What Devs Think
In my interactions with developers at the conference the response to the Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets seemed largely positive. Most are enthusiastic about not needing to setup any additional outside tracking systems for the headset and are also really happy about the price point. The belief is that if Microsoft can ship a plug & play headset at a ~$300 price point, we’ll be seeing a lot more people entering the VR marketplace this year. I also heard a few people discussing the benefits of the Acer’s minimal cabling. The headset only has one relatively slim wire coming out of it that runs along the right side of the headstrap and then splits into one HDMI and one USB port right before it gets to the PC.
It’s a compelling idea that I might be able to throw an Acer headset in my backpack along with a laptop and head off to work, or to be able to take it easily over to a friend’s house without a lengthy setup. A lot of people at the conference were also discussing the VR controllers that Microsoft just announced for these headsets. It’s currently unknown when the Acer VR headset + controller bundle ($400) will become available beyond “later this year.” At the conference, demos requiring locomotion beyond physical bounds were using an Xbox controller and teleportation.
The biggest question marks for the Acer headset were mostly around the field of view for the controller tracking, shipping & release dates, and how IPD adjustments are made to the headset.
HoloLens is able to make some adjustments for IPD in-software, so one would assume there’s a similar process for the Acer headset, though if you can’t move the lenses of the Acer headset, you can’t have a truly correct IPD.
Another question that came up was around if the Microsoft VR controllers would be available outside of a bundle purchase. I was able to confirm that they would be sold independently as well, although no word on a date yet for when.
There was also a lot of talk and excitement about how the Windows Mixed Reality headsets will fit into the launch of Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox ‘Project Scorpio’ console, which is slated to arrive at exactly the same time as the consumer MR headsets: ‘holiday 2017’.
Some questions I had coming out of the conference that have since been answered were around the ability for the controllers to track fully outside of the headset’s forward-facing cameras, as well as questions regarding if they would work across all of the Microsoft partner-headsets, including HoloLens.
I was told that the controllers do indeed use the headset’s forward facing cameras for their primary tracking method but that they also have other sensors, including an IMU, and employ inverse kinematics. If the controllers move outside of the headset’s camera tracking area they will reportedly start to lose confidence in the controller’s exact positions, but can still maintain some degree of confidence using the other sensors and IK methods.
In response to my second question, about whether or not they would work with HoloLens, I was told that the controllers are “platform compatible controllers,” and that this applies across all OEMs. So if you buy one pair of the controllers they should work on any Windows Mixed Reality headset. However somewhat paradoxically I was also told that the controllers are not compatible with HoloLens at this time. It’s possible that this response merely indicates that HoloLens support is not ready currently but is planned for the future since HoloLens is a major part of the Windows Mixed Reality platform. We’ll have to wait and see.
For $300 the quality of the Acer VR headset’s overall user experience holds its own against much more expensive systems, with the obvious caveat of not yet having tracked input or controllers. In my mind the question should be: does this headset provide a good experience for this price or not? I think it does. Comparing this headset directly to something significantly more expensive like the Rift or the Vive is just unfair. Sure it’s going to have its downsides and make sacrifices on quality, but to provide an entry-level PC VR experience at this price point, at the quality I saw, seems like a victory for everyone cheering for a future with more VR in it. I’m excited to see how the final consumer version of the Acer and other Microsoft partner headsets turns out, and whether or not they’ll have the content to back them up.