After months of waiting I finally have my hands on my own Windows Mixed Reality headset, the Lenovo Explorer Windows Mixed Reality headset. The headset takes you into the world of Windows Mixed Reality which is Microsoft virtual reality system. On the market there are headsets from Acer, HP, Dell and this one from Lenovo. They are all very similar being based off a reference design from Microsoft but they do have subtle differences.
In this article and video I look at:
- The design of the headset
- The design of the controllers
- Checking your PC is able to run Windows Mixed Reality
- Connecting it up to a PC
- Navigating the Cliff House and Mixed Reality
- Using apps
Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality Headset
The headset is very comfortable to wear with an adjustable headband. Its light and I had no issues wearing it for a long period of time. The image is sharp and the 110 degree view gives you enough view to make it immersive.
There are no earphones or microphone with the headset but there is a connector on it for you to plug your own earphones in or you can use the PC speaker. With the headset on it blocked out most of the light from the room and you are totally immersed in the environment. For reading I normally wear glasses but I found I didn’t need then with the headset. I also found that despite using it for well over two hours at a time I didn’t experience any motion sickness whereas on a device like the Playstation VR I felt sick within minutes, this could be the type of games I was playing.
Checking your PC is able to run Windows Mixed Reality
Before you buy a mixed reality headset you can check if your PC is able to work with the headset. First you need to have the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update which you can get via Windows Update but Microsoft are rolling it out over a period of time so if you want to get the update now follow my guide. You can also check if your PC is powerful enough to run MR via the Windows Mixed Reality checker app. You run the app and it shows if your machine is able to run mixed reality, download the app from here.
Microsoft have two PC compatibly concepts, Windows Mixed Reality and Windows Mixed Reality Ultra. With Ultra you get better frames rates especially in demanding games. See Microsoft’s information page for the details.
This is what the app shows on my 2016 Dell XPS 15, the graphics card is a GTX 960M and the recommended minimum is a 965M but it works fine on the Dell, there are some slowdowns during some of the demanding games but the cliff house works fine.
The headset plugs into the PC via a HDMI port and a USB 3 port and the two included controllers connect to the PC via Bluetooth. The controllers have trigger buttons, D-Pad, thumb stick and a Windows button and they enable you to interact with the environment. You can see the controllers in the virtual environment and use them to point are object and the trigger keys to select.
One you have headset on you are impressed in the Cliff House which Microsoft’s virtual environment, think of it as the mixed reality version of the desktop. It’s the home for all your apps and aside from the games and impressive apps this is where you run Windows apps.
I found the tracking very accurate, there is no lag when moving around and the head tracking is very responsive.
Navigating the Cliff House and Mixed Reality
You can walk around the house and position apps like Microsoft Edge, Photos, Skype and email. You can place the apps anywhere you want and resize and move them to your hearts content. I set up a cinema room with apps like Netflix and Movies & TV, I setup a server room with Remote Desktop back to my servers. I have an apps rooms, a room for games and so on. You can also bring in objects from Paint 3D and place them in your house.
The controllers work really well for interacting with Windows apps, I have Microsoft Edge filling my view and you can scroll around using the controllers. The virtual keyboard is easy to use and I found I could type surprisingly fast on it. Typing in URLs in apps or sending tweets is simple and quick. Having Windows UWP apps running in the mixed reality makes it not just a gaming platform you can use it for productivity or entertainment.
There are some totally impressive apps like HoloTours that takes you on a tour of places like Rome where you can walk around places like the Coliseum and see what it looks now and what it looked like in Roman times, it’s very impressive and I hope Microsoft add more tours soon. There are 360 degree video tours, Hello Mars app that shows you what it is like to go to Mars and many others.
There also some very impressive games available from the Microsoft Store, SuperHot VR is now available on Mixed Reality and it’s a an impressive and addictive first person shooter with a twist. There are also some very interesting puzzle games that really make use of the 3D environment.
I have only had the headset for a week and I am still learning what you can do with it. I love the virtual environment and having Windows apps in there makes it more than just a gaming platform, the immersive apps like HoloTours and Mars Explorer can take you anywhere in the universe. The games are addictive and engaging and I am sure there is more to come.
Microsoft are definitely onto something with Mixed Reality, I hope they continue to develop the platform as it could be the future of the OS.
The Lenovo headset costs £399 from Currys / PC World and is an impressive bit of kit. You do need to make sure your PC is up to the task before you buy, I found some of the more demanding games reduced the frame rate on my Dell XPS 15 so if you are interesting in gaming on it you would need a higher spec machine but for apps like HoloTour and Windows apps you don’t need a high spec machine.
Here is my look at the headset and the Cliff House: