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Meet HP’s Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Last fall, Microsoft launched the Windows Mixed Reality (MR) Portal, and a handful of hardware partners released headsets for Microsoft’s immersive computing platform. But like other Windows MR headsets we’ve tested, this head-mounted display (HMD) is underwhelming.
The HP Windows MR headset isn’t a bad headset, but it’s not a great one either. The product designers did several things right, such as include moisture-proof cushions and a removable tether cable. However, the negative features outweigh the positives, detracting from the overall value of the headset. Unless you get a screaming deal on the HP Windows MR headset, you may be better off with one of the competing options.
The HP Windows MR Headset is an all-black HMD, which gives it a somewhat sinister look (as apposed to the bright, happy-colored Acer HMD). The front of the visor is smooth and round, which gives it a refined look. Like all Windows MR headsets, the HP HMD includes two 180-degree cameras with Microsoft’s HoloLens tracking technology that provides inside-out spatial tracking. The two cameras stick out from the visor to limit occlusion from the body of the visor. The cameras also point outwards and towards the ground at slight angles to prioritize tracking the ground and the space to your sides.
- HTC Vive (Black) at Amazon for $2,945
Like many Windows MR headsets, the HP headset features a hinged visor that enables you to flip the screen up to see the real world without taking the headset off completely. Sadly, HP’s hinge design is no better than other Windows MR headsets we’ve seen. In the short time we spent with the headset, we already noticed wear in the hinge. The weight of the visor puts too much pressure on the plastic hinge, which causes it to sag. At this rate of deterioration, it would be a miracle if the hinge still holds the visor up after a year of regular use.
The headset features a balanced crown head strap design, which is universal among Windows MR devices. The strap features rigid bands that support the weight of the headset on the top of your head (hence the balanced crown name). The rear of the strap includes a dial that allows you to tighten the strap around your head. The dial has a ratcheting lock, so it’s best to lift the headset off your head before loosening the strap so that you don’t wear the mechanism down prematurely. Like the Lenovo Explorer Windows MR Headset, HP’s headset is well-suited for people with small heads. It supports a minimum head diameter of 5.5 inches. The strap extends to 8.75 inches, but it doesn’t get much wider, so it may not be comfortable for people with large heads.
The cushions on the adjustable head strap feature a moisture-proof cover, which is easy to clean. However, the cushions are permanently fixed to the head strap, so you can’t replace them when they eventually wear out. The face cushion is a soft foam material that isn’t moisture-proof. It adheres to the visor with Velcro and is replaceable. Unlike other headsets, such as the Lenovo Explorer, HP’s headset doesn’t include a rubber gasket to help the device adapt to the contours of your face. The cushion mounts directly to the hard-plastic visor.
Bring Your Own Headphones & Mic
HP’s Windows MR headset doesn’t offer built-in headphones, so you’ll need your own if you wish to experience the full immersion of the headset. This is not uncommon for VR headsets, especially Windows MR headsets; Samsung’s Odyssey is the only Windows MR headset with headphones.
The Lenovo Explorer, Asus and Acer headsets each include a short cable with a headphone jack at the end, but HP’s headset doesn’t have a cable. The company instead installed a headphone jack on the bottom of the visor. At first, we liked the novel placement of the jack, but then we tried it and learned why it’s bad. With the cable dangling straight down from your face, it’s easy to catch the cord with your hands. We didn’t like the cable on the other headsets, but HP’s approach is much worse.
HP’s headset also lacks an internal microphone and only has one jack, so you’ll need a headset that uses one jack for audio input and output.
High Resolution, Poor Field of View
HP’s Windows MR headset features dual 1440 x 1440 LCD panels, which produce a crisp, clear image. Several Windows MR devices feature the same display panels, including Lenovo, Asus and Acer’s headsets. The dreaded screen door effect is visible with these displays; however, it’s nearly imperceptible unless you’re looking for it. We prefer the image quality of the Samsung OLED displays over the LCDs that HP used, though. The LCD displays are poor at producing deep blacks, which makes the image appear somewhat washed out in dark scenes.
When we first put HP’s headset on, we were surprised at how restricted the field of view (FOV) was. HP’s documentation claims that the headset offers a 100-degree FOV, which would put it on par with most VR headsets, including the Oculus Rift. In our experience, the view in the HP Windows MR is much more restricted than the Oculus Rift. HP’s headset gave me a sense of tunnel vision that no other HMD has triggered.
We recently found a SteamVR environment that enables us to compare the FOV of VR headsets called ROV Test FOV & Resolution. The measurements that the test provides vary from person to person because the FOV is relative to the distance from the lenses and screen to your eyes, but it’s a good tool if the same person tests each headset. From my perspective, the HP headset provides less than 80-degrees of horizontal view, whereas I can see approximately 90-degrees in a Rift and around 100-degrees in the HTC Vive.
Hard-to-Find Sweet Spot
The balance of the head strap plays a major role in the visual clarity a headset offers. HP’s Windows MR headset features a set of Fresnel-Aspherical lenses—the same ones you’ll fine in Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Dell’s headsets-that have a narrow visual sweet spot. Your pupils must align vertically with the lenses to get the best possible image.