We’re almost a year on from Microsoft revealing their grand plans for changing reality as you know it. With their Mixed Reality initiative, Microsoft hoped to bring together VR and AR experiences, all while getting rid of the need for the kind of external tracking units that high-end first-gen VR rigs like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require. They also revealed they wouldn’t be going it alone — at the time, they announced that Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, and Lenovo were all planning to make headsets matching Microsoft’s vision.
Since then, we’ve seen news about the headsets trickle out — Lenovo teased theirs at CES in January, then Acer showed off theirs at an event in the spring. But, they were all supposed to come out this year, and that means the clock is ticking. Fortunately, it looks like the IFA tradeshow in Berlin this week will be where most of them launch. For their part, Lenovo is making their Explorer headset official, and you’ll be able to get your hands on one in October.
The most striking thing about the headset is how competitive it is with the Rift and the Vive. When these headsets were announced, we had pegged them to be low-cost alternatives to true high-end VR experiences, but it’s starting to look less clear cut than that. With 1440 x 1440 resolution displays in front of each eye, the Lenovo Explorer will actually deliver a higher-resolution experience than the Rift or the Vive, and that’s a big deal for VR. With the recent announcement that Windows 10 mixed reality headsets will work with Steam VR games, there’s nothing stopping anyone from using one of these headsets with a high-powered PC for a premium VR experience.
But again, it’s not that clear cut. While the Windows 10 headsets benefit from not needing external tracking towers, that’s a mixed bag. Using two outward facing cameras, the Lenovo Explorer can track your head’s position, but body tracking is more limited — your hands will need to stay in view of the cameras for them or touch controllers to be tracked, for example.
There’s also the issue of price — the Lenovo Explorer is unexpectedly expensive at $350, which will go up to $450 when bundled with Microsoft’s touch controllers. That’s not much less than the Vive or the Rift, both of which have seen recent price cuts. And, keep in mind that to get that premium VR experience, you’ll still need premium PC specs. The Lenovo Explorer can still work with something running Intel integrated graphics, but the result will be lower resolutions and a drop to 60 fps from 90 fps. That means you’ll either get sick during gameplay or will need to stick to simple, less dynamic VR games.
It’s still the wild west out there in VR right now, so we’d always caution you to wait for reviews unless you love trying new things, regardless of the outcome. Still, on paper, it looks like Lenovo has put together a pretty good argument here. With high-res screens, the Explorer can be a formidable high-end VR headset, and the convenience of not needing to set up external trackers is huge. Add in the AR side of things (or even the ability to simply use your PC in VR), which the Vive and Rift have left out, and you have to wonder if Microsoft and their partners have suddenly got the upper hand in the VR game.
Check out more of our IFA 2017 coverage right here!