Thursday morning at Microsoft’s Build conference, the company announced the opening of pre-orders for two new VR dev kits. Developers in the US and Canada can now pre-order the Acer ($299) and HP ($329) Mixed Reality headsets. Delivery of the headsets is scheduled for August 2017. I was able to get hands on with the dev kit version of the Acer headset at Build this week and organized my thoughts into broad categories below. 

Acer VR Headset & Minimum PC specs

Headset specs

  • 2x LCD displays, 1440 x 1440
  • 2.89” diagonal display size (x2)
  • Front hinged display
  • 95 degrees horizontal field of view
  • Display refresh rate up to 90 Hz (native)
  • Built-in audio out and microphone support through 3.5mm jack
  • Single cable with HDMI 2.0 (display) and USB 3.0 (data) for connectivity
  • Inside-out tracking
  • 4.0 meter cable
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, Proximity
  • Dimensions (L x W x H) 195.8 x 94.8 x 106.59 mm
  • Weight: 350 grams

Minimum PC Specs for Developers

Minimum PC Specs for Consumers

Design & Comfort

Photo by Road to VR

The Acer headset is incredibly light at 350 grams, or just over 3/4 of a pound; since I’m used to bigger PC headsets like the Rift and Vive, it gave me an odd sensation to feel immersed in VR with such little weight on my head. The headset features a single rigid ‘Halo style’ head strap that the display hangs off of in the front. One of the coolest features of this headset is its ability to flip up out of the way of your eyes at the point where it connects to the head strap. If you turn the display all the way up away from your face it clicks into place at forehead level, giving you the ability to check in with the real world. This allows you to easily take extended breaks from VR while working at your desk or during a gaming session when you might want to quickly grab a drink or a snack.

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I only wore the headset for around 5 to 10 mins at a time across a few different demos at the Build conference so it’s tough to say what the long-term comfort might be like. However, the padding on the front of the headset strap seemed comfortable enough and didn’t bother me during my time with the headset on. There was one demo where the head strap started to make the back of my head a bit sore but this might have been caused by me tightening down the strap too much or seating it too low on the back of my head. Tightening and releasing the strap was a little unintuitive for me at first but I quickly got use to it and found it easy enough by my second or third demo. It operates essentially like a snowboard binding coupled with a buckle that feeds the strap in and out of a locking mechanism.

Photo courtesy Windows

I appreciate Acer going with a bright colorful design. Looking around my office at the moment almost every electronic device in here is black. My keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, Rift, Vive, printer, PC tower. Adding some color to my environment is a plus for this headset in my opinion. At the moment it looks like the dev kits are only available for pre-order in blue, but Acer has also shown images of the headset in a bright red version in the past. I wonder if they ended up pulling the red version due to people having flashbacks to the look of the old View-Master, or if you we’re really lucky, Virtual Boy.

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The bright blue color, light weight, and cheap plastic feel of some of the headset’s materials all make the Acer feel a bit like a toy. But for $300 I’m willing to live with some loss in materials quality. I don’t feel great about making any sweeping judgements on the Acer’s comfort given I didn’t spend any extended periods in the headset. It could be that over longer periods their cheaper strap design could cause comfort issues. However for the few times I had the headset on I was able to find a good comfortable fit.

Visual & Audio Quality

The Acer VR headset packs a 1440 x 1440 LCD display per-eye, with a refresh rate of 90Hz. I didn’t notice any screen door effect and text looked very legible. The downside of the Acer’s visuals are its field of view and lens quality. It uses fresnel lenses, and according to its official specs it has a 95 degrees horizontal field of view.

The Acer’s lenses just can’t compare with the more expensive headsets. They seemed to suffer from a bit more distortion around the edges, although if the headset is worn precisely in your ‘sweet spot’ you might not notice this. We don’t have direct measurements for comparison yet, but it felt to me like the Acer had a bit narrower FoV than either the Rift or the Vive. Some of that may have been due to the lower quality lenses. Additionally I did have one friend at the conference complain that the LCD display in the Acer felt worse to him than the OLED displays in the Rift and Vive. I’ll need more time in the headset to get a good feel for the quality of each.

SEE ALSO
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Photo courtesy Aaron Rhodes

As far as audio goes there were two big things I noticed. No built-in mic and no built-in headphones. None of the demos I tried involved voice communication, but if they had I would have needed a mic attached to a pair of headphones since the Acer audio jack handles both the audio and microphone support. Not having built-in headphones or a mic is a bummer as someone who spends a lot of time in social VR settings, but it’s an understandable move here; allow users to provide their own headphones and mic and keep the price down as much as possible.

Photo by Road to VR

One of the exhibitors was nice enough to let me futz around with the audio port, plugging and unplugging their set of headphones. I wanted to test this because the port seems somewhat inconveniently located above the left eye in between the faceplate and the Acer’s exterior blue shield. If you have large hands you might find some difficulty plugging in your pair of headphones in this cramped space as I did.

Overall I found the visual and audio experience of the Acer headset to be a little lower quality than the other major desktop VR systems. The resolution looked great, the field of view was a bit lower than that of the Rift or Vive, and the lenses were certainly of poorer quality than the higher end headsets. But for $300, delivering a VR experience that really isn’t that much worse than a higher end headset is really impressive.

Continued on Page 2: Tracking »

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  • J.C.

    Glad to see that these aren’t as bad as I’d assumed. The “controller doesn’t track particularly well outside of the camera view” may be an issue in some games that assume the controllers are very precise at all times.

    It says there’s no support for SteamVR? So we’re looking at an EVEN MORE fragmented user base? Oh yes, that’s ABSOLUTELY the best way to go about it, make sure they can’t play with their friends.

    • PrymeFactor

      Are there really any games that assume precision for controllers outside your natural view?

      • J.C.

        Space pirate trainer, Arizona Sunshine, Raw Data, off the top of my head. Unless you expect people to look to their hips each time they reach for a clip, or somehow behind their head between the shoulderblades.

        I suppose if you watch your hands at all times it’s not a problem. Well, except for the shield in SPT, but I suppose the vague sense of place the controllers have could work for that. Is that reliable enough to not get you killed?

        I do realize that at $400 for the kit, having hand tracking and a decent headset is already a good deal. Trying to NOT compare it to the externally tracked (and much more expensive) headsets, but it’s hard.

      • KUKWES

        Yeah I don’t see open vr working well with this and devs will need to update games for official support.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, no SteamVR no go for a lot of people.. I do think it will get SteamVR support very soon (let’s not forget, valve is the one who mainly implements the SteamVR support for headsets, as it’s in their interest these headsets are supported, so more people will buy games from their steam platform).

    • Kuri

      I imagine it’ll get Steam VR pretty damn shortly.

      • Meow Smith

        Amen, if the Chinese Pi Max VR headset can get Steam VR support Acer sure as hell can do it too.

  • David Byres

    How do these compare to PSVR? Resembles PSVR, minus the quality details (e.g. OLED display)?

    • PrymeFactor

      Probably have better tracking than the PSVR, plus the added advantage of requiring minimal cabling and much less calibration. Higher res screens too.

      Downside is the LCD screen vs OLED.

    • ImperialDynamics

      too early to tell. The developer story is unclear at this point. What i mean by that is will these headset be able to take advantage of powerful GPUs? The minimum requirement is just integrated Intel graphics, however i don’t think the experience will be exactly the same on a GTX1080Ti. If it varies by hardware (this is a big if currently) then it might result in significantly better VR than the PSVR on gaming PCs.

  • Xron

    Hmzz… wtf is wrong with min specs? can’t be true, right? super low req for 1440p?… something is really wrong with these numbers.

    • benz145

      Microsoft has been touting that these headsets would work on low spec machines, but we’re likely to see very simple graphics inside.

      • ImperialDynamics

        that is an unfair oversimplification that does not do justice to Microsoft’s huge experience.
        My understanding is that the “game” will load different assets depending on hardware. Basically the same thing that they are doing with Project Scorpio. The same game loads 720p/1080p assets on the Xbox One and 4K assets on Scorpio.

    • ImperialDynamics

      perhaps due to the smaller field of view? Or perhaps some optimizations? (Microsoft unlike Oculus and HTC are also behind the OS that powers it)

  • If the headset had four cameras, one front, one back, and one on either side, then you would be able to much better track the controllers even if the player moved them from the primary position in front of the headset. It still wouldn’t be perfect for when the player moves the controller really high or low but it would be a much better solution than just a camera on the front of the headset. They could even add another camera on top of the headset for the times the player raises the controllers directly above their head. Don’t know how they could effectively always track the controllers if the player is holding them down really low though, but overall I think the multi-camera solution is the best approach for an inside-out tracking setup that uses the camera method.

  • Good-enough experience for small price. For smartphones it is working: good enough cheap chinese smartphones are gaining market shares very fast.

  • RationalThought

    Looking at that top picture I really appreciate the elegance of the Oculus solution. Honestly I just wish Oculus had gone with the Vive Tracking system…..other than that I still think its the best overall design. The integrated and pretty awesome sound seems minor but just LOOK at that first picture…….it’s pretty major reduction in weight and bulk.

  • Buddydudeguy

    This will embarass PC VR. What a piece of crap. Min req is Intel HD hahahaha

    • David Herrington

      At this point, I would rather be embarrassed and increase adoption and momentum than let VR die out in an elitist mindset.

    • Kuri

      Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good kiddo. VR either needs to become more affordable or it’ll die out.

      • Buddydudeguy

        “kiddo”? ok thar. Way to be willfully asnine. And I stand by what I said. This will embarrass PC VR.

        • KUKWES

          Why would this embarrass pc vr.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Not sure if serious. Noobs will be trying “VR” with Intel HD for crying out loud. Ya, that’s gonna do VR favors when people go well this is awful”.

  • David Herrington

    I understand the view on how this isn’t as good as Vive or Rift, but the 2 takeaways should be COST and capability. This new entry (backed by Microsoft) gives decent visuals and most importantly decreases cost. This will get steam support soon as some have suggested and should put pressure on HMD makers to lower prices, which is arguably the biggest hindrance to VR adoption.

  • Sponge Bob

    not sure about the value of inside-out headset tracking on tethered devices…
    seems pretty useless to me

    • PrymeFactor

      I think i know the value of a single cable vs a plethora of cabling.

    • Nick_Abby

      could also see an easier move to wireless

    • ImperialDynamics

      you can take the headset with your laptop. Say you go on vacation, or to a friend’s house.
      Plus it makes the product more affordable. Plus easier setup.

    • Fear Monkey

      Makes setup much easier and compact.

  • Ted Joseph

    I have owned (now sold Vive and PSVR, kept the Rift) all three VR headsets. I am currently playing Wilsons Heart, Rec Room, and Arizona Sunshine. I actually was extremely happy to see that Microsoft is going to step into the VR realm. Why? Because it drives competition against Rift, Vive, and PSVR. This means they need to step up their AAA game library. Currently, the only games that actually feel like full games are few and far between. I still play Arizona Sunshine with a friend (co-op) online for the past 4 months as no other similar experience is out. Microsoft will help push this along in my opinion.

    • ImperialDynamics

      Why did you sell the Vive and not the Rift? (I’m not taking sides, in fact i’m more of Rift type myself just curious about your experience)

  • Kuri

    If this thing is set up to work with Steam VR and maybe Occulus out of the box then it’ll easily be a day one purchase for me provided I have the funds and have my PC upgraded by then.

  • Armando Tavares

    Funny to watch fanboys and people/companies that have money tied up into Oculus/VIVE, squirming in every news regarding these devices.

    I still remember all the: «These wont be suited for gaming»…«wont have inside out tracking…»…«inside out tracking wont work properly», etc, etc, etc

    Even the article goes out of it’s the way to point out ‘flaws’ with the device: The cable lengh (12/13 feet), for example, apparently isn’t enough… even though it’s the same legth as the Oculus cable… wich, I suppose, is. Right?
    And the 3.5 jack port isn’t placed right for people that have big hands….
    Because it’s light (wich is usually a GOOD thing) and doesn’t weight 10 pounds, it feels ‘odd’. Really??? LOL…. nitpicking at it’s best.

    Fun stuff to watch. Carry on boys and girls… *get’s popcorn*

  • Devu

    All good and fine but absolutely nothing about AR. Does it handle AR? This would be the deal breaker. I was trying to get some info about that. Can image from cameras can be feed back to the device?

  • Frankie Dingleberry

    I’m excited for this, I really hope it does do well. My Gear VR I believe has the same 95 fov, which if it’s the same, I’m fine with. Here in Canada, the Rift is 649$ + tax, and the Vive is 999 + tax. This headset should be around 399 then. I could literally save up and get it in a month. I have a good RX480 and R5 1600 PC, I pass all tests, so it should be okay :)

  • Great article. $300 bucks, yes. I’ve held back for over a year on the $3000 HoloLens because it broke my budget.