Computers / Buying Guide

Reality Check: Exploring MR and VR Headsets

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Reality has never been harder to get a grasp on. In addition to real life, the introduction of virtual reality, augmented reality—and now, mixed reality—has really blurred the lines. While we may not be inserting plugs into the backs of our heads like in The Matrix just yet, virtual reality has come a long way since the red monochrome days of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy gaming console.

So, what is the Matrix… I mean virtual reality? Well, virtual reality is a fully immersive experience, which tricks your senses into thinking you’re in a different environment, apart from the real world. Using a head-mounted display (HMD) or headset, you’ll explore computer-generated visuals, as well as interact with 3D objects using motion controllers.

Augmented reality (AR) is different than virtual reality. AR overlays digital information on real-world objects. While VR aims to transport you into an entirely new environment, AR keeps the real world as the focus and provides information to “augment” your experience. A good example of AR is widely popular Pokémon Go mobile game. In Pokémon Go, you can catch your favorite Pokémon in the park, on the street, or anywhere else where you have Internet access. The game would use the rear camera of your smartphone to show the real world, while inserting a Pikachu or Charizard into the image.

Mixed reality (MR), as its name suggests, combines real-world and digital elements together. You interact with physical and virtual objects and environments. In MR, you see yourself in the world around you, as well as interact with a virtual environment. It provides the ability to have one foot in the real world and the other in a virtual environment.

If you’re looking for a virtual reality experience, then something like the HTC Vive headset will be right for you. With dual 90 Hz AMOLED displays, a 110° field of view, and 2160 x 1200 total resolution, you’ll be fully immersed while playing games via SteamVR. You’ll need at least a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card at the bare minimum, to utilize the HTC Vive headset. Also, you’ll need a fair amount of space. The HTC Vive headset can support up to a 15 by 15-foot play area, and while you don’t need to go that big, the minimum area must be at least 6.5 by 5 feet. You’ll have to set up two base stations for room-scale tracking. The HTC Vive headset also comes with two motion controllers, complete with HD haptic feedback, dual-stage triggers, multi-function trackpad, and 24 sensors for 360° one-to-one tracking.

HTC Vive VR Headset

Introduced in the Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update, Windows Mixed Reality allows you to experience Windows 10 in a virtual home. Explore the space, customize rooms with movies, apps, games, and holograms, and even interact with Cortana, the Windows 10 digital assistant. While the HTC Vive headset requires external sensors, mixed reality headsets have inside-out tracking so you don’t need them. Unfortunately, this means you’ll only get 180° tracking with the motion controllers. However, Mixed Reality headsets do not require high-end computer specs (although a powerful computer would make the experience smoother). At the bare minimum, you could jump into mixed reality with integrated Intel® HD Graphics 620. It is recommended that you at least try to aim for an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 or AMD Radeon RX 460 graphics card. Also, different headsets may require different ports and connectors, so it’s always recommended to determine if your current computer is compatible with Windows Mixed Reality through the official Microsoft website.

There are several mixed reality headsets to choose from. The first option is the ASUS Mixed Reality Headset that features dual 2.89" LCD screens with a 95° field of view, 2880 x 1440 total resolution, and a 90 Hz refresh rate. It also has a futuristic design, featuring a pattern of hundreds of 3D polygons and a glossy-on-tone effect. The visor also flips up so you can quickly switch between the real world and the virtual world without completely taking off the headset. This headset comes with two motion controllers.

ASUS Mixed Reality Headset with Two Motion Controllers

Another option is the Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality Headset, with dual 2.89" LCD screens that have 2880 x 1440 total resolution. However, these displays feature a 110° field of view. You can also get the Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality Headset with Motion Controllers for a more immersive experience.

Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality Headset with Motion Controllers

Acer also has its own Mixed Reality Headset. It also has dual 2.89" LCD screens with 2880 x 1440 total resolution. Its field of view lies between ASUS and Lenovo, at 105°. It comes with two motion controllers.

While there are some AR headsets available now, more of them are rumored to be released in the future. Look out for the heavy hitters, like the Microsoft Hololens, revamped Google Glass 2, and the Meta 2 headsets.

Acer Mixed Reality Headset with Two Motion Controllers

Have you experienced virtual reality or mixed reality yet? If so, which headset are you using? Are you playing VR games? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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