Virtual Reality with Windows Mixed Reality

Virtual Reality with Windows Mixed Reality

2017 was an exciting year for virtual reality. The Oculus and SteamVR ecosystems grew immensely, and for many people, 2017 was the year virtual reality was more than a fleeting dream. From the December 2017 Steam Hardware & Software survey, here are some fun stats about VR adoption in 2017:

  • 0.34% of all Steam users own a VR headset.
  • 47.26% of that 0.34% are Vive owners;
  • 46.14% are Oculus Rift owners;
  • and 4.35% are Windows Mixed Reality owners.

So why did I get Windows Mixed Reality and not the Rift or the Vive? The price was a considerable factor, honestly; in December, Microsoft ran a deal for the Windows Mixed Reality headsets wherein some headsets were selling for $200 with the motion controllers. But I also knew that Windows Mixed Reality is compatible with SteamVR, though only in beta stages right now, and as a .NET developer with an innate bias towards Microsoft, I felt like giving Microsoft an honest college try.

If there's one thing I want to say before you close out of this tab; Windows Mixed Reality exceeded my expectations, but it is not without its problems.

I purchased the Lenovo Explorer (pictured above) with the motion controllers; thus this post will revolve mostly around this headset. Its specifications are as follows:

Lenovo Explorer specifications

  • Resolution : 2880 x 1440 (1440 x 1440 per eye)
  • Refresh Rate : 90hz
  • Field of View : 110 degrees
  • Weight : 380 g / 0.84 lb
  • Connectivity : 1 4m long Y cable consisting of HDMI and USB 3.0 plugs

In comparison to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the WMR headsets have a slightly higher resolution. Except for the Samsung Oddysey, they have fixed interpupillary distance (though you can make small adjustments with software), no lens adjustments, and LCD displays instead of true-black OLED displays - we'll get into that later.

The PC I use the Explorer on has the following specifications:

  • GPU : GTX 970
  • CPU : i7-4770
  • RAM : 16GB
  • Motherboard : ASRock Z87-M8

The GTX 970 is the lowest recommended graphics card for WMR Ultra (a higher-definition experience for VR), so overall I can run most games. What problems I do have are specific to the games themselves, and I try to give feedback to developers where possible.

Setting up Windows Mixed Reality

Microsoft advertises effortless setup for WMR, and they aren't incorrect. I plugged in the headset after downloading the Mixed Reality Portal application, and it gave me step-by-step directions for setting up an effective room-scale setup. Aside from waiting for it to download the required files, it was a genuinely effortless and quick setup and does not need additional sensors for tracking like the Rift and Vive. In fact, Microsoft does not provide additional sensors for WMR. All of the necessary hardware is in the headset itself, which is good and bad - the tracking isn't quite as accurate as the Rift or Vive, but it has hardly been bad enough it's affected me except for a few games (that did not explicitly support WMR).

Gaming with Windows Mixed Reality

There are a few big titles on the Microsoft Store for WMR capable games, namely Superhot VR and Arizona Sunshine. They work great, but that's well within reasonable expectations for first-party games sold on Microsoft's platform for WMR games. The big question is how well does SteamVR integration work?

I had a few hiccups with some games like Pavlov VR and OrbusVR where the tracking was off, or actions weren't reliable, but those were isolated to those two titles. Action-heavy games like Raw Data and Hot Dogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades work very well, though, with no apparent tracking problems.

The LCD display means black colors are more of a washed-out dark grey and not true black like on the Rift and Vive, but it did not bother me personally. The colors are better on the Vive, but it's like comparing a Camry with a Corolla - you only notice differences when you put them side by side. This is probably a severe point for other people, but I personally do not give a shit what type of display it is as long as the whole virtual reality thing still works and is convincing (spoiler: it is).

Puzzle games are quickly becoming my favorite VR genre because VR puzzle games offer a level of tactility and immersion that traditional gaming titles on a flat screen with a controller cannot provide. You can have infinite Escape Room puzzles right in your living room!

The motion controllers

I think these are probably the weakest point of WMR. The motion controllers are currently all identical pieces of hardware with the only variable being the brand name printed on them. The lit tracking portion is huge and makes some smaller actions tedious in VR, for example putting a new magazine in a pistol in H3VR. They feel cheap with soft plastic, and they could be a little more ergonomic. The battery life leaves a lot to be desired, and with 2 AA batteries per controller, could be problematic for many. But if I had to rate the quality of the controllers in comparison to the Vive, I'd say the Vive controllers are a 9/10 and the WMR controllers are a 7/10, which is still respectable. Perhaps the only problem with the controllers are that they are tracked by the cameras on the front of the WMR headsets, so tracking becomes unreliable if the controller is not in view or directly in front of the headset, which can cause strange glitches in games at times, but most WMR compatible games can control this well.

Conclusion / TL; DR

Windows Mixed Reality is the newest kid on the VR block, but they can throw a punch with the rest of them. At MSRP, you are probably better served by a Vive or Rift setup, but if you can get them at a deep discount as I did, it is a competent virtual reality setup that is comfortable and very easy to use.