Microsoft thinks mixed reality – a mixture of virtual and real reality is the way to the future. PC makers including HP, Acer, ASUS, Dell and Lenovo think so too as they are taking the Microsoft reference design and giving it their slant.

Asking me to review it is a bold move for both HP and me. I am of that era that I don’t play games, and VR/AR/MR etc. simply does not interest me. Fortunately, I had a few gamers on hand to help so apologies if this review is not comprehensive.

I first saw Microsoft HoloLens about two years ago, and I was sold – the ability to mix real and virtual held so many possibilities. The elegance of the totally wireless solution was only offset by the price – and eye-watering A$7,269.

Fortunately, HP’s solution is only $799, but it does require a powerful Windows 10 PC (no Macs), a corded 3.5mm plug stereo headset/mic and above all a commitment to learning to use it.

Let’s look at the PC first. HP provided a $3,000 Omen 17” gaming notebook to demonstrate. It had 32GB RAM, an i7-7700HQ processor, PCIe NVMe SSD, and an 8GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics processor. That is a lot of grunt, and we heard the fans whirring overtime in most VR sessions.

I suspect serious users will invest in an upgradable desktop and monitor instead.

Next, you need a 3.5mm corded gamers stereo headset with boom mic. Any brand will do but remember that it goes on your head over the 830g headset, so a light-weight one is best.

The Headset.

  • Display Size: 2.89″ diagonal (x2)
  • Resolution: 1440×1440 per eye (2880×1440 combined) – no smartphone screen required
  • Refresh Rate: 90Hz (HDMI 2.0 port), 60Hz HDMI 1.4 port
  • Field of vision: 90 degrees (100 degrees in Windows Ultra PC)
  • Connectivity: 2–in–1 HDMI 2.0 + USB 3.0
  • Accelerometer, gyroscope, and proximity
  • Dimensions: 338.84 mm (W) x 176.02 mm (L) x 127.76 mm (H)
  • Weight: 834 grams
  • 5mm combo jack

Microsoft Motion Controllers x 2

  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Uses 2x AA batteries
  • Windows button
  • Menu button
  • Trigger
  • Joystick control
  • Touchpad
  • Proximity sensing, optical tracking and accelerometer

OK on with the review

Gadgeteer and avid gamer Steve led the discussion. “These are great, but I get the feeling there is so much more to come, so much more to be developed.”

What he was referring to was the need to ‘set it all up’ – it is not an easy out-of-the-box experience. Despite HP providing the demo laptop it still needed exploration to find out what it could do.

Setup

Download the Microsoft Mixed Reality Viewer and Portal – about 2GB. It will test your PC. My Surface Book, an i7-6600 failed as the NVIDIA GeForce/Intel HD Graphics 520 was not up to spec.

Connect your headset – this is via a combo HDMI/USB3.0 cable.

Trace out the “area” you can move in by moving the headset around it – it does not have to be square but make it as large as possible – at least 2 x 3 metres. Pair the controllers, and you see a virtual ‘house’ desktop.

As Gadgeteer Steve said, “It is great that you can move around so much. Traditional VR is so limiting. But watch the four-metre cord – it will twist you up.”

The head size adjustable headset allows you to wear glasses and seems quite comfortable despite the weight and the headphones. It does get a tad warm wearing it.

And Steve was right – the cord did get wrapped around my legs, the cable joiner did annoy me, and I longed for the freedom of the HoloLens wireless headset – but not its price.

Demo

I went through the Halo demo – leaning to shoot using two guns and two virtual hands and once I was ready – it is amazingly accurate and fast – I was invited to join the fray.

The controllers are accurate, no lag, fast and reliable unlike the experience I have had with Vive, Google Daydream and Samsung VR.

Microsoft Cliff House VR desktop

It is a kind of home replete with wooden floors (great detail right down to wood grain), white walls, Microsoft Edge browser (which we used to play YouTube clips on a virtual screen at least ten virtual metres across), Skype etc.

Cortana is the voice interface – good but not great yet.

At that time, I asked about augmented or mixed reality? Sorry mate but we can’t do that yet.

Apps

There are lots of games and apps to experiment with – some are free, and some are demos. Most of the good stuff is on Steam VR, and these will cost typically $30+.

GadgetGuy’s take

I had fun but VR is for gamers, and I am not sure that market really is ready for a $799 headset plus all the pricey accompaniments.

I suspect the weight of the headphones and headset – let’s not mention that cable – would annoy me and you really need to stand up and move to get the most out of the experience.

Forgive me for suggesting ‘showrooming’ but if you are remotely interested go to Microsoft’s Store in the Pitt Street Mall, Sydney and have a demo. Sorry, that is the only location you can see them (and other brands) in action.

In answer to the question “Would you buy it?”

Gadgeteer Steve: “I love the potential, and the experience is superior to Vive and Rift, but it is not there yet.”

Gadgeteer Paul: “It is an amazing experience, but the whole kit is too heavy. It has interested me enough to keep an eye on the technology.”

Gadgeteer Eric: “I have used Vive and Rift and I the best thing here is that you can move around and enjoy the experience. Great graphics.”

Me – I am waiting for Augmented/Mixed reality to be useful. I suspect HP et al. will sell enough of this niche product anyway and I look forward to version 2.0.

Pros

  • The headset is a bit “Klaatu barada nikto” (Day the Earth Stood Still)
  • Very good controller accuracy, zero lag, and tight integration with your hands
  • Love the Microsoft Cliff House interface
  • Optional HP backpack may get rid of the cord issues

Cons

  • Cost
  • Limited ecosystem compared to Vive or Oculus Rift
  • Need a very powerful PC/laptop and graphics card for best results
  • Comfortable but could be a bit heavy and there is a cumbersome cable
  • Windows Mixed Reality has a long way to go as an OS experience.
  • Has forward facing camera’s but these don’t work for Mixed/Augmented Reality yet
  • LCD displays are good but lack that OLED experience

Price

$799 includes two controllers. Judging by the number of listings for these and other brands of Microsoft Mixed Reality Handsets on Gumtree and eBay there are some unloved bargains out there.

Ratings

It is not fair to rate it just yet – it is still work in progress.