Category Archives for "Product Reviews"

We review the latest products in the Virtual Reality space. Our comparison studies will help you decide on the best gear and accessories out there. If you are in the market to buy a Virtual Reality Headset then these reviews will help you make up your mind.

May 15, 2018

Oculus Rift v HTC Vive v HTC Pro – the three-way face-off

Rift versus Vive

This is a three way comparison between the Oculus Rift v the HTC Vive and HTC Vive Pro. We have reviewed the products separately elsewhere on this site. Here we subject the specs to a straight comparison, side by side, so that you can really see what you're getting.




Refresh Rate:


Field of View:

Tracking Area:

PC Connection:






Minimum computer spec:




2160 x 1200


Oculus Home, SteamVR

110 degrees

5 x 5 feet (2 sensors)
8 x 8 feet (3 sensors)


Headstrap earphones


Oculus Touch,
Xbox One controller

Gyroscope, magnetometer
Constellation tracking cam

USB 2.0
USB 3.0

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 / AMD Radeon RX 470 or greater

Intel Core i3-6100 / AMD FX4350 or greater


Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output

2x USB 3.0 ports

Windows 7 SP1 or newer




2160 x 1200


SteamVR, VivePort

110 degrees

15 x 15 feet

Wired, Wireless

Headstrap earphones


Vive controller
PC compatible gamepads

Accelerometer gyroscope
Lighthouse laser tracking
Front-facing camera

USB 2.0
USB 3.0

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 /AMD Radeon RX 480 equivalent or greater

Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater

4GB+ of RAM

Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output

1x USB 2.0 port

Windows 7 SP1 or greater




2880 x 1600


SteamVR, VivePort

110 degrees

33 x 33 feet

Wired, Wireless

Headstrap earphones w/ in-line amplifier


Original Vive controller, 
PC compatible gamepad
New Vive controller,

Lighthouse laser tracking Dual front-facing cameras, Support for Lighthouse 2.0

USB-C 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Bluetooth

Nvidia GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 equivalent or  greater

Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater

4GB+ of RAM

DisplayPort v1.2

1x USB-A 3.1 port

Windows 8.1 or Windows 10


May 2, 2018

Oculus Go – it’s here

Oculus Go

The Oculus Go, that we previewed last December, has finally arrived. And make no mistake, it's a game changer! Because it comes into a market that is currently divided between high-end systems that need base stations and high-processor computers on the one hand, or headsets that simply serve as housing for smart phones. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift lead the former category, while Google Daydream and Samsung GearVR lead the the latter.

However, you must pay a king's ransom for the former - and that's just the headset. Add to that the cost of a high-end computer, and you're spending tops two grand!  If you buy a smart phone VR headset you save money but get limited graphics and tracking. Having said that, tracking is limited with the Oculus Go too.

Of course, you could get a cheap alternative to the high-end Vive or Rift buy purchasing one the new range of Windows Mixed Reality products that we reviewed in February. You don't need a base station for WMR. But to use a WMR headset you still have to plug it into a computer.

Oculus Go

Light in every sense: the Oculus Go

Versatile, flexible and affordable

Now you can buy a true standalone VR headset: the Oculus Go. And at under $200 for the 32GB version, it's going to be a serious competitor. Because, the fact that it is a standalone product, and doesn't need any other hardware, makes it intensely competitive. (There is a companion app for Android and iPhones, but this is only used for the initial setup. There is also a 64GB version that comes in just under $250. (In the UK, you pay more unfortunately.)

The first sign of change was Facebook's acquisition of Oculus. Just that act signaled a clear goal to bring virtual reality to the masses. That is why Mark Zuckerberg stated in a keynote speech that "we have to make sure virtual reality is accessible to everyone and we have to work both on affordability and quality.”

Oculus Go - Mark Zuckerberg keynote speech

Mark Zuckerberg keynote speech

Oculus Go specs

Inside the books is the Oculus Go headset, a wireless controller with a trigger button and two other buttons (attached to a lanyard that loops round the wrist), a power adapter and USB cable, the battery, a cloth to wipe the lenses and a "glasses spacer".

As we predicted in our earlier article, the display is a single panel Quad High Definition, 16:9, LCD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. This is better than the Rift’s 2160 x 1200 OLED display that was, split between two panels. The pixel density is also better than its high-end rivals, at 538 PPI compared to 455.63 for the Rift and HTC Vive. However, it is less than the Vive Pro's impressive 615 PPI.

But Facebook have given the Oculus Go better lenses than the Rift. These lenses are designed to eliminate the screen door effect in which the fine lines between the pixels become visible. Also, contrary to our original report, Oculus have built a microphone into the Oculus Go. They also very thoughtfully provided a 3.5 mm din jack for those who wish to use their own headphones instead of the built-in speakers.

The Oculus Go controller

The Oculus Go controller

It has Cons as well as Pros

The Oculus Go powers up fast, at the press of the button. When the battery is fully charged it runs between 2 and 2.5 hours of passive watching video or between 1.5 and two hours of gaming. The problem is that the charging time is longer. You can wait for up to three hours. That's a serious negative - excuse the pun!

Both the Oculus Go headset and the controller have only three degrees of freedom instead of six. That's pitch, roll and yaw, but no positional tracking. But then again, you could call that a safety feature. If you don't have a play area, protected by lighthouses and chaperone mode, you might run into a wall. This way, there's no incentive for the player to move about. Of course, you might think that's a waste the Go's main feature - the fact that it is not tethered. But Facebook decided to make compromise for space and cost as well as safety.

The Oculus Go in action

The Oculus Go in action

Fortunately, the designers have also paid attention, and not merely lip-service, to comfort. Thus, like the Google Daydream, the Oculus Go is made with breathable fabrics. The elastic straps are soft and make the Go adjustable. You can wear it with your glasses and Oculus will soon be selling accessories to make it even more customizable, including prescription lenses and an alternative facial interface, to accommodate wider faces.

Content is King

And the good news is that it comes with a lot of content already available. There are over 1000 items currently available, a mixture of games, movies and other apps. Some of these are old. But about 100 of them are new or major updates of older content.

There are also several new, exciting things scheduled, or maybe I should say planned. These include Oculus TV and Oculus Venues. The former is in some ways like what is already on offer from the Royole Moon. You will be able to use it to watch content from Netflix, Showtime and Hulu, Redbull, Pluto TV, ESPN and of course content from Facebook itself. Oculus Venues is an app designed to bring the user live concerts and sports events from all over the glove.

VERDICT: A good mid-range product, marred by the long charge time and only 3DoF. Still, a good buy at this price!

April 20, 2018

Infinity War Iron Man helmet

Infinity War helmet

With the film Avengers Infinity War due for US release on April 27 (April 26 in the UK), Hasbro is taking advantage of the Hollywood tie-in to bring out this Augmented Reality Iron Man helmet and Hero vision app to enable kids (from 8 upwards) to play the role of Iron Man in their own Marvel/Avengers universe.

Iron Man helmet - the full kit

Iron Man helmet

This is basically like the VR You download the app, put down the markers to mark off the play area, insert a compatible mobile phone (not all phones are compatible, and it doesn’t come supplied with one) and you’re away!

The view through the Iron Man helmet

The view through the Iron Man helmet

It is augmented reality, because when you put the mask on, you see the world overlaid what Iron Man would see. In other words, you get the thrill of playing Tony Stark, assuming the Iron Man persona and blasting into action. Furthermore, the App also has a videogame to defend the world against the forces of Thanos. And just so you don’t get bored, there are 10 levels of play. It’s fun and seriously addictive.

Boy playing with Iron Man helmet

Boy playing with Iron Man helmet

When it first came out, there was a bug, causing the app to stall with the starting screen. But as of March 24, that bug has been fixed and it works fine. However, it doesn’t follow the plot of Infinity War precisely, but Hasbro has promised some surprises, tied in with the movie. So, stay alert and keep your eyes peeled.

Just a quick word about compatibility.

iOS 10 or 11: iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone7, iPhone8, iPhoneX.
Android 7: Google Pixel 1, Samsung S7, Samsung S7 edge.

However, it cannot support any iPad devices, “Plus” phones (iOS or Android) Notes phones or the Samsung.

Iron Man helmet with markers and repulser gauntlet

Iron Man helmet with markers and repulser gauntlet

VERDICT: If you love the Avengers franchise and enjoy gaming, you MUST buy this!

March 21, 2018

New Vive tracker released – HTC confirms

New Vive tracker - 2018 tracker

In a surprise follow-up to its launch of the Vive Pro, HTC has now announced the release of the new Vive tracker for 2018. This was announced via Twitter by Shen Ye, an HTC team member.

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 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.

VERDICT: An excellent peripheral that every Vive owner should have.

March 21, 2018

HTC Vive Pro now available for pre-order

HTC Vive Pro

HTC has announced to day that their Vive Pro headset will ship on April 5th and will include six-month Viveport Subscription for those who buy before the 3rd of June. This will entitle the buyer to choose up to 5 titles per month from a range of 400. The price of the headset will be $799 in the USA and £799 in Britain.

At the same time, the price of the current Vive (full kit including 2 controllers and 2 Lighthouse base stations) will be slashed by $100 to $499. The price of the Vive Pro covers the headset only, but the controllers and lighthouses from the current Vive are the same and will work with it. 

This is a piece of exciting news that we have all been waiting for! HTC promised the headset by the end of the first quarter of 2018. So they have more or less lived up to their boast.

The launch of the Vive Pro marks a clear shift in the battle lines. Before now, the HTC Vive and the Oculus/Facebook Rift were battling it out for the high end of the market in terms of responsiveness, low-latency and price. But now the Rift has been moving down in price and aiming for standalone device that uses inside-out tracking and does need to be tethered to a PC or other external device.
This leaves the field clear for HTC in the upper end of the market, for those customers who are ready to endure being tethered and requiring base stations as the price to be paid (along with those good ol' greenbacks) for the low latency and quick response time.

Old HTC Vive link box

Old HTC Vive link box

With the best tracking on the market already, HTC is concentrating on improving the Vive in other areas. This includes improving physical comfort, increasing the resolution and minimizing the cable mess. To that end, they have redesigned the Link Box for the Pro version. Instead of having a USB Type-A port, an HDMI port and an AC power port, on the headset side, they now have a single, integrated cable. 

On the computer side, out of practical necessity, they still have a USB Type-B port, a power port for an AC adapter, and a Mini DisplayPort for the video. The old HDMI connection is gone. 

The New HTC Vive Pro Link Box

HTC have redesigned the Link Box for the Vive Pro

In the comfort area, they have completely redesigned the head strap, drawing. The viewing portion is hinged, like the Windows Mixed Reality visors, making it easier to put on and take off. Also like the WMR headsets, you can tighten or loosen it by rotating a dial at the back. But because it is somewhat heavier than the WMR headsets, it still needs - and has - an overhead strap. 

This arrangement serves to distribute the weight well, adding to user comfort. It also stays in place well, even when moving around vigorously in the course of active and intense game play! 

HTC Vive Pro from behind

HTC Vive Pro - improved headset design

As far as visual quality is concerned, the Vive Pro matches the Samsung Odyssey and beats the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets currently on the market. The AMOLED display has a resolution of 2880 x 1600. This is a 78% increase in overall pixels over the original Vive's 2160 x 1200. At 615 PPI, it is also a 37% increase in Pixels Per Inch. And like the WMR headsets, it achieves this resolution at a 90 Hz refresh rate. 

It has to be said that even this high resolution is not quite enough to completely eliminate the screen door effect. And while 110 degree FoV is great, others are talking about the more truly immersive 210 degrees, that covers the entire field of vision. 

Also, it still uses the same old Fresnel lenses. This means that those occasional, annoying circular bands of light, still appear every now and then. And of course, to get these benefits you need a high-spec PC on your desk.

However, the new headset is better blocking out of ambient light from external sources, thanks to a redesigned nose pad which is also more comfortable than before. 

HTC Vive Pro frontal view

HTC Vive Pro - the real deal

Another area, where HTC have pushed ahead is in audio quality. The Vive Pro comes with built-in, noise cancelling audio its own headphones attached. On the left earpiece is a two button volume control.

HTC Vive Pro from the side

HTC Vive Pro from the side

But maybe the most interesting feature of all is that the headset will also have a pair of forward facing cameras. It is not yet clear what these are for. It could be for use with the VR Chaperone system, to prevent you from bumping into walls or other obstacles when you play highly active games. But it may be that HTC have other uses in mind. Watch this space... 

The HTC Vive Pro arrives

The HTC Vive Pro has arrived!

VERDICT: Major improvement on the Vive, could be improved more in the resolution and FoV areas.  And the price is WAY too high! 

March 12, 2018

Sony’s Xperia Touch Wow’s the public at SXSW

Sony's Xperia Touch

Sony’s Xperia Touch combines projection with sensor technology to turn any table top, wall or other surface into a touch screen.

Sony first appeared above the horizon in the west during the nineteen sixties, as a maker of good quality, portable (transistor) radios. Since then, they have given us the walkman, Betamax and many fine audio and video products. They have also ventured into computers, the music business and the movie business.

They are known for being innovative. So, it is only natural that they should be out there in the virtual reality and augmented reality industries. And it should come as no surprise that their “Wow “Studio” at SXSW (South by South West) in Austin, Texas should have made such an impact this year, as indeed it did last year.

One of the products on display this time around was a product called Xperia Touch, a projector that turns any flat surface into not merely a screen, but a 23-inch touch screen. That is, it projects an image onto a flat surface which can be horizontal (e.g. a table top) or vertical (a wall) and it used infrared to track your finger as it touches areas of the screen, which can be hotspots in the same as you can have hotspots on a web page.

You can swipe, select, or even move pieces on a board game - anyone for backgammon? What’s more, it can detect your presence when you approach and switch itself on, along with a greeting message on the surface that it is aimed at.

The full specs are:

Weight: 932 g

Dimensions: 69 x 134 x 143 mm

Battery: 1300 mAh (1-hour continuous video playback) - 1000 cycles

Sensors: Microphone, Accelerator*2, e-Compass, GPS, Gyro, ambient light detector, barometer, thermometer, humidity detector, human proximity detector, infrared sensor.

Connectivity: WiFi 11 a/b/g/n/ac (SISO), Microcast sink, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC.

Connectors: USB Type-C, HDMI Type-D

Display: SXRD laser diode projector with 3 x primary colors and LCD shutter, 1366 x 768, autofocus, 23 - 80-inch projection area, 100 lumens, 4000 - 1 contrast.

Main Camera: 13 megapixels.

Indicators: LED

Controls: 10-point multi-touch using IR sensor.

Sound: Two-way stereo speakers.

Power: USB 15 volts.

Xperia Tough from Sony

Xperia Touch from Sony

It is pricey - $1699 at the time of writing - but that is in the nature of nearly all new tech products. As time goes by, the Xperia Touch will come down in price and better versions will come out. But for now, it is out there for those who have the money and want it.

But Sony hasn’t stopped there. They have also showcased a whole swathe of products, pushing the limits of innovation and creativity. They are demonstrating this technology in an interactive exhibit combining images from multiple projectors, sensors and 3D-printed models and props. The whole thing is controlled by custom software. It is not intended as an actual product, more a proof of concept.

The exhibit has attracted praise form the Verge, if only for proving that “something like this is both more accessible and can be experienced collectively, without requiring everybody wear a pair of smart glasses, a VR-style helmet, or even a compatible smartphone with the requisite software."

VERDICT: The product that we'd all LOVE to have - if only we could afford it!

February 16, 2018

Best Windows Mixed Reality Headsets of 2018

Windows Mixed Reality headsets

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.

Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Acer mixed reality with controllers

Acer mixed reality with controllers

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.

Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset fresnal lenses

Acer mixed reality headset inside view

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.

Acer mixed reality  headset

A view from above - the Acer mixed reality headset

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.

Acer mixed Reality with a sting in the tail

Acer Mixed Reality with a sting in the tail

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.

Acer Windows Mixed reality

Acer Mixed Reality Headset with Audio Jack

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.

VERDICT: A good virtual reality product (yes Virtual, not mixed) with a couple of minor weaknesses..

Dell - Visor

Dell Visor Windows Mixed Reality headset

The Dell Visor

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.

Dell Visor Windows Mixed Reality headset

Dell Visor - inside view

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.

frontal view of the Dell Windows Mixed Reality headset

A frontal view of the Dell WMR headset

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.

Dell Visor with a controller

Dell Visor with a controller

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.

VERDICT: Best aesthetic design. Would be our joint favorite, but for the lack of hardware IPD calibration and proximity sensor.

HP - Mixed Reality Headset and Controllers

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset

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.

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset with cable

The HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset with cable

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.

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset and controllers

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset and controllers

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.

VERDICT: Worked okay, but the weight made it feel awkward.

Lenovo Explorer Bundle

Lenovo Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Lenovo Windows Mixed Reality Headset

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).

Lenovo Mkixed Reality Headset and controller

Lenovo and controller

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.

VERDICT: Solid spec, but mixed results on the comfort side.

Samsung HMD Odyssey

Samsung Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality headset

Samsung Odyssey headset

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.

Samsung Odyssey controllers

Samsung Odyssey controllers

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.

Samsung Odyssey side viee Windows mixed reality

Samsung Odyssey in profile

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).

VERDICT: Our Choice. Lack of a flip visor is more than offset by higher-resolution, built-in headphones and hardware IPD control.

February 8, 2018

Samsung Gear VR w/Controller (2017) – Latest Edition

Gear VR

The Samsung Gear VR has gone through several iterations. This is the latest and it is compatible with Samsung PhoneCast. If you use it with a Galaxy 8 or 9 you can download the PhoneCast app and use most of your phone apps through the headset. (However, note that if you have the Galaxy 8, you must get the particular version of the headset designed for that model, because of size differences).

With phones

Designed for Samsung phones

The Gear VR is built for use with Oculus software, so you need the Oculus app download and account to get the games that will run on it.

Bear in mind that Gear VR is something of a bridge between the low-end phone housing VR headsets and the high-end proprietary VR headsets: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR. The Gear VR is unique in having features of both. It is based on the phone housing concept, but it runs Oculus games. Unlike the big boys, it is untethered and  a true standalone. It needs no expensive and bulky computer hardware to run. It also neither has nor needs any lighthouses or towers to track its position.

Gear VR 6

Sheer elegance!

This has several downsides. For a start, the image quality is limited by the resolution of the phone. Secondly, the head tracking is limited to 3 degrees of freedom, rather than the 6 of the Rift and Vive. This means that while it can follow your head as it turns, leans or moves forward and back, it cannot track as you move forward and backward, left and right or up and down.

There may also be a problem of latency, depending on how good the phone is - and how much "stuff" it has running in the background.

Only as good as the phone

As good as the phone

On the other hand, it has the benefit of giving you access not only to Oculus games but also the ability to use Android apps in a virtual reality environment. It also comes with a small and handy remote control that is good enough for most games - although some Oculus games require a bluetooth gamepad, which is one point on the downside, but hardly a deal breaker.

Inside the headset

Inside the headset

Depending on the resolution of the phone screen, you may find that individual pixels are sometimes visible. But the visual quality, was on the whole very good for a headset in this price range. Also, it is light and very comfortable to wear.

The unit has a USB C-type port at the bottom, so it is possible to charge the phone without removing it from the headset.

VERDICT: A perfect product for the best of both worlds!

February 8, 2018

Pansonite 3D VR Headset Virtual Reality Glasses (without headset)

Pansonite headset

This is the Pansonite headset without the remote control. As such everything said about it already applies, except regarding the remote.

It aims for comfort by using leather and an elastic foam to give it just the right amount of “give” and prevent it from becoming too sweaty. The leather allows your skin to breathe and reduces not only the sweating per se, but also the clouding up of the lenses caused by evaporating sweat. The sponge distributes the weight and ensures that the headset has just the right amount of grip to avoid slipping without feeling too tight and suffocating. The sponge also makes the headset more flexible and accommodating to different shapes of face. The nose area is also quite deep, thus increasing support in the nasal area by greater weight distribution.

Weight distribution is further enhanced by the T-shaped headband which greatly adds to support and plays a major role in distributing the weight evenly.

The optics are very good, although ultimately constrained by the resolution and visual qualities of the display on your phone. The Pansonite has a 120 degree field of view - somewhat more than the Oculus Rift or HTV Vive - and the lenses are PMMA HD aspheric.

A comfortable fit

The makers have packed a lot into this headset, including a button for video/music play, a volume control and a control for pausing the action and answering incoming calls. It has controls for varying the distance between the pupils of your eyes and the focal length. 

Other clever features include excellent ventilation to prevent the phone from overheating. The makers have clearly put a lot of thought into this design, having spent two years on R & D to design, develop and fine-tune the product to customer needs.

The Pansonite fits most smartphones easily, including, Android phones and iPhones. Basically any smart phone with a screen size within 4.0 - 6.0 inches is compatible. Thus, the iPhone 5/SE/6/6s/7/7 plus, Samsung S5, S6, S6 edge, S7,S7 edge, Note 4, 5; LG G3, G4, G5, G6, V10, V20; Nexus 5, 6P etc are all compatible with the Pansonite. The phone housing is also padded to protect the phone from moving around.

One word of caution, regarding the Amazon reviews. For some reason, on, the reviews of this product have become convoluted with reviews of various other products, including a griddle, a tablet cover and a luxury lingerie bag! If you happen to chance upon such reviews, please just ignore them. This product is a phone-housing virtual reality headset, not a piece of kitchen equipment or a tablet cover - let alone bag for Victoria's innumerable secrets!

VERDICT: An excellent entry-level headset at a good price. 

February 2, 2018

SARLAR 3D VR Headset

Salar 3D

This must rate as one of the cheapest VR headsets on the market. It has the usual Velcro straps, including an overhead T-strap to distribute the weight. The foam padding around the eyes, blocks of the light from outside and ensures a good fit. It is also removable and can be replaced when it has done its time.

Movable lenses

Movable lenses

The lenses can be moved closer or further apart to accommodate differences in head size and distance between the eyes. It also has an adjustable focal length for users who are short-sighted, up to 600-degree myopia. For those whose myopia is worse than this, the makers claim that you can wear glasses with it. This is technically true, however we found it to be rather uncomfortable wearing glasses with it

With glasses

With glasses

In practice, it’s like watching a movie from the middle of a cinema.

Perhaps one of the most interesting thing is the detachable figure-8-shaped “glare shield” that fits into the phone housing section. It is designed to block out light and increase the immersive feeling, when playing VR games. When merely watching a movie, the makers recommend removing the glare shield.

Glare shield

Glare shield

The phone housing section also incorporates spring-loaded, sliding bars to secure smaller phones that might otherwise move around. Indeed, this headset can accommodate smartphones with screens from 4 to 6.2 inches.

Phone housing

Phone housing

However, whilst the makers did an admirable effort to make an ultra-low-cost headset, they seem to have compromised in a rather basic respect. That is, the headset has no button to start or stop the games or other apps. You have to actually start the game with the phone out, start the app and then put the phone in the headset. This is, to put it mildly, rather inconvenient.

Nice design, but...

Nice design, but...

For this reason, we cannot really recommend this unit, except as a very basic starter, if you want to dip your toes into the water of VR and find out what it’s all about. At least it is cheap, so the financial commitment is small. But caveat emptor: you get what you pay for.

VERDICT: Entry level only, buy with low expectations.

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