Hopefully this will be a comprehensive review of the HP Windows mixed reality headset from the point of view of a long-term PC VR “Simmer”. I only briefly touch upon the controllers as the main focus of this review is the headset itself for PC simulation.
Who the hell am I?
I am a PC simmer who mixes their time between Driving in Assetto Corsa, Flying in P3D (v4 with all the Orbx trimmings) and Elite Dangerous. I have been using the Oculus Rift CV1 since it first came out and I had the DK2 for some time before that. I have never touched a Vive, so during this review I can only directly reference the Rift for comparison purposes.
Why did I choose the HP WMR?
I choose the HP WMR simply because I live in the UK and it was the cheapest (£299) WMR I could get from Amazon (easy to return if needed). After living with my rift for 18 months I am more than ready for a step up in image resolution, therefore I really liked the sound of the better resolution in the HP WMR. I ordered it on the basis that I was really hoping that it would be the step up I was looking for.
The Physical Headset
For those who are not familiar with the HP WMR headset, it is the one that makes you look like Robocop. I was quite surprised with the quality of the design, it is basically an oval loop that has good quality “sweat proof” type padding both at the front for your forehead and at the back of your head. Also at the back there is a well-made adjustment wheel for adjusting tightness. When you put it on the compression between your forehead and back head holds it in place. You can dial it as tight as you want. I found it quite comfy and I found you didn’t have to tighten it that much to keep it held in place. Rating = GOOD
The headset section is attached to this head loop with a pivot, so you can flip it up out the way when not in use. When the headset is fitted correctly it flips down and rests nicely against your face. I noticed that the only light leak was around the nose… very much like the Rift. Rating = GOOD. It was strange and both nice to me to have a VR headset over my face but not putting any pressure on it like the rift… no more oval “rift face”. I really liked that. Rating = VERY GOOD. However, it should be noted that if you adjust the headset strap further down the back of your head (like the rift) it causes light leak under your eyes because the front section is angled away from your face. Therefore, the back of the headset must sit higher up the back of your head (on the bumpy bit). It wasn’t uncomfortable but felt a little unnatural (perhaps it because I am used to the rift sitting lower down?). However, the point I am trying to make is it is light leak is comparable to the rift if you seat it correctly (obviously face shape is a variable here). Sealing the light around your face is foam, nice quality foam but foam all the same. The points where the headset is held on your head is much higher quality padding, therefore the foam around your face is literally there to prevent light leak. Over all if you intend to dance around in the headset you could potentially run into trouble but for a PC simmer the system works well and is comfy. Weight is also fine, it didn’t really feel any different to wearing a rift. Rating = FINE
There are no headphones built into this headset but there is a standard headphone Jack plug in a strange (but very accessible) place at the front of the headset. The oval HEADSTRAP that holds the headset in place is wafer thin as it goes past your ears therefore there is nothing that would inhibit headphones and you could quite simply use any headphones on top of this WMR without issue. To be honest it is more of a chore over the rift using separate headphones but on the plus side you can use and high-quality headphones of choice (wired or wireless) Rating = NOT IDEAL BUT NOT A SHOWSTOPPER
The only thing I didn’t like about the physical headset was the cable. Its thick and much less flexible than the rift (but comparable length). It clips to the side of the headset and has a break connector at the headset end (which is good). Unfortunately, the cable itself is thicker and far more rigid than the rift. Also, the fact that it starts to hang down from the headset at a point mid-way between your eye and ear is also an annoyance, I found it difficult to keep it away from my body. Rating = NOT GOOD/ANNOYING
Overall, despite the slight cable annoyance I was very pleased with the physical design and had all my fingers crossed that it would perform well virtually when I fired it up.
The Software setup
Initial setup was a breeze. My Desktop was already updated to the “Fall” version of Windows 10 so when I plugged the headset into my PC (one USB and one HDMI) it was recognised immediately, did a quick headset update and then let me skip the controller setup and gave me the option to use a mouse instead. (Note, if you do use the controllers you will need a Bluetooth adapter which is NOT supplied). Before long I was in the VR “Cliff house” and the headset was working. I must confess I had no interest in roaming the cliff house but at least I was now up and running. Rating=EASY
Next task was to get Steam VR working. (Not so easy). I was messing around for ages with no success at all until I realised that you need to install the Steam VR update for WMR (which is found on steam in the store) before it will work. I found it slightly strange that Steam VR does not auto update or give you any indication you need to update. Anyway, after some major hair pulling moments I eventually got it working. Rating = NOT OBVIOUS
P3D (native) was my first target. It’s not steam VR but I thought it might pick up OPENVR protocol. It doesn’t and try as I might I couldn’t get it to work. Sadly, I never actually used the WMR on a flight sim, however I was able to get a good judgement from the driving sim below.
Onto Assetto Corsa. To get this working you need to start up AC and choose “OPENVR” from the display menu. AGAIN, NOT OBVIOUS. This was made even more difficult for me as I didn’t have the “OpenVR” option displayed in that menu (despite having the latest version of AC installed???). After more messing around I found that “Content manager” (the alternate launcher for AC) did have the OPENVR option… and that worked. Finally, I am in a game that I know like the back of my hand so I can compare with the rift.
Simple one this. 100% as good as a rift. True I didn’t dance around the room, but from a seated position there were absolutely no issues. Rating=PERFECT
The flip up headset
When I first got the headset, I thought that the flip up headset was a really neat idea and a great improvement over the rift. However, when I started using the two products side by side I quickly realised that the flip up headset wasn’t really that different to the rift “slide the headset onto your fore head” move. Both solutions are still hanging there slightly in your way so I must say that the WMR solution isn’t as big a deal as I first thought it would be. It certainly has made me downgrade the importance of a flip up function on future headsets. Rating=COMPARIBLE
Definitely better on the WMR. However, when you compare side by side with a Rift you will struggle to praise the WMR that much. The biggest difference between the two for me was the fact that the WMR almost eliminated jagged lines. I was running both the rift and WMR on super sample 2.0. Don’t get me wrong the rift quality didn’t have many jagged lines (mainly where kerb meets grass) but where they did the WMR resolution virtually removed all traces. It was almost like the difference between Anti-Aliasing on and off. When you sat stationary at studied objects at long distances the WMR was slightly better… but really you had to study hard to notice the difference, it wasn’t night and day different at all. Strangely close up dashboard writing was really hard to notice any difference. It was very disappointing. Rating=VERY LITTLE IMPROVEMENT ON THE RIFT
Field of view
This is a little odd. The WMR headset gives you a view that seems circular, almost as if you are looking through a tube. The rift gives you a view that is just like the Oculus oval logo. That’s not to say the WMR is worse… just different. At first, I thought perhaps the WMR gives you more vertical view, however side by side comparisons weren’t conclusive. Nor were horizontal FOV comparisons. From my experience of VR headsets, I know that the FOV is greater if your eyes are close to the lenses. The rift is held on to your head by strapping the headset tightly to your face, hence your eyes are closer to the lenses. You can get more FOV if you reduce the face foam thickness. Hence this explains why there are wildly historical different opinions on FOV. On the WMR headset the headset is not strapped tightly to your face so FOV is slightly narrower. However, if you push the headset towards your face it does increase the FOV to rift levels. So technically I think they are virtually the same FOV, however practically unless you do some kind of modding you will get slightly less FOV on the WMR. However, it is only slightly less and although you might think of this as an issue, it pails into insignificance when I get onto the lenses later on in the review. Rating=COMPARIBLE
Definitely much better than the rift. I must confess I haven’t spent much time with the dreaded white on black but the bits I have I really didn’t really notice any. However please note I have live with God rays for so long that I am not very sensitive to them anymore. Rating=MUCH BETTER
Screen Door Effect
Quick one this. It’s no better or worse than the rift, it’s just different type of screen door. Again, I am so used to the screen door effect that I don’t notice on the rift and I didn’t notice on the WMR (I had to specifically look). Maybe you could argue its slightly better on the WMR but it won’t please SDE word not allowed’s. Rating=COMPARIBLE
This is where it started to go all wrong. The lenses on the WMR are much like the Oculus DK2 in that you have to get the headset in a more defined sweet spot to get good focus. Although this is a slight inconvenience it isn’t really an issue because finding that sweet spot is quite easy. However unfortunately when you do get that sweet spot you will find that although the centre of the lenses is spot on focus, you will find the out edges are not… and right on the edge of the lenses it is VERY out of focus. In practice, this means you cannot just glance at the extremes of the screen because it is out of focus. If you want an “in focus” view have to move your head instead of your eyes. In a swipe this destroys all the benefits of the slight increase of resolution. I found myself constantly glancing down at my speed while driving only to be greeted by a full on “Mr Magoo” experience. To be honest I was devastated. Given the choice of this issue or mega godrays, I would choose the godrays every time. Rating=FOR ME A SHOWSTOPPER
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better. I guess this next issue is a result of the use of LCD screens in the WMR. However, something is really dull with the colours. The default track I use was at Monza, at midday, in bright sunshine. The sun is bright in the sky, reflections are glinting off the car paintwork, everything is bright and sunny. Well… it is on the rift. The WMR is something else. I have absolutely no idea how they managed it but the exact same situation on the WMR looks like grey overcast dreary day. It’s not the brightness but the colours that seem to be at fault.. The WMR is hugely lower that the rift colours. Now I suspect this could be a fault of the “OpenVR” (as the windows cliffhouse seemed quite bright and vibrant) however all the steam VR menus are the same dull experience (so it wasn’t just the game) I just don’t know why it is so dull but compared to the rift it looks bad.? Rating=NOT GOOD
A quick point about the controllers
I only took the controllers out the box to hold (never used them). Many other reviews have comprehensively reviewed these so there is little need to repeat. However, from my quick hold of them I can tell you that they seemed like a low-quality word not allowed child of Vive and Rift. The handle is very rift like (with a trigger and a side button). The thumb controls are a bit rift like thumbstick and a Vive direction pad. Overall the plastics and movements are cheap and nowhere near the quality of the rift touch controller. It’s very much like that time you asked your mom for an extra Playstation controller for Xmas and instead of buying you the official Sony product, she got the cheap copy! Overall the design and ergonomics seem good, but the quality is below par. Rating=OK
When I purchased the WMR my intent was to use the full extent of the Amazon return period to fully assess the potential of the product. However, as I compared the WMR directly against the Rift (for a fair period of time) I suddenly realised that I had somehow got engrossed in a multi lap session… on the rift. It was at that point I realised that I had no interest in going back to the WMR again. As disappointing as it was, the overall WMR experience was in some respects not much better than the rift and in others far, far worse. To my surprise, as I head to bed tonight I have already concluded that not only do I much prefer the optics of the rift but I have no interest in keeping the WMR a day longer. This is a shame because I quite like the Robocop design and the inside out tracking I wanted so much for this headset to succeeded the rift. Final Rating=The rift is still far better overall
A Flip up headset is not as useful as I thought it would be
I find the headband setup just as good as the rift strap configuration
I much prefer built in headphones
Inside out tracking is brilliant for headsets… hopefully this will be the future
Screen resolution increase has to be substantial to make a difference
Lens design can make a huge difference to overall experience