
At least, that’s the way we a bestvr.tech see things panning out.
Anyway, they are are now taking applications from developers for the first 50 of these developer kits. If you are interested in applying, click on this link. The application window ends on the 16th of November. The SDK is a BETA version and is intended for proof of concept rather than market ready products. HTC acknowledges that the system has bugs and you should be prepared to encounter them.
International delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS) is shifting from touchscreens to virtual reality headsets to train its drivers.
In a move aimed at making driver training more realistic, UPS has introduced VR modules to create realistic 3D representations of streets and road hazards. Setting a trend that could be extended to training drivers in general – and thus lowering training costs – the training program is scheduled to start in September 2017.
Initially, the new VR-based training is to be rolled out at its nine Integrad training facilities. According to the company, some 9000 drivers have been successfully trained at the Integrad facilities since they first opened in 2007.
The training comprises lessons in driving UPS delivery trucks in a simulation of a city and identification of road hazards. However, until now the training program has used conventional flat touch screens.The new program has chosen Virtual Reality headsets because of their greater realism in general and their ability to recreate true 3D in particular.
In the road hazard modules, students are required to identify (verbally) various types of hazards, including parked and mobile vehicles and pedestrians. They are also required to turn their heads, to identify hazards coming the sides and even behind, simulating real driving situations.
According to UPS chief information and engineering officer, Juan Perez: “Virtual Reality offers a big technological leap in the realm of driver safety training. VR creates a hyper-realistic streetscape that will dazzle even the youngest of our drivers whose previous exposure to the technology was through video games.”
Although the program is initially limited to training package delivery truck drivers, UPS is considering extending the program to the training of tractor trailer (articulated lorry) drivers too. They are also looking into the possibility of using Augmented Reality, along with pure VR, in the training program.
The software training modules and headset hardware and being supplied by HTC Vive, the current joint leader in the VR race.
The announcement was made without much fanfare, but has been confirmed by HTC. Unlike controllers, the trackers are designed to attach to other objects (guns, tennis rackets, etc) which then become peripherals.
The trackers are tracked by the Lighthouse sensors. This makes it possible to play games like tennis, cricket and baseball with the real feel of the racket or bat.
Unlike the old trackers, which only support SteamVR BS1.0, the new Vive trackerl supports SteamVR BS2.0 which offers better tracking accuracy and range. In other respects, the trackers are the same as last year’s model and are backwardly compatible.
Both the 2017 and 2018 trackers are compatible with the Vive and the Vive Pro. They also compatible with each other and can work together inside a single game without conflicts. Like the defunct 2017 model, the 2018 tracker retails for $99 (£99, AU$169).
The 2017 trackers have been withdrawn. However, third party vendors mighty still be selling the old 2017 tracker. So, to be sure you get the new Vive tracker, make sure it has the new blue label. The old (2017) trackers carry a white label.
You can even attach it to a Logitech keyboard and have your hands tracked with the forward-looking cameras. An article in November here at bestvr.tech described how the HTC tracker could be attached to a Logitech keyboard as a means of creating a virtual office.
One of the widely recognized strengths of the HTC Vive over the Oculus Rift (now the Facebook Rift) is that the Vive trackers give it greater versatility. This is even truer of the new Vive tracker.
BioInteractive Technologies (Vancouver) is shaking up the gesture-based controller sector with TENZR™, a gesture detector worn on the wrist. Unlike most other detectors, it does not require a camera, lighthouse, sonic triangulation or any other external recognition to function.
The wristband controller works out of the box with no training and recognizes six hand gestures (left, right, up down, open and closed). It connects to the VR or other device via Bluetooth. This enables it to be used as simple controller device.
However, it can be trained to recognize more discriminatory finger gestures, thus enabling it to be used to play games such as darts, with the fingers simply “holding” an imaginary dart and the hand and wrist throwing it.
The company has been developing the product for the last three years. Their aim was to herald in the next generation of controllers, making them less bulky and more natural-feeling. What they have produced is a small, comfortable device - worn on the wrist - that can be used for even more discriminating applications such as Rock, Paper, Scissors.
The current unit is a developer model to be presented as CES 2018 at Eureka Park, Sands, Hall G - 50915 and at Cypress Booth (MP25365). It is Unity3D compatible, making it an ideal plug-and-play solution for various VR platforms.
TENZR’s™ features include:
A recent article in The Economist (1st December) has suggested that Virtual Reality may be heading for the knacker’s yard before it’s even over the second fence. They go on to suggest that consumers are opting for Augmented Reality as an alternative to VR!
They start off by pointing out that prices for VR hardware are falling since the items were first introduced - as if this phenomenon were something entirely new, rather than par for the course. They portray this not as a normal process for a slowly maturing technology, but rather as a sign of desperation in the industry.
“Virtual reality has failed to live up to its hype,” the article declares imperiously, “and mainstream consumers never really bought into the technology. Even ardent gaming fans have been slow to embrace VR.”
At bestvr.tech we have always maintained that the reason VR has been slow to catch on is precisely because it has been targeted to heavily at gamers and not enough on users. That is why we have been campaigning for so long for the virtual office.
But that is not the central thrust of the Economist’s argument. Nor have they taken the “cup is half full” approach and held out the hope that the slow uptake of VR will eventually be overcome by a breach of the floodgates. Instead, they predicted that Virtual Reality would go the way of 3D TV.
But part of the problem is surely that the bar was set too high for VR and too low for 3D TV. In the case of VR, it was decided, by the business powers-that-be, that it is not enough just to let people watch a video passively in immersive 3D. Instead, it must let them interact with the view as gamers, not only sitting on an armchair, but even on their feet! It must have head tracking, change the POV accordingly and even let them dance around the living room - instead of letting them do the sensible thing and go out of doors to play their sports out in the open with real people.
On the other hand, with TV, it was decided that it was too much for people to watch a 3D movie on a personal headset. No, they had to share the experience by watching it on a big screen. But to do that, they still needed special viewing glasses. These could either be “active”, opening and closing alternate eye-views (causing dizziness), or “passive”, based on vertically or horizontally polarized light.
Tang has said that despite the downsizing, the company remains committed to developing an AR headset. Avergant’s AR division is in direct competition with Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap. In some respects, the parallels to Magic Leap are stronger, because Magic Leap claims to have developed light field technology. But whilst Avegant has already demonstrated their technology in the Glyph – aiming light directly into the eye – Magic Leap continues to play its cards close to its chest.
Avegant demoed the technology to The Verge over a year ago and it was deemed superior to the HoloLens, despite the fact that HoloLens was a standalone wireless device, whereas the Avegant required the processing power of a high-spec PC. The main strengths of the Avegant headset were its superior field of view and the sharpness and clarity of its image display.
The demo – in a conference room at Avegant’s corporate offices - included views of the solar system and the ocean floor. In the solar system view which one could see Jupiter’s red spot and a satellite orbiting earth. What was so impressive about this demo was that objects of different focal length could be shown in a fixed environment. The Verge writer gave the example of squinting until the sun went out of focus and then seeing the virtual Saturn in sharp focus, including its rings.
There was also a sea view that showed a sea turtle and small, aquatic creatures in sharp definition. The reporter was able to stick his hand into the images, but because the prototype didn’t yet have an advanced tracking system, it was not possible to interact with it. In the HoloLens demo, in contrast, one can tap on one’s coffee table to trigger a display of virtual molten lava.
The demo in fact used the public asset library of the Unity game engine for the images and off-the-shelf cameras for the tracking to identify real objects in the room. Avegant’s long-term strategy calls for inside-out tracking to avoid the need for external cameras or trackers.
To some extent, Avegant is also somewhat secretive about its technology. While refusing to reveal precisely how the company implements light field technology, Founder and new CEO Tang hinted that the HoloLens is based on conventional 3D stereoscopy. Microsoft’s own secrecy policy has prevented them from revealing details of their “light engine”.
Similarly, Rony Abovitz, the CEO of Magic Leap, has criticized Microsoft’s image creation technology and claimed that Magic Leap’s is superior. However, given the absence of evidence that anyone outside Microsoft knows what technology they are using – and given Magic Leap’s own secrecy, there is no way of knowing who has the best technology. All we know for sure is that Avegant has had practical market experience of light field technology, while Magic Leap has had $1.3 million in funding and backing from Google parent Alphabet, while Microsoft has huge size and a range of experience.
It might be the financial disadvantage that has forced Avegant to scale back its efforts in AR. It is worth noting that despite Microsoft’s size – or maybe because of it – they released what was essentially a far from finished product and then charged $3000 for it. In contrast, Avegant’s personal cinema retailed for $799 – the price point for many high-end VR and AR products.
The sudden downsizing and replacement of the CEO suggests that Avegant is having trouble matching its larger competitors when it comes to funding. Ed Tang himself has said that the company is in the process of closing a $10 million funding round that would bring their total capital raised to $60 million since the company’s inception in 2012.
However, there are several more serious omens that bode ill for the company. It has noticeably lowered its public profile on Facebook and Twitter in the last few months, despite a very active and vigorous presence before that. And the last time it posted a new video on its YouTube channel was half a year ago.
This can suggest one of two things: either it is going through some kind of malaise that threatens its very existence, or it is legally obliged to go quiet because it is planning to announce an initial public offering and doesn’t want to be seen as hyping a product still in development, that is nowhere near market ready. The downsizing suggests the former. However, it could also be a strategy to ensure that the company is optimized for efficiency when it launches on the stock market.
Do you want to know the difference between virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality? Are you considering buying a Windows mixed reality headset? In this review we’ll answer the question, compare the products and give you some advice on choosing which headset to buy.
First, what’s the difference between the three so-called “realities”? In brief, virtual reality creates a fully immersive artificial world via a headset that closes out the world. Augmented reality involves wearing transparent glasses through which you see the world, while virtual objects are overlaid either by being projected onto the glass or (in theory) onto the eyes themselves.
But what about “Mixed Reality”? This is where it gets a little confusing. The general and widespread definition of mixed reality is that it overlays reality with virtual objects (or real ones that are in another location), but these objects can be “anchored” to the real world and the user can interact with them like in virtual reality. Imagine having a videochat with friend hovering before you while at the same time walking in the street and looking ahead to see where you’re going.
The problem with this definition is two-fold. The first is that it could just be considered a definition of one of the uses of augmented reality, rather than a true separate category. The second is that Microsoft has just come along and introduced something called Windows Mixed Reality. This is a new standard for headsets by Microsoft partners, but despite the name, it is really just virtual reality by another name.
The reason Microsoft treats it as different is because their mixed reality headsets use inside-out tracking but have their own built-in screens. Inside-out tracking means that unlike the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, they don’t lighthouses or external towers to track your head position or movement. Having built-in screens is important. It means that unlike Google Cardboard, Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR, they are more than just phone housing units.
In fact, this combination of inside-out tracking but with its own built-in screen has been around for a while. The Osmose virtual reality headset was built on this concept and although the company behind it lacks the resources to market it like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, they still produced a credible product.
But now Microsoft has taken matters to a new level with Windows Mixed Reality. This is a new standard that has been implemented by Microsoft’s partners: Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung. These companies have already established themselves as makers of Windows-based PCs, so they clearly know their stuff. And with five of them competing in this area, there is good choice of headsets.
One of the good things about Microsoft getting in on VR - even if they insist on calling it “mixed reality”, is that it offers a cheaper alternative to getting into the virtual world via the high-end competition. At the same time, it avoids the kludgyness of the phone housing low-end units.
It is worth noting that there are two Windows Mixed Reality standards. There is the regular and then there is Mixed Reality Ultra. These headsets all support Ultra, but getting the benefits of Ultra is dependent on having WMR Ultra computer. Ultra offers a 90 Hz refresh rate, instead of the 60 Hz for regular WMR. It also offers better Field of View (100° instead of 90° for regular WMR). Other advantages of Mixed Reality Ultra are that you can interact with more than apps at the same time, and also you can capture, share and stream what you’re doing.
With all these headsets, you can install Steam and SteamVR on your PC and then install Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR. Once you have done that, you can play SteamVr games on the headset. And with Revive, you can also play Oculus Rift games. These headsets give you access to both Rift and Vive apps, as well as Microsoft’s native Mixed Reality games. Currently, haptic feedback is lacking from Vive games because the motors used to produce vibration in the WMR controllers are different from those in the Vive controllers. Microsoft is looking into finding a solution for this, but as of yet, no solution has been implemented.
Still on the subject of the controllers require Bluetooth 4.0, so if your PC doesn’t have Bluetooth - as is the case with most desktops - you need a Bluetooth dongle. Paradoxically, Microsoft recommends plugging the dongle into a Bluetooth 2.0 port on the computer for this, even though the dongle itself is 4.0. A quirk worth bearing in mind.
And so, with this in mind, we’ll take a look, in this review, at the five Windows Mixed Reality headsets available in the market and compare what they have to offer.
The Acer has a certain visual appeal about it, even before you take it out of the box. Unlike the other headsets reviewed here, it is a mixture of blue and black - a bit like the Sony PlayStation VR. In fact, blue is something of a theme color with the Acer because both the headset and the controllers arrive in blue boxes. The actual Head Mounted Display is wrapped in plastic and then sandwiched in foam to hold it in place.
It has a resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye (2” x 2.89”) offering excellent visual qualities. This resolution is higher than the Vive and Rift. However, the so-called screen door effect (being able to see the gaps between sub-pixels) is not completely removed. If you focus hard on it, you will see it. But if you don’t try to actively look for it, you will probably not notice. At any rate, the image is sharper than with the HTC and Oculus products. At this resolution you can read text on the screen. But it is still not good enough for small text. Field of view is 100° for WMR Ultra 90° for standard WMR.
The headset has both HDMI 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 connectivity. When using 1.4, the refresh rate is 60Hz. When using HDMI 2.0, it is 90 Hz. Either way, there is no flicker and no feeling of tired eyes that derives from flickering images.
The display is kept in focus by two round Fresnel lenses. Unfortunately, unlike most headsets on the market (including many of the cheap ones) you can’t change the interpupillary distance (IPD). It is fixed at 63mm. But Acer uses a software system that recreate the manual adjustment between 59mm and 67mm. This is enough for many people, but not all. I won’t even say most. (Let the buyer beware!)
Although it is not standalone (in the sense that it does still have to be tethered to a computer by a cable) it does not require any towers or lighthouses for tracking. Instead, all tracking is done by that well-established triumvirate of Gyroscope, Accelerometer and (in some cases) Magnetometer. There are also two tracking cameras built into the headset to assist with “inside out” tracking. Finally, there is an IR sensor for tracking the wand controllers.
This camera is black and white, in accordance with its limited purpose. The camera does not show what is going on outside unfortunately. If they did then the headset would be able to mimic the transparency of augmented reality glasses. Then it really would be a mixed reality headset. But as I said above, this isn’t true mixed reality, just virtual reality by another name.
The whole thing comes bundled with two controllers and a 4-meter (13+ foot) cable. That’s more than long enough to allow you a fair degree of freedom of movement. Cable-free would have been nice. But VR requires that a large amount of data must be sent to the headset. Bluetooth probably wouldn’t have the bandwidth. WiFi might, but with wireless there’s that latency problem. And with VR, low latency is crucial. Otherwise you end up with dropped frames, picture freezing and that dizzy feeling. So cable it is!
In the setup process, you start off my aiming the headset at the computer and select Trace. From this starting position (and subject to the limits of the cable) you map out your play area by moving the headset around, making off the perimeter of the area in which you will be using it.
In action, you get a high degree of freedom of movement and six degrees of freedom. The gyroscope can track head orientation (like the pitch, roll and yaw of airplanes). The accelerometer can track forward/backward, left/right, up/down. In theory, this should give you a bigger play area than a headset that has to be monitored from the outside. However, you are still constrained by that cable. (Elsewhere on this site we review cable management systems and another system for cable management.)
Like the best headsets on the market, the Acer has a proximity sensor that can detect when you put it on. And when this happens, it activates the display.
The headstrap is mechanical and has a moisture-proof padded section for the forehead. At the back of the strap is a blue dial that can be used to tighten the strap, I say tighten rather than tighten or loosen, because the tightening process is like a ratchet mechanism, that locks in place behind the turning of the dial. If you tighten it too much, you would actually have to take it off to loosen it again. Ideally, they should have provided a release mechanism like the Sony PlayStation VR has.
On the other hand, if you need to merely see something outside the headset, you don’t need to take it off. You can simply flip up the visor. This is a good design feature, as you never know when there might be something going on in the real world that you have to attend to. However, anything with moving parts is subject to wear and tear, and so this flip-up/flip-down visor could be a potential point of failure. In fact, it actually felt rather weak and “plasticky” for want of a better term. That is not to deny that it is useful. But it could be made better. I also found that when closed, the visor did not let light in. However, it is possible that if the user has a small face, the outside light might not be completely kept out.
From the point of view of comfort, I was impressed. Notwithstanding our concerns about the ratchet mechanism on the strap, I felt at ease inside the headset. It is lighter than the Rift and much lighter than the Vive. In fact, it weighed less than a pound. This might be because it is quite small. In size as well as in weight, it has advantages over the bulkier Vive and Rift.
I haven’t yet mentioned the audio. These headsets don’t have headphones, only the standard 3.5mm audio input for plugging in your own earphones or headphones.
I also haven’t mentioned the controllers. These are basically the same across the Windows Mixed Reality range with only the label differing. They are incredibly easy to set up. Just put in the batteries, pair them with the PC and you’re all set to go. However, you might like to get rechargeable batteries and keep one set charged (or charging) while you’re using the other.
The headset is certainly good value for money. It is fun to play with (or work with) and comfortable to wear. It is designed for Windows and is Steam VR compatible. With Revive, it can also run Oculus Rift software. So there is no shortage of content.
The Dell Visor has that white glossy finish that we associate with Apple and before that with 2001: A Space odyssey. In other words, that space-age futuristic look. But headsets are not All about aesthetics. So let’s take a look at the functionality.
It has HDMI 2.0 video input, USB 3.0 and the standard 3.5mm input for plugging in headphones, which again, do not come bundled with it. You have to buy your own.
Like the Acer it has a flip-up/flip-down visor, so you can take a break from virtual reality and return to the real world briefly without having to take off the headset altogether. Like others in the range it doesn’t have an over-the-head strap. It has a band that surrounds the head that can be tightened with a small wheel at the back to just the right amount to stay secure. And once in place, it has a nicely balanced feeling about it.
You can even wear it with glasses. And the sides are cushioned with padded foam, protecting the glasses. As with Acer and others in the WMR range, there is no mechanical control to vary the interpupillary distance, only a software calibration. However, not expect to be prompted about this in the set-up process.
Notwithstanding that minor gripe, the Dell Visor feels good. It is well-ventilated and stays cool. Thus, you can play highly energetic games without sweating, without steaming up the lenses and without the headset itself overheating. This is achieved - or at least assisted - by air channels on either side of the noses. And because of the way it sits firmly on the head, there is no uncomfortable pressure on the nose.
The resolution is the same as the Acer (1440 x 1440 per eye). Also, like the Acer, and the HP below, Field of View is 100° for Windows Mixed Reality Ultra apps and computer, 90° with regular a Windows Mixed Reality computer. Similarly, for Ultra, the refresh rate is 90 Hz, for regular WMR it is 60 Hz.
Also, like the Acer it doesn’t have any lighthouses or base stations for the kind of outside-in tracking used by the Vive and Rift. Instead - like all the Windows Mixed Reality headsets - it relies on inside out tracking. This is achieved by the two monochrome tracking cameras on the front of the headset headset and the combination of gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer. All of this gives you six degrees of freedom. But, unlike the Acer, it does not have a proximity sensor.
The handheld controllers are versatile and comprehensive, including a thumb stick, touchpad, trigger button, grab button, windows button, menu button, pairing button. The problem is that if you move the controllers out of sight of the tracking cameras, the system doesn’t know what’s going on. However, Dell have built in a clever solution for this. The software actually predicts where your arms are likely to be based on how they were moving when they vanished from the cameras. The algorithm calculates where they ought to be based on the speed and direction in space when they went out of view.
Of course, if they stay out of sight of the cameras for too long, the system gets confused and its predictions - or rather guesses - become less accurate. But all in all, it is a pretty clever workaround and in most cases is good enough. When you consider what a pain in backside base stations and lighthouses are, this is actually quite a good solution. After all, how often do you put your hands behind your back? Especially when you’re fighting off zombies or aliens.
And besides that, it is clear that Microsoft wants to get away from the gaming-only world of the Vive and Rift and move VR into such useful fields as office business, and education.
At this resolution, the image is sharper and clearer than the Rift or Vive, but if you concentrate hard enough you can see a screen door effect in which individual pixels become visible. But if you’re not looking for it, you won’t notice it.
As with the rest of the range (except the Samsung), the Dell visor doesn’t have built in headphones, so you have to supply your own. This decision was probably taken because many people already have a favorite set of headphones. But the downside is that if your favorite headphones happen to be large or bulky, then you may find them competing with the headset for space.
The first thing we noticed about this headset is that whereas the Acer looks a bit like the Sony PSVR and the Dell looks almost Apple-like (or space-age), the HP and Lenovo look remarkably like each other and they - together with the Samsung - are more conventional in their appearance. Or to put it another way: the HP, Lenovo and Samsung don’t look too different from the Vive and Rift.
The HP can connect to any PC with Windows Mixed Reality or Windows Mixed Reality Ultra. With the latter you get a better field of view (100° - as distinct from 90° with regular Windows Mixed Reality).
It can connect via either HDMI or the more powerful VESA Display Port. Please note that Display Port 1.2 can support both the 60 Hz (Windows Mixed Reality) and 90Hz (Windows Mixed Reality Ultra) refresh rates. But with HDMI you need HDMI 2.0 for 90 Hz or HDMI 1.4 for the 60 Hz. The headset comes with a combined USB-HDMI cable that splits at the end into its respective components.
Technically, the HP headset has the same specs as all but one of the others in the range. 1440 x 1440 per eye, choice of 60 Hz or 90Hz refresh (depending on whether the app and hardware are WMR Ultra or just plain old WMR), 3.5 mm combo jack for external headphones. Tracking by gyroscope, accelerometer and the tracking cameras. There is a proximity sensor so that it knows when you are wearing the headset.
The HP fits around the head like the Dell and tightens with the same wheel at the back. The visor portion can be flipped up and down like the Dell. This has been compared to a welder’s face mask. One of the problems is that HP have used quite a lot of padding on the face mask. Far from preventing or absorbing sweat, this seems to encourage the buildup of sweat and causes condensation and fogging up. This is in complete contrast to the Dell which is well-ventilated.
Another problem is that the HP is quite heavy, weighing almost twice as much as the Acer. This may not be a problem for everyone, in fact it means that the headset is sturdy. But some people find it easier to forget that they are wearing a headset if it is light. On the other hand, the headset is big enough to accommodate glasses, without having to worry about the glasses bumping against the lenses of the headset.
Setting up the headset is straightforward, though if you want to use it with SteamVR there are a few extra steps. Unlike the more expensive headsets with outside-in tracking, you are less restricted in your play space - although you are still limited to the length of the cable. The long cable is 4 meters (just over 13 feet), the same as the Acer and Dell.
As with the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets, the system can lose track of the controllers when they go out of view of the headset. I stress “of the headset” because the tracking cameras are mounted on the front corners of the headset, so even if you cannot see the controllers, as long as they are within “sight” of the tracking cameras, you can play on as normal.
In practice, the HP headset is not as accurate or as quick to respond as a the Vive or Rift. But it is pretty good, and, in any case, the slightly slower responsiveness and accuracy is more than offset by the higher resolution.
We had some issues running SteamVR, such as video memory being hogged unnecessarily by the virtual room from which mixed reality apps are launched when you put the headset on. However, you can bypass this and launch SteamVR directly. The virtual room (or "cliff house" as they call it) will run in the background but will hog less video memory.
Although all the Windows Mixed Reality headsets have to comply with a minimum spec set by Microsoft, some of them have higher specs than the minimum. Such is the case with the Lenovo Explorer headset. Instead of the WMR standard 100° Field of View, you get 110°. The actual resolution is the same as the other: 1440 x 1440 per eye. As with the others, this is still not enough to completely eliminate the screen door effect - that enables you to discern the individual pixels. But again, that only happens if you are looking for it. If you forget about it, it goes away.
The front cameras track the controllers, like the others in the WMR range and as long as the controllers don’t disappear from view of the cameras, your playing can continue uninterrupted. In fact playing with the Lenovo Explorer went quite smoothly most of the time. And it must be stressed that while this and other WMR headsets sometimes have problems tracking the controllers, the head tracking is perfect and not in any way hampered by the lack of base stations. This is true of both this headset and the others in the range.
Thus, as with the others in the WMR range, you get better resolution and almost as good tracking for a substantially lower lost than the Vive or Rift. To some VR purists, the limitations to the tracking are a dealbreaker. For others, the problem is negligible. It depends what and how you play. Indeed, for some, it is the price that is the deal breaker. And it is quite possible that those who have been holding off buying a virtual reality headset until now, might just take the plunge because of the low prices on these headsets (except the Samsung).
Another advantage to the inside out approach of WMR over the base station method used by Vive and Rift is that it’s almost plug and play, with virtually no set up. You plug it in, trace out your play area by moving the headset and that’s it.
The batteries on the controllers have a reasonable life, but if you play a lot you would be well advised to get rechargeable batteries and a charger. By keeping a spare set permanently charged, you can ensure that your gaming experience is not subjected to anything more than a minimal interruption.
On the comfort side, the results are mixed. It is light, weighing less than a pound (380 grams in fact). Having said that, it might not be big enough for everyone. After all some people have bigger heads than others. The padding around the nose is quite tight. This is good for keeping out the light, but bad news for people with big noses, at times feeling almost suffocating. This also means that the ventilation if not great and it tends to overheat, causing sweating. Finally - and again, a common negative feature across the range - there is no mechanical adjustment for inter-pupillary distance, just the rather limited software adjustment.
And like the others, it has that flip-up/flip-down feature that makes it possible to return to the real world briefly, without having to take the headset off and put it back on again.
Finally, we arrive at the king of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Samsung haven’t allowed Microsoft’s specs to hold them back to the minimum requirements. Far from it. They have gone for the gold with the Odyssey. In the process, they have made the most expensive of the WMR headsets. So what do they have to show for it?
First of all, other headsets in the range have taken advantage of the minimum requirements, to give the user flexibility by allowing them to use their own earphones or headphones. But Samsung have taken off in a different direction. They have chosen instead to aim for the best user experience by providing a set of good quality built-in AKG “premium” headphones.
These boast “360-degree spatial sound” - which means that they can create sounds coming at you from different sides and angles. So, if, for example, the game calls for a helicopter approaching from behind you and then flying overhead and landing in front of you, the headphones will recreate this experience. The headphones are hinged rotationally, so that they can be flipped down 90° from parallel to the headband to a perpendicular position such that they cover the ears.
The headset also includes an integrated microphone array that you can use to talk to Cortana, the Windows 10, voice-activated smart assistant.
On the other hand, Samsung seem to have missed some other opportunities for premium enhancements over and above the minimal spec. For example, the controllers use the same AA batteries as the other WMR headsets, instead of being rechargeable. Of course, the owner could get their own rechargeable AA batteries - and even keep a spare set charged at all times as we recommend - but Samsung missed a trick by not being proactive about this.
In game play, the Odyssey is at least as good as any of the others, working best if the tracking cameras are able to assist the gyroscope and accelerometer. That calls for the play area to be at least moderately well-lit and for there to be some level of detail. If you were playing in an empty hall, this might be a problem. But in practice it is unlikely to be as most homes have some defining detail. Even floor tiles or grained floorboards will help.
This means that in most situations, the Odyssey feels no less responsive than a Vive or Rift. And while a problem can arise if the controllers drop out of view of the cameras in the headset, you can at least turn round with the controllers and keep them (and yourself) in play.
Another point in favor of the Odyssey is the graphics. Samsung have opted for an AMOLED display instead of the LCD displays that the other headsets in the range have chosen. These are sharper and more responsive to rapid change than the LCDs. Also, Samsung has given the headset a resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye, instead of the 1440 x 1440 of the others.
One thing the Odyssey lacks is the flip-up/flip-down feature of the other headsets. In that respect, the Odyssey is more like the Vive or Rift. After experiencing the flip feature, it was hard to adapt to no having it with the Odyssey. It is a useful feature. And one feels almost deprived without it.
Esthetically, the Odyssey is closer to the Rift or Vive than say the Acer, which looks like the Sony PSVR, or the Dell which looks the most futuristic. In other words, the Odyssey has a solid, sturdy look about it. It is also the second heaviest of the headsets in the WMR range, weighing in a hefty 650 grams.
The Odyssey is more like the Vive and Rift than the other WMR headsets in another respect too: it has a hardware adjustment for interpupillary distance. Whereas the other WMRs reviewed here are limited to a fixed physical 63mm IPD with a 4mm “software” calibration in either direction (for an effective 59-67mm), the Odyssey can be physically varied between 60mm and 72mm. This makes allowances for larger heads in the way that other WMR headsets do not. Unfortunately, there's stil no focus adjustment capability.
The question of value for money for this headset is hard to answer, because the prices of these headsets are constantly changing (and falling).
2017 was supposed to be the breakthrough year for VR and AR, according to our predictions - and in a way, it was, for VR at least.
A lot of headsets were sold: Vive, Rift, PSVR, Samsung Gear VR. The Oculus Go was at least announced as was the Microsoft Mixed Reality headset. Others like the 200-degree FoV Pimax (3840x2160) and 210-degree Star VR (5120x1440), were also announced, although they were not actually demonstrated and could yet be vaporware.
In the AR world, things were a bit different. So far all we have seen is the ability to overlay a camera view on a phone screen with a virtual supplementary image and a few high-priced headsets that are intended for developers, with no indication of when the price will down to a level that will actually attract consumers.
More games and apps became available, and other used were pioneered like education, consumer visualization and - our pet project of the future - office applications.
Progress was also made in letting the “astronauts” walk untethered, with wireless relay closing the gap with wired connection and inside out tracking (relying on gyroscopes and accelerometers), closing the gap with external tracking that relies upon lighthouses and cameras. Some of the diehards moaned about poor latency and dropped frames. But the problem of the pigtail and the prospect of strangulation in one’s own living room, made it inevitable that cordless would elbow its way into the market.
In due course the latency and dropped frames problem will be solved. Some hardcore gamers will hang on to their ponytail headsets until that happens. Others will opt for the cheaper cordless models now. I had an argument about this a few months back, with a hardcore gamer insisting - with that characteristically adolescent sense of entitlement - that low latency and smooth motion were “basic requirements” for Virtual Reality. I pointed out to him that this was like a rich man saying: “one simply must travel by Rolls Royce or not travel at all.” Needless to say, the rich boy with his toys did not like that one bit!
I have also pointed out that the aesthetics of VR headsets leaves a lot to be desired. At the moment they are so kludgy, Apple will not touch them with a ten-foot pole. Until they can achieve the elegance of the Royole Moon personal theatre, I can’t see Apple changing its attitude towards them.
But where do we go from here?
According to a survey by the International Data Corporation, spending on AR and VR will almost double next year - from $9.1 billion in 2017 to $17.8 billion in 2018. And in the medium term, IDC projects that this growth rate will hold until at least 2021. But what is particularly interesting, is that IDC sees the biggest share of the market being held not by the games sector, nor by hardware or retail showcasing, but rather by what they call “others” - a somewhat vague and amorphous concept, covering pretty much everything that we don’t know about the VR and AR markets.
One thing they are clear about is that the biggest growth area will be the public sector - infrastructure maintenance and government training.
On the subject of VR-based training, IDC estimates that market revenue in the sector will reach $2.2 billion by 2023. However, this is predicated on a fast rollout of 5G telecoms standards. These standards have not yet even been finalized, but IDC appears to believe - probably wrongly - that 5G will begin commercial deployment in 2018! The faster speeds that 5G promises will no doubt play a part in bringing VR to a wider audience - as it will then be possible to transmit and narrowcast VR to targeted users. But even the standards won’t be finalized until 2018 - and rollout won’t begin until 2022. So, the IDC prediction on VR training, might itself be out by two years.
While I am reluctant to make more predictions after some of our prophecies for 2017 fell short, I will still my neck out by saying that with the Vive releasing the Vive Focus, with the Oculus Go and with others poised to enter the market, we feel that 2018 will be the year of the standalone VR headset.
And as for Augmented Reality, to quote Dostoyevsky: that is the subject of another story...