Impressions: What We Think Of The HP Windows VR Headset Dev Kit

by David Jagneaux • August 4th, 2017

This week we got our hands-on the first development kit edition of the HP “Windows Mixed Reality” VR headset. Right off the bat let’s clarify that verbiage. Microsoft is using the term “Mixed Reality” as an umbrella to encapsulate VR, AR, and all other related devices. The HoloLens, for example, is Microsoft’s AR platform while the HP and Acer headsets are their VR platform (although they refer to them as “Immersive” headsets in documentation, but whatever, they’re clearly VR headsets.) So it’s a little confusing, but just know that these are VR headsets, not mixed or merged reality devices.

Both HP ($329.99) and Acer ($299.99) are working on their own dev kits (as well as ASUS and Dell) that share essentially the exact same technical specifications. According to the product listings they each feature:

  • Both lenses are 1440 x 1440 bringing the full resolution to 2880×1440 combined,
  • 2.89” diagonal display size (x2),
  • Two cameras embedded on the front for inside-out positional tracking,
  • 95-degree horizontal field of view,
  • Up to 90Hz refresh rate,
  • Front-hinged display, similar to the PSVR,
  • Built in mic and audio jack for headphones,
  • Single cable with HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 connectivity points,
  • Four meter-long cable.

As far as I can tell (having not tested the Acer dev kit yet, our package is out for shipping) the only difference between the two physically is that the HP has a “double-padded” headband and adjustment knob (as opposed to a strap-design on the Acer) and the HP’s cord can be detached, just like the PSVR. HP has also said previously there is more nose room in theirs too. Other than that they’re basically the same and operate using the same “Windows Mixed Reality Platform” on your PC.

Setup

The HP Windows VR headset is very much a dev kit right now. When I opened the box all I found was the headset in a mesh baggie, surrounded by some padding, and then some safety papers tucked underneath the cardboard lining. That’s it. No instruction manuals or anything like that. If you’re a consumer then you shouldn’t buy one of these yet. These are for developers first and foremost that want to get started making applications for the headsets and the platform themselves.

On that note the setup process was frustrating, at least for me personally. At first all you have to do is plug it in and the window for the Windows Mixed Reality Portal will automatically pop up and let you know if you need to update. As it turns out, not only do you need to enable your Microsoft account to be in the “Windows 10 Insiders” program to get pre-release versions of Windows 10, but you need to make sure the most up-to-date version of Windows (The Creator’s Update) is installed as well. If you’re working off of a relatively new machine like I was and hadn’t bothered updating in a while then this might be a major speed bump for you too. Luckily there is a handy checklist online to get ready. After several hours of updates and multiple restarts, I was finally good to go though.

For reference, I am currently using the HP headset on an HP Omen machine, which has a GTX 1060 GPU and Intel i5-7400 CPU with 8GB of RAM. That easily falls into the range of system requirements. I tried using it on my relatively lower end laptop with an AMD FX-9830P Processor and Radeon RX 460 GPU. According to the Setup Wizard the GPU wasn’t powerful enough.

Once the Mixed Reality Portal was open I started the setup process, part of which is shown in the purple image above. It was a lot like setting up SteamVR for the first time since I could pick a roomscale option or a seated/standing option. If I picked roomscale then it had me point the headset at the screen (cameras facing out) and then trace the entire room, just like I’d do with the motion controllers for a Rift or Vive. For seated, I’d just point it at the screen and then I’d be good to go.

After doing that I turned on my Xbox One controller (it only supports that or a keyboard and mouse right now) and plopped the headset down onto my face. The loading screen asked me to look around a bit before placing me inside of my default office nook environment.

The Windows VR Platform

Once inside things were pretty easy to get the hang of — you can see what the default Home environment is like, plus a few of the apps, in the video above. However, please be aware that when inside VR the resolution looks much crisper and all of the visuals are much better. Since I was recording the output feed on my desktop it’s of noticeably lower quality and is not representative of what it actually looks like inside the headset. Using my gaze I could look around and select things like the Holograms app on my wall. After picking it I could look around and place virtual objects to decorate the space. Now I have a cute little dog looking at me from the corner so it feels like home.

As far as I can tell the only apps you can use are those that come from the Windows store. If I press the Windows button on the keyboard or the center Xbox button on my controller then it brings up a Start menu-style interface (shown above.) I can pick some pre-selected apps here like Microsoft Edge for web browsing, a Photo viewer, a Video client, and more. Among those suggested are games as well, like Candy Crush, and Minecraft. If launched, they appear in a floating window just like other 2D apps.

All of these windows can be moved around freely in the environment so I can really customize what my version of “Home” feels like inside Windows VR. Pinning stuff, like you would on your Windows 10 Home menu, works great and lets you keep things easily accessible. The loft area is really spacious and has a lot of wall real estate so I could easily see myself putting a few Edge windows in one room for web browsing, then placing a couple games in another room.

For a dev kit platform the interactions and performance feel really, really good. Using the left stick on my controller I can press forward to bring up a teleportation node wherever I’m looking and use the right stick for snap turning and rotation. When I accessed the “Movies & TV” app it even auto-loaded a 360 video section. When I picked a video it auto-launched all around me without having to load up another 360 video player app of any kind.

And, well…that’s really about it right now while the development world is busy making stuff. The most robust experience I found was called HoloTour, which was similar to the “Welcome to Virtual Reality” videos I’ve seen on the Samsung Gear VR. I got to go on a virtual tour of Rome and marvel at the potential of VR tourism.

Finally, there is a heavy focus on voice-controlled interaction during some of the intro and setup processes. Cortana greets you for the “Mixed Reality Platform” welcome application and I can do things like open the Home Start menu with my voice, or select things. During HoloTour I could even respond to the program and initiate events that way. Tapping into Cortana’s potential and mixing that with immersive worlds could be a really fun use case that helps Windows VR stand out a bit from competitors.

The HP VR Headset’s Design

When you wear the HP VR headset there’s no other way of describing it: you look like Robocop. This is a very good thing in my book. Especially compared to the Acer, which kind of looks like a toaster and a microwave had a baby. As a huge fan of the PSVR from a design perspective, I greatly enjoyed wearing the HP headset. The headstrap fits around my head easily and the knob on the back works just like the PSVR’s for adjustment. My only gripe is that it’s lacking a slider for the actual lens part of the headset itself, which causes it to hang just a little bit too far from my face. It’s comfortable, but I’d have liked to get my eyes a little closer to extend the field of view. As it stands, I can clearly see the black edges around the lenses in my peripheral vision and it feels sort of like looking through a tunnel at first. That goes away and I ignored it after a while, but the lack of ability to adjust lens distance feels like an oversight. The only way to change the IPD is via an option in the platform’s settings. Hopefully those features are streamlined for a consumer version.

Resolution is a step up from the other headsets on the market, which is great. Since the Windows VR platform is being positioned as a bit more of a productivity suite with the app pinning and web browser-focused access higher resolution is extremely important, especially for reading text. There is still a screen door effect but it’s about the same as on the Rift and Vive in my experience, while it still maintains the same need of finding a “sweet spot” near the center of your view to see everything clearly. Interestingly I noticed more vertical pixel lines than I did horizontal, but text was much more clear with the HP Windows VR than on either Rift or Vive.

It’s also worth noting just how light the whole thing is. Oh, and I can flip it up using the hinge design to easily look around and check things outside of VR with no hassle.

From a design perspective HP has done a really nice job. It’s comfortable, it’s high-quality, and it feels appropriate given the use-cases. The cord is long enough to let you walk around freely, but it does still get in the way. With a few tiny adjustments this could become one of the comfiest headsets on the entire market.

Tracking

I tried using the HP Windows VR headset in both full roomscale and standing/sitting configurations with great results. Since you don’t need to setup any lighthouse base stations (like with the Vive) or plug in tracking cameras (like with the Rift) I’m honestly shocked the tracking works so well. Using the two embedded cameras on the front of the device, the HP VR headset always knows where you are inside your environment.

The framerate was smooth and it tracked my movement without issues. That alone makes this device an impressive piece of tech and I hope this solution is used going forward. Since the controllers aren’t out yet it’s hard to tell what the full system will be like, but an inside-out PC VR headset for $299-329 is a pretty good deal, even without motion controllers, especially as a dev kit.

Final Thoughts

Since this is a newly launched dev kit, there are still a lot of questions. I’ve asked our rep at Microsoft’s PR firm if non-Windows Store apps will work easily (I was able to navigate to my desktop in a pinned window and access things like Slack and Steam, but it wasn’t intuitive or ideal,) if SteamVR will ever be accessible like it is on Rift and Vive, and what the ETA for the Windows Mixed Reality Motion Controllers is looking like. You can see those in action in the video above.

To get started with creating content for the device you don’t actually even need the dev kit. Microsoft released a Windows Mixed Reality Simulator to test apps for their “Immersive Headsets” similar to the HoloLens Emulator they released previously. They also recommend building apps with Visual Studio 2017 and Unity’s Mixed Reality Technical Preview build (although it looks like you’ll need to contact a Microsoft Account Manager for access to that.)

The biggest strength of the Windows VR platform though is perhaps the mere fact that it doesn’t require a bunch of third-party programs to work. You plug it in with a USB and HDMI connector and you’re good to go. It runs off of Windows itself and that’s it. No cameras, no trackers, no Steam, no Oculus Home. It’s just Windows in VR. There’s something really appealing about that simplicity.

As of now, that’s all there is to it! Let us know what you think of the HP Windows VR (or Acer’s Windows VR) headset dev kits so far down in the comments below and ask us any questions you might have!


Correction: A previous version of this article stated there was no way to adjust the IPD. It’s been updated to reflect that the setting is found within the program, not on the headset itself.

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  • Luke

    the display FOV is similar to Vive and Oculus?
    In your opinion traking in room scale is enough precise to play videogames in VR as Vive and Oculus offers today? I dont understand how the controllers can be tracked because they can run off the cameras FOV of the headset. If I move the controllers on the top of my head for example, or I spread my arms and I want to shoot in two different directions, can I do it?

    • For the headset yeah, worked fine. For controllers that’s the big question everyone wants to know the answer to. Have to wait and see!

      • Luke

        thx! I’ll wait, I will stay tuned to understand if room-scale hand tracking is avaiable with this technique or if it’s not if this effect the video games too much.

  • Good to hear. Let’s hope someone gets it working with SteamVR.

  • Doctor Bambi

    Solid write up David.

    Since these headsets seem to be more geared toward productivity, do you see yourself integrating one of these into your workflow in any way? You mentioned text is much more legible than Rift or Vive, do you think it would be comfortable enough for extended hours of text heavy applications?

    • Personally no. As a writer I only really need a few tabs, audio from interviews, and a notebook every now and then usually. I’m more comfortable with my current working arrangement.

  • Raghavendra Kopalle

    Have you tried running any WebVR experiences made using BabylonJS on the Edge browser?

    • Not yet.

      • Raghavendra Kopalle

        Curious if you could jump into a WebVR experience inside Edge or it would just play in the pinned window? Please do share your thoughts if you get a chance to try it.
        Also, does the inside out tracking work reliably in a dimly lit room? Or if there are people moving around? This happens a lot if you want to use it for public display. TIA.

        • I’ll have to give all of that a try!

          • daveinpublic

            Hope you get a chance to try that all out!

  • Frogacuda

    Inside-out tracking isn’t a big selling point to me, if it comes at the expense of room-scale hand tracking. I’d be much more interested to see that tech incorporated into mobile VR, where it would actually add some desperately needed functionality, than here where it’s just a matter of simplifying a one-time set up process that most of us don’t think about after the first day.

    Even Oculus’ decision to push front-facing desktop camera setups for the sake of making things a little easier at first seems short-sighted to me. It’s not like it’s a day-to-day use issue. People are willing to put the effort in to set up a space if it means the best experience.

    • lovethetech

      You are in minority. There are 1000 times complaints against using towers and it is not for commoners.

      • koenshaku

        Agreed, while I do support the view on tracking accuracy of the motion controllers afforded by base stations. I have to say they nailed price point and the inside out room scale! I like what I am seeing so far. Fingers crossed on the motion controllers this would be the solution people were waiting for! With a wireless adapter Q1 2018 the future of VR would be a bright one indeed!

    • David D. Taylor

      I can see your point, and kind of agree, but I can see the appeal of inside-out tracking. As someone who constantly is taking my VR headset with me to other places, it sucks having to set it up at various friends houses. I have to set my tracking up 2-5 times a month, which seems small, but I’d jump at the chance to skip that process.

      From this early review, it seems that the HP tracking is perfect as is. All that remains to see is if the controllers will also track well. Without good tracking for motion controllers, it wouldn’t be worth it to me.

      • That’s exactly what I was thinking. I have an office with trackers mounted for the other two, but even I like being able to have a headset with its one cord that can travel in a small bag with me. It’s so convenient.

    • Brent

      insideout is roomscale!

      • Frogacuda

        Yes, but the hand-tracking isn’t. That’s line-of-sight only. That’s why I specified room-scale hand tracking.

        • Graham J ⭐️

          Hand/controller tracking may be wider than line of sight if the tracking cameras have larger FOV than the displays. In this case inertial tracking can approximate the device location while outside the field of view and it can be corrected before it becomes visible in the display. This may end up being good enough for hands. Doesn’t help much for feet or lower back however.

          • daveinpublic

            Ya, I think the controllers will have gyroscopes to help when out of camera view.

          • Graham J ⭐️

            And accelerometers, yep. All motion controllers have these anyway.

    • Experimentation is good though, as are more options for consumers. Inside out really offers a lot of flexibility and after using tracking cameras and sensors for so long it feels a bit magical to plug in and go with no other setup needed.

      • polysix

        *not* at the expense of woeful controller tracking, which clearly these will be (no pointing in two directions with two arms – double guns – when the HMD can only see one!).

        • daveinpublic

          The controllers might be great. We should wait for the reviews, just in case.

    • rabs

      I also think it’s an half assed solution (I like to play Racket NX, for example), though it may be expanded with external camera as already teased. We’ll see how well it will work with their controllers out of the box, but I guess there are many use cases where it will be good enough.

      If it works well, it will give good hope for improvements of mobile VR, that currently only use 3DoF all the way (until the Daydream standalone headsets that will arrive soon).

    • NooYawker

      Gotta start somewhere. It’s just a dev kit after all.

    • Get Schwifty!

      They (Oculus) didn’t support front-facing to make it easier to set up, they did it because that’s all the system was certified on until they formally supported room scale. It’s also pretty clear there is a substantial market that is not that interested in full room scale, so supporting an alternative makes a lot of business sense.

      • Frogacuda

        What regulatory body do you think “certifies” Virtual Reality tracking?

        • Christopher Thomas

          I think you misunderstand what the term ‘certifies’ means in a software development world.
          Where I work, for instance, when we say ‘certified’, we mean the process of determining that one thing works with another thing.
          They got the single-camera tracking working first, and so they ‘certified’ it. Later, when multi-camera passed muster they officially released three camera roomscale support. So ‘certified’ is more of an internal jargon here.

  • K E

    The “productivity” use case or market segment needs to be very well explained by Microsoft. What exactly is the point of working with an app shown on a wall inside a headset compared to just using your monitor? There are already desktop apps for the Vive and Rift, who uses them, for what, and why? I enjoy VR but if I have the choice of doing the exact same thing with and without a headset on my head, I prefer without.

    • That’s a fair point and currently I agree with you. I prefer working outside of VR.

    • indi01

      The point is having any number of screens of any size.

      • mireazma

        Who wants many little discontinuous screens instead of a one all-encompassing surround screen?

    • rabs

      Maybe for traders that needs tons of screens around them… I stopped at two, even if they are cheap and I have space for a third one.

      I hoped we could use hand gestures like on Hololens, so we could manipulate VR objects at the same time as a mouse/keyboard (with some partial pass-through, even a crappy one like on the Vive). Could be interesting to punctually organize stuff around, or tasks where manipulating space is efficient, then switching back to mouse/keyboard.

      But instead, we get crappy screens (compared to desktop) spread everywhere and cannot even see our hands/keyboard. So productivity is not really an achievable goal here.

      I hope it’s a firmware problem and they can unlock this kind of potential down the road.

    • Graham J ⭐️

      I don’t think the endgame for WMR is 2D apps in VR. This is just the first step, a launching area like Steam and Oculus have, except that it happens to be Windows. When there are 3D apps this is where you will find and launch them.

      That said, I think MS is targeting enterprise VR uses more than home ones. This is going to be a lot easier to get into for business-oriented users than Steam or Oculus Home and that will appeal to enterprise developers.

  • Jerrith

    There is a software IPD adjustment. Control Panel, Mixed Reality, Headset display. Calibration: 63.081 mm was what is set for me, the default, I believe.

    • Ahhh, I was looking for a knob on the headset like all the others. Thanks!

  • Thanks for the detailed review!

  • koenshaku

    Good first impressions they need to work on that house a little bit, after getting used to the architecture of steam those polygons without textures was a bit of an eyesore. Hopefully their touch controllers will be as good as the roomscale!

    • It really, really looks a lot better inside the headset.

  • mellott124

    How is display smear with the LCD screens? I vowed to never buy a non-OLED HMD just because of display smear.

    • Can you be a little more specific with what you mean by display smear?

      • rabs

        On Wikipedia there is an article “display motion blur” about that (no link because of Disqus automatic moderation), there is a pixel response time problem on LCD displays. It was supposed to be a bad point for LCD screen (OLED is better in that regard), but it seems they kind of worked that out.

        You can check that with an object moving on an uniform high contrast background.

        • mellott124

          It’s usually not worked out. Just a limitation of the technology. Can be improved with pulsed backlights. If you have ever seen the Oculus DK1 then you’ll know what I mean. This is one of the major reasons OLEDs are popular in HMDs.

      • Chris W

        I’m using the HP devkit and confirm there is no noticable smear. The headset works really well so far. I do demos all the time and only having to carry and set up the headset is going to be great. Also having it be fully integrated into Windows OS is a new experience.

  • GrangerFX

    We really need a side by side comparison between the HP and Acer headsets. The specs are the same but are the screens really the same? The Acer has a noticeable screen door effect even though the resolution is quite high. It also wiggles due to the very cheap construction making it unsuitable for serious gaming. This is according to a hands on review. How does the HP look and feel? Is it solid or does it wiggle if you shake your head left and right?

    • That will be coming very soon, our Acer should arrive any day now.

      • GrangerFX

        Thanks! The really big question though is whether there will be any changes between the dev and release versions? If you can, please poke MS/HP/Acer with that question and see if they can drop any hints.

  • VR Geek

    I despise HP for all their shady ink jet tactics. Will never buy HP again.

  • Adrian Sinnott

    Thanks for the review, this seems like a solid middle-of-the-pack headset.

  • polysix

    you didn’t point out these are using LCDs not OLED? And has such should suffer motion blur and low contrast and other artifacts? Also I’ve heard a few places now say while its higher res the SDE is worse vs the Rift – esp in the centre.

    Lastly, god rays? fresnel lenses? these are the issues facing VR now and would be nice to know if they were better/worse in the MS stuff.

    • lovethetech

      Still it is far far better than Rift. SDE is silenced in RIft, not over come. None of the problems u mentioned were not in any reviews. Great for the price, that’s what every review says.

  • Any Ony

    Why is the quality of the inside out tracking surprising? Microsoft put in all the legwork on it with HoloLens where its already about perfect. They’re letting HP and the other OEM’s use the tech, which is why it was relatively easy to for them to create headsets quickly compared to say Occulous or HTC. HP likely didn’t have to put in much work on the tracking.

  • wheeler

    Since these are using LCDs, I imagine they don’t have the mura that the psvr, rift, and Vive have. Not sure if you have any dark experiences to try out but this could actually be a major advantage.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Nice seems like a solid purchase once they are ready for retail in a few months…hopefully bundled with controllers making it cost around 400. They can’t price them too much more then that…Thanks to Oculus’ very competitive pricing strategy.

  • Ryan Knapp

    Just got my Acer headset in yesterday and tried it outdoors with a gaming laptop to test “unlimited tacking” space and it works really well. With enough space you can walk around without teleporting which enhances the immersion. Looking forward to the motion controllers and hopefully SteamVR support.

  • mireazma

    Guys if I could, I’d make a poll asking you:
    1. How many of you would use it for mixed reality games and apps?
    2. How many would use it for VR games and apps?

    I’d personally try out some virtual things in my room for at most 3 days and for the rest of my days of life I’d waste the crap out of the headset on hundreds of immersive FPS, racing, 3D space shooters games and 360 videos or tours, all in VR.

  • Chris7

    Why would you be shocked inside out tracking works well.?… Only reason it can’t happen on mobile is lack of power

  • John J

    Windows MR sends mixed messages so far. MS is starting to do cool stuff again but I fear they will slip back into their old ways from the 90s. I am more hopeful though because they are getting eaten at the edges and realized they had to change or become irrelevant one day. These new headsets solve the issue of lowering the cost of entry and widens the dev pool but it’s too bad they are sandboxed into UWP for now and I can’t use my Vive there. I can’t see them being that dumb but they have a young platform that needs focused developers to seed for now so I can understand. I used to be against UWP until I read how it worked a little deeper and like the concept but it needs to be inclusive and open or its just another MAC. My VIVE keeps me busy enough for now but as soon as the hand controller bundle is out I will definitely be in the market for one.

  • WhiskyandGunpowder

    After 6 weeks of struggle mine stopped working all together. I returned it and bought a RIFT on sale at 400 from the same Microsoft store I returned it to. Nuff said.

    • PrymeFactor

      Who would have thought a consumer release of the Rift would be better than a pre-release development kit?
      /s