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A tale of two “inside-out” VR headsets: The $400 Oculus Rift S, $600 HP Reverb

The $600 HP Reverb (left) and $400 Oculus Rift S (right).

Enlarge / The $600 HP Reverb (left) and $400 Oculus Rift S (right).

By the top of 2019, many main VR headset producers appear poised to launch a new “statement” product for PCs. This month sees two such headsets attain store cabinets: the Oculus Rift S (coming Might 21, priced at $400) and the HP Reverb (out now, starting at $600).

In both corporations’ instances, the statement from every headset is a mixture of improve and compromise. Rift S sees Oculus take two steps forward, two steps again, from its three-year-old Rift headset to determine a new “baseline” PC-VR experience, notably with lively hand monitoring in mind. In the meantime, Reverb aims to deliver probably the most reasonably priced “high-res” VR headset ever made—which, as you may anticipate, features a few imperfections, starting from the apparent to the shocking.

After dwelling with each headsets, I can report that each headset’s sales pitch is completely positive, not game-changing, and both are value scrutinizing—because neither is presently a slam-dunk suggestion.

HP Reverb: You say you need resolution

Let’s start with the HP Reverb, a headset that promises to exceed the display high quality and pixel density of the already-impressive HTC Vive Pro and Samsung Odyssey. Reverb’s complete decision weighs in at a combined four,320×2,160 across its fast-switching LCD panels.

Consequently, earlier than HP agreed to ship us a testing unit, we have been requested to verify a graphics card minimum of a GTX 1080 or AMD Radeon Professional WX 8200. Discover that their latter suggestion is designed for workstations, not shopper PCs. That’s the point. The Reverb is squarely focused at an enterprise or improvement use instances where display high quality is paramount; this isn’t essentially your headset for gaming or high-speed interactivity.

This is first made obvious by a clumsy headstrap. In contrast to the springy flex of the original Oculus Rift or the rotary dial of the PlayStation VR, Reverb’s strap is spartan. You get three velcro straps to regulate, that are all troublesome to adjust while sporting the headset. This is all sure by a light-yet-wide halo, meant to fit towards the again of the top, and it comes with two decidedly cheap-feeling over-ear speakers—with fuzzy materials you’d anticipate from $5 airplane headphones. (You possibly can’t detach these, however you’ll be able to push them off your ears and plug in your personal headphones with a three.5mm jack.)

But this spartan strategy means the strap system is under-engineered, a rarity in the sector. The headset is substantially lighter in mass than the over-engineered Vive Professional, which may be value some inconvenience. Its back-halo design retains more weight off your face than the unique Rift. Plus, fit it onto your actual head form once, and it’s simple sufficient to put on and take off from there.

The Reverb’s flip-up functionality is flimsy and bumps into your head, so it disappoints as a “peek at the outside world” choice. Its cramped inside isn’t notably glasses-friendly. And in case your interpupillary distance (IPD) measures outdoors the “average” measure of 61-66mm, Reverb’s “digital IPD” adjustment choice will depart you unhappy from a consolation degree.

All of which is to say: In case your expected business/enterprise use case consists of principally VR-savvy professionals of a perfect head form and measurement, you’ll be fantastic. Should you’re handing these to a spread of utter VR newbies, however, be able to on-board them just to get the factor on.

Sweet spot, not-so-sweet outcome

As for the Reverb’s screens, the pixel decision of 4,320×2,160 is unimaginable for the sector, properly past the 2,800×1,600 measure of the Vive Professional and Odyssey. (And that’s much more than the Rift S, which we’ll get to.)

Reverb’s “sweet spot” visibility, within the middle of a consumer’s area of imaginative and prescient (FOV), is absolutely the winner in its worth sector. After roughly one week of Reverb testing, I’m now satisfied that this is the pixel rely to rely as “good enough” if you want to guarantee unobtrusive small-text legibility for the sake of VR’s analysis, schooling, and industrial design apps. (In Reverb’s case, this selling level is buoyed by the LCD panels’ dense subpixel resolution and 90Hz refresh.)

HP offered some pattern “professional” apps during my testing interval, and after wandering by way of a virtual duplicate of Helsinki and dissecting a frog in a classroom, I understood why. With my consideration targeted on front-and-center content material, I might see the Reverb’s sales pitch damned clearly. HP has crossed an necessary VR-quality line at an inexpensive enterprise worth point in 2019, and the remaining of this assessment’s caveats and warnings can’t erase that reality.

One of these caveats, nevertheless, is my use of “sweet spot” as a qualifier. I struggled to know why the high-res panel, all-in-all, appeared a bit smeary (“a bit” shouldn’t be a very scientific descriptor, in any case). That problem turned clearer as soon as I set up a “VR desk” of a headset, a single hand-controlled WMR controller, a bodily keyboard, and a floating VR duplicate of my PC’s 2D desktop.

Doing this confirmed my suspicions: the HP Reverb, like many different VR headsets, presents a transparent view in its central FOV however is less successful at translating its peripheral pixels. Making an attempt to learn textual content in the periphery was a wrestle compared to the same text appearing front-and-center. This was notably straightforward to notice as I examined details spread across 16:9-ratio desktop windows and Net browsers. And not using a physical IPD slider to work with, and only a “virtual” IPD adjustment choice, I had no concept the right way to treatment this apparent blurriness. Countless attempts to re-fit the headset didn’t help.

To be truthful, the fact that I might comfortably read Windows desktop content is its own VR revelation. That’s virtually unimaginable to comfortably do on the first wave of 2016 VR headsets. But the Reverb’s association of pixels and lenses does no favors to peripheral-view content, which results in an uncanny valley-like problem: once some of the content is so damned crisp, why can’t all of it’s? Moreover, why should the headset be so demanding of PC hardware if it blurs its peripheral pixels by default?

Some headset producers are toying with foveated rendering, which reduces pixel resolution relying on what’s being displayed or how a consumer’s eyes are tracked. But nothing so efficient is occurring right here. The Reverb as an alternative renders, then wastes, no less than one fourth of its pixels, which I can tell by budging the headset awkwardly round till only its corner pixels develop into clear.

LCD considerations

That divide in readability means all the comfort you may hope for from a higher-res headset dwindles in longer-term use. This can be a shame because the fast-switching LCD panel lives up to a 90Hz refresh with fuller subpixel decision than comparable OLED panels. Nevertheless, the “halo” impact from its fresnel lenses is particularly noticeable inside this headset.

Additionally, HP’s selection of fast-switching LCD panels means the Reverb simply suffers from imprecise shade calibration—a minimum of, in comparison with the rich, RGB-perfect outcomes you’ll be able to anticipate from a calibrated OLED panel. Part of that Vive Professional $1,100 price ticket is an understanding that no matter content you usher in will take pleasure in almost uniform colour copy. However the Reverb’s “cold” blue-green wash, which is nigh indiscernible when taking a look at a normal CMYK shade sheet, turns into obvious throughout a wider scene, notably the pastoral, faux-outdoor environs of the hub areas in Home windows Combined Actuality and SteamVR.

In VR experiences that rely on moody colour mapping (just like the storybook-adventure of Moss), the color copy borders on problematic. Every little thing in that recreation appears darker and less alive than on the OLED-fueled HTC Vive Pro. A seen “mura” effect on our testing headsets resulted in uneven shade copy across broad fields of pixels, as nicely. It was arguably probably the most intense mura impact I’ve ever seen on a consumer-grade VR headset, in reality. (To greatest explain this, assume of a big website background shade, which is meant to be completely uniform, having an uneven smudginess to it. Next, imagine that smudginess shifting in relation to where your head is aimed in VR.)

The regular Home windows Combined Reality caveat

Should you’re nice with considerably imprecise shade copy, high system demands, and an asterisk on Reverb’s excessive decision, you will have yet one more capsule to swallow: its merely satisfactory room-tracking powers. That is similar to most inside-out Windows Combined Reality headsets, which depend on two forward-facing cameras and guarantee respectable monitoring, as long as you keep your palms usually in entrance of your face.

The brief model: milder apps like TiltBrush and Trip Simulator work simply advantageous. (So did the tutorial apps that HP offered.) Highly lively apps like Beat Saber and Area Pirate Trainer, however, should compensate for Reverb’s poorly tracked palms on a reasonably regular foundation—as in, each 45 seconds in a high-speed Beat Saber track, a hand will noticeably disappear for a moment. In the meantime, any video games that depend on above- and behind-the-head hand motion are out the window, as most WMR headsets (including the Reverb) don’t have upward-facing monitoring sensors.

In good news, hottest VR fare expects lighter tracking, and consequently, WMR-style tracking will work in a pinch. But if the thought of randomly disappearing arms is just too VR-breaking for you, you then’ll need to pony up for a fuller monitoring experience.