Over the past few weeks, I had a nice gaming laptop here from Acer for a review. The Predator Helios 300 (review here) proved itself a capable laptop, but one of its bragging points is that that it is VR-ready. So it only makes sense that the company also sent along its new Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset to try out.
Wait, What is Windows Mixed Reality?
Now would probably be a good time for a quick primer on Windows Mixed Reality (or WMR). The basic, two-minute explanation is that WMR is Microsoft’s answer to the virtual reality platform used by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets. WMR is still virtual reality—despite the “mixed reality” part of the name the focus is currently on VR, as opposed to overlaying virtual objects over a real-life background.
So WMR is really VR, but using its own platform. Where the Rift and Vive (and by the way, you can read my hands-on review of the HTC Vive here) track motion using sensors placed in the corners of a room, WMR is self-contained. The headset tracks the controllers, which are covered by LEDs for that purpose. The advantage of WMR’s approach is it’s a lot easier to set up, and there are fewer wires and components to be dealing with. The downside is you have to be looking in the general direction of the controllers for movement to register. You can’t hide a virtual gun behind your back, for example.
In theory, WMR has lower hardware requirements, but … at the low end, frame rates are low. And that’s the kind of situation that has been causing some people to experience queasiness in VR. But at Ultra settings (which requires a PC with about the same specs as the other guys), WMR matches the high frame rates of the Rift and Vive.
There are more details, but that’s the quick version.
Unboxing and Setup
Fewer components makes for a much less complicated unboxing and a quicker setup. The kit includes the Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset, complete with integrated USB and HDMI cables (they’re actually combined into a single cable), and audio jack. There are also two controllers and AA batteries for them. My review kit also included a free download code for Ghostbusters VR from the Windows Store.
Setup was relatively straightforward, but there was significant waiting involved for Windows updates. Assuming your PC already has the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update installed, setup is a matter of minutes. Throw the requirement to download and install that OS upgrade (it’s not optional if you want to run Windows Mixed Reality) and you may have to budget several additional hours of wait time.
In terms of actual configuration and setup, when the headset was plugged into the laptop, it was immediately recognized and Windows Mixed Reality setup launched. A quick system check is run to make sure the host computer satisfies the minimum hardware requirements (the Acer Predator Helios 300 with a GeForce GTX 1060 passed with flying colours). Choose a stationary or moving configuration, then you’re prompted to place the headset in front of the PC. The controllers are powered on and you’re walked through pairing them via Bluetooth. And that’s about it.
Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset Key Specs:
Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset User Experience
Once again, I pressed my teenaged kids into assisting with testing this VR headset. My wife had a try with it as well. Everyone found the headset itself reasonably comfortable. The dial-in size adjustment worked well and was easier than fumbling around with velcro. The ability to flip up the visor for a quick peak at the real world instead of taking the headset off was welcome.
The graphics were very impressive, at least with the Ghostbusters VR title we tested with. The 1440 x 1440 per eye resolution is actually higher than the competing platform, and it made for some very crisp visuals. Looking around virtual New York in front of the Ghostbusters’ HQ was pretty cool. Frame rates were buttery smooth and I didn’t feel any sense of motion sickness or even a headache. Mind you, the game is short and we were taking turns, so I was never strapped into the headset for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Controls were intuitive and I found the tracking responsive and accurate.
The biggest issues we encountered with the Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset were the fact that you are still tethered to a PC by a wire, so you need to be aware of that (although it’s a single wire). And while the tracking worked well, there were times when the approach meant a disconnect—for example if the controllers were both out front and pointed at the floor, then I looked back over my shoulder.
That being said, Windows Mixed Reality content developers are obviously aware of the need for the controllers to be within tracking range of the headset, so I would expect they will plan around it.
Field of view specs are tough to verify. I’ve seen them posted for this Acer headset at 95-degrees, 100-degrees and 105-degrees; whichever is ultimately correct, it’s a little less than than found in competition like the HTC Vive (110-degrees).
Should I Run Out and Buy One?
Before making the leap to Windows Mixed Reality, you need to make certain your PC meets the requirements. And I would avoid the bare minimum specs. Low frame rates are the bane of enjoyable VR, and with minimum specs, that’s what you’re probably going to get.
With a well-equipped computer, Windows Mixed Reality is a pretty cool experience. There are still some wires to deal with (personally, I’m waiting for the day when all this tech is wireless), but Microsoft’s platform works well. It still has a long way to go before it can match the competition in terms of content selection, although you can get Windows Mixed Reality versions of Minecraft and there’s a Halo Recruit game.
If you decide to take the Windows Mixed Reality plunge, Acer’s headset and controllers should serve you well, especially when paired with that Acer Predator laptop.