Impressions: What Developers Think Of The Acer Windows VR Headset Dev Kit

by David Jagneaux • August 6th, 2017

The HP Windows VR headset is in our hands — you can see tons of pictures and read over 2,000 words of our thoughts (plus a full 9-minute video exploring the home space) to get an idea for what it’s like. But we don’t have the Acer version just yet (you can read some thoughts on the device here from back in April though.) The HP and Acer headsets are the only dev kits currently shipping for the Windows VR platform (Asus and Dell are coming soon) so tons of people are getting their hands on both right now. Our Acer should arrive any day now, but until then, we decided to reach out to the immersive technology development community to see what they think so far.

We spoke with three different developers that have all had their hands on the Acer Windows VR dev kit for some time now and they were all kind enough to share their thoughts. If you’d rather see it in video form then you can see a thorough impressions video from developer and author Sean Ong. His book, “Beginning Windows Mixed Reality Programming: For HoloLens and Mixed Reality Headsets,” is available now.

“The Acer is definitely one of the lightest headsets on the market, giving it a special edge when using it over longer periods of time,” writes Ong via Twitter Direct Message. “It’s lighter than the HP mixed reality headset, and FAR lighter than the Rift or Vive. It’s got a fun, approachable robotic retro look and feel. The head strap is probably my least favorite part of the Acer. The lack of padding on the rear of the head strap causes it to slip up over time, and doesn’t provide a secure fit, even when tightening it hard.”

Compared to the HP, which does cost ~$30 more, I can definitely see the inferior headstrap of the Acer sticking out. The padded visor design with adjustable knob on the HP really stands out as a big bonus in terms of wearability and comfort.

“There are only a handful of 1st party applications, and only one 3rd party application,” writes VR developer Nima Zeighami via Twitter Direct Message. “It’s a pre-release developer device.” Zeighami also explained that the facial interface “looks and feels cheaper” than that of either the Rift or Vive and the stability when tightened is much lower. Again though, it’s worth emphasizing that this is 100% a development device and is not targeted at consumers yet.

And due to the way that the inside-out tracking cameras function on the Acer headset, Zeighami explains that he found out the tracking “does not work” in a low-light room, only having success in a well-lit space. However, when well-lit, tracking was far from being an issue.

Many of the issues highlighted by Zeighami are echoed by Shachar “Vice” Weis, a software developer at Packet 39, blogger, and VR evangelist. “The unit is light (which is good) but feels really cheaply constructed,” writes Weis via email. “The strap is minimalist and not very comfortable, consisting almost entirely of hard injection molded plastic. The forehead rest has some cushioning, thank goodness.”

We’ve reached out to Microsoft about the possibility for running non-Windows apps and interfacing with the likes of SteamVR, but right now it seems unlikely. “Being Microsoft, the headset will only run UWP apps,” states Weis. “For anyone hoping for an OpenVR bridge or driver, this is a problem. UWP is all about layering, security and sandboxing. It might be very tricky to convince this headset to run OpenVR or SteamVR applications.”

And for a detailed tear down of components in the Acer Windows VR dev kit, check out this blog post from Shachar Weis.

One of the biggest barriers to entry for anyone interested in getting involved with the PC VR landscape right now is price (which the discounted Rift and these cheaper Acer and HP headsets will hopefully soften) and the need for a super-powered PC rig, which also comes back to price. Luckily, these Windows VR headsets aim to be much more accessible.

“One of the most amazing aspects of the Acer is that it can run on less-powerful computers,” writes Ong. “I’ve got it running on my Surface Pro 4 with integrated graphics and also my desktop using an old NVIDIA GTX 645 graphics card…The original message from Microsoft about these devices was about the low cost of entry and lower-end hardware required. I hope that original vision is realized.”

Overall, the Acer Windows VR headset seems to satisfy the desire for something super easy to setup and use, with serviceable performance and comfort, at a fraction of the cost of the Vive and Rift. Development is easy to get used to, especially for devs already familiar with the HoloLens ecosystem.

If you’re curious about the Windows VR platform itself then you can read more about that in my hands-on impressions of the HP headset right here. Both the HP and Acer support the same software and interact with your PC in the exact same way.

We’ll have a more detailed comparison of both the HP and Acer headset later this week. In the meantime, let us know your questions and thoughts down in the comments below!

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  • Ian

    I can not stress enough how much I Hate the Design of this thing! Looks like a toy robot mask from the 80s/90s. Might as well go all in and include matching elbo and knee pads and a chest protector, lol

    Also being exclusively tied to Windows is lame and a deal breaker. Support steam or no deal.

  • rabs

    “Final Thoughts” post from Shachar Weis answers many questions, but the worst was the confirmation it’s not Hololens 3D camera technology, and MS don’t even let devs access the optical cameras (may be patched, though).

    I lost hope anything interesting will be done with those devices, would be crazy to not buy a Rift instead.

    I only hope it won’t damage VR market to much : consumers being frustrated, constructors wasting resources, and both losing motivation afterward.

    • doctorhino

      They won’t do bundles of a dev kit…. even Microsoft know what consumer ready means, and this isn’t it, not even close.

  • 12Danny123

    I see Microsoft doing aggressive bundles for their platform, in the holidays. I think that’s what will make them win the war.

    Oculus, and Valve don’t have the distribution and relationship with OEMs that Microsoft has.

    Also steamVR and Oculist Home require very expensive PCs. This platform doesn’t.

    • koenshaku

      Umm.. This platform pretty much requires those same PCs if you are looking to do gaming on it.

      • 12Danny123

        Actually the demo Sean did with Windows MR had a GTX 650 and it ran fine.

    • I think a lot is going to depend on how hard Microsoft pushes this. I don’t doubt that they have a strategy of some sort, evident by the number of 3rd party OEMs that lined out HMDs based on Microsoft’s reference technology. I also agree that Microsoft can and likely will leverage what OEMs relationships they have to push units out the door.

      But I’m not so sure that they’ll win any wars with this first move out of the gate.

      Here’s the thing about VR –just about every single VR system today uses dual-output rendering, meaning that your rendering 2 separate display systems at full resolution, usually at a minimum of 90Hz refresh rate. That takes a tremendous amount of PC power, which you can easily self-demonstrate by hooking a PSVR headset to a PC, using TrinusVR; TrinusVR doesn’t really add any overhead to speak of, but even with the VR headset as the sole and only output, most PCs south of an 8-core (w/ 8GB ram) will nearly grind to a halt due to the requirements being so much higher than what’s required for normal PC gaming.

      Really, it’s not going to matter whether it’s Vive, Rift, MSVR, OSVR, or any other VR hardware, the requirements to drive the processes that allow rendering at that rate and rez + performing real-time motion tracking with high accuracy + physics + AI + LOD + # of objects + all other pre/post processing effects… all of that adds up to some hellacious system requirements –meaning that you’ll need no less powerful of a system for MSMR/MSVR as you would for Vive or Rift; The only way around that would be to only run exclusively software that uses no more resources than say… a Nintendo 64. Modern VR games will demand a modern system architecture to drive it. If you don’t believe that, ask a few other developers. They’ll most likely tell you the same thing.

      • 12Danny123

        Windows MR runs on integrated graphics. I’m pretty sure that’s a very low requirement to get into.

        • It might *work* with that, but how will it *perform*?

          I’d say it’s far too early to speculate. So far, we haven’t seen a single ported title or original game title running on their hardware to make any assumptions beyond the specifications they’ve released, along with the reviews of the hardware and included software.

          (example)
          My PSVR *works* (via TrinusVR for PSVR) with an integrated GPU by intel from a dual core Pentium, but the *performance* is utterly unusable for anything whatsoever. Even with an upgraded GPU, the performance was still unusable because the software running on it (SteamVR) requires a much more powerful system than what I used in that test. It was an expected result. I knew fully well going into the test that the system didn’t meet the recommended minimum specs, and the results were not disappointing in that regard, nor were they surprising.

          I don’t doubt that Microsoft will shave off a bit of the overhead requirements by integrating their MR-HMD at a lower level in the system HAL (hardware abstraction layer), but how that’ll translate into useful levels of performance remains to be seen. Not to mention… “what” was the integrated chipset they used in their test? If it was an Nvidia chipset, that’s not an average embedded/integrated chipset, and at the same time, Nvidia’s integrated chipsets aren’t near as powerful as their card-based solutions. Just because something will run doesn’t mean it’ll run well. But either way, until these HMDs get more software out to use on them to actually allow for benchmarking, the whole conversation about integrated performance is really meaningless because there’s no way to prove or disprove the claim in any sort of meaningful way.

          • daveinpublic

            The nice thing, is anyone can buy it whether you’re a gamer or not. The gamers with the monster computers will see amazing visuals in their games, and the people who are just concerned with productivity will also have a great experience for less money.

  • D3stroyah

    fuck you acer, fuck you hp. Not even fresnel lenses. How useless did you wanted these to be!?

    • TimothyStone

      The video said that they are Fresnel lenses on the Acer ones.

  • Al Fwarbic

    I think it looks amazing. I will be buying one as soon as it is in the shops. Thanks for the awesome revue

  • I’ve used both the Acer and HP devices, and while the HP looks nicer and has an easier-to-adjust head strap, you have to really crank the HP unit, and it’s uncomfortable after just a few minutes. The Acer–even with its simple strap–is lighter and easier to wear for longer periods of time. Also, the Acer seems to position the screen better in front of your eyes. I have to keep fumbling with the HP for optimum viewing.

  • The lack of SteamVR is a deal-killer here, unless Microsoft can get enough 3rd party developers on-board to compete directly against Steam, and even then, they’ll have their work cut out for them.

    I really wanted to believe that MS was bringing something hardcore with this MR platform, but so far what I’m seeing is disappointing. The point is to continually do better, not worse, than the competition. Sony, with the PSVR, basically won hands-down in the category of comfort –and the one main criticism of their headset design (outside of technical considerations) has been the lack of a hinged display that would swing upward away from the face rather than sliding on a track like the existing model. In this one area, Microsoft’s partners seem to have gotten it right –they hinged the front displays in all of the models I’ve seen so far. But the lack of SteamVR support is curious on it’s own, and the strap designs have been head-scratchers at best. With all of the manufacturing capabilities of HP & Acer, I don’t understand why they couldn’t figure out how to make a more comfortable strap… seems to me that it’s either a lack of imagination (which I don’t believe is true), or it’s some non-technical issue, such as a developer level licensing agreement that’s keeping them from doing any modifications at this stage that might lead enthusiasts to favor one over the others before they’ve even come out of development. That *would* make sense, though I’m not sure its the case.

    Still, if Microsoft wants this platform to sell, then they should make damn sure that SteamVR support is worked out before the consumer model of these MR-HMDs launch. Otherwise, there’s going to be a whole lot gamers like myself that will put our money elsewhere. The thing is, a lot of us don’t care whether the software to manage our HMD is built into the OS or not. Sure, it’d be nice, but it’s not necessary and we can get along just fine without it –especially when doing so allows us to take advantage of an existing library of VR games as soon as we unpackage our new gear.

    • TimothyStone

      I heard from a developer on Twitter that it’s going to be SteamVR (OpenVR) compatible and they are working on the drivers as I write this.

      • Nice! That changes everything –provided the end results are (at least) on par with their competition.

        Microsoft has a chance to make an industry changing move here, if they get it right –and I don’t doubt that they *could*, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they *will*. They’ll certainly try to lead in VR –in spite of their (seemingly) late start, but that’s the funny thing about standards… if you get out there at the right time with it, you can set the standard, rather than having to adhere to a standard created by someone else. Steam is positioned really well, and since it uses an installed-client-application, it’s not so tightly integrated with the OS as to create a walled-garden effect.

        Really though, as this all evolves forward, I figure we’ll likely see things become more of a walled-garden rather than less, at least up until there’s a whole lot more evolution of Open Source VR hardware and software, leading once again to a point of vendor irrelevance; but if we were to use the mobile space as a reference model, we’re talking 10 years here, rather than 30-40 like what x86 took to get to where it is today.

        Anyway, thanks for the info! 🙂

  • I think that their ease of use and compatibility with all PCs can be winner factors for general consumers. Price is now similar to the one of the rift, so price of the device is not so convenient any more.

  • batpox

    I got one of these last week. It works great out of the box with a nice demo that allows you to wander around your house on a floating island and see many of the features of the unit (although the motion controllers are not available yet). Overall, it runs great on my rather high-end Alien-ware. I’ll try it next on my rather low-end Lenovo. Some of the features of the demo include the ability to include Holograms (from the Hololens library app), the ability to take pictures and videos, movement demonstration, sample game, movie, browsing, etc.

    I don’t understand the “cheaply made” critique. It is light but solid, and so far has fitted me and my friends rather easily. The longest I’ve worn it is 1 hour, and it is quite comfortable for that duration. Single cable, and designed to use sitting or standing (best within an area about 5′ x 7′). Very good motion tracking, and no vr-sickness yet (I am rather susceptible to it). The FOV is stated at 95 degrees, which turns out to be quite satisfactory. The res is a crisp 4096 x 4096, so I can watch movies or browse/read text ok (I really needed the text ability, as the target app is industrial/educational). Others can monitor your experience on the computer monitor.

    I am doing development with the Unity3D software. I’ll post when I have some more experience with this.

  • BooBoo65

    “Being Microsoft, the headset will only run UWP apps,”

    Was waiting to get my hands on this, but not now. Na na na na hey hey hey goodbye!

  • Whoa! Hold the train!!!!
    This “mixed reality” is incapable or doing AR???????
    “Mixed Reality” is defined as “You can move your mouse while you are walking around the room?”
    This sounds more like “VR with room space”. I thought MR meant the ability to do AR + VR (or, to be clear, AR with some apps DECIDING to go full VR instead of AR). Isn’t AR what it’s all about these days or is that only on mobiles?