(Pocket-lint) - Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) is Microsoft's route into virtual reality (VR) experiences for Windows, without the need for an ultra-fast and expensive PC setup. There are a variety of third-party headset options, of which the Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset HC102 is perhaps the most interesting.
This WMR headset offers a more striking design than its Acer, Dell Visor and Lenovo Explorer competition. Windows Mixed Reality is now at the point now where there's more content available for the platform - including support for Steam VR, giving access to a mass of games too. Is that enough to make the Asus headset a worthwhile purchase?
What do I need to run the Asus HC102?
The Asus WMR Headset is, as its name suggests, a visor-like headset that comes complete with two hand-held controllers, used all together for a fully interactive Windows VR experience.
You'll need an up-to-date Windows 10 setup, with one available USB 3.0 ports and one HDMI to tether the device. Just like all its competitors, the Asus headset requires wires leading from PC, which is the current norm for VR - we look forward to the day when it's wire-free!
What you won't need, however, is a crazy-powerful PC. The minimum requirements aren't actually too taxing for most:
- Operating System: Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (RS3)
- Processor: Intel Core i5 7200U, Intel Core i5 4590 or better
- RAM: 8GB DDR3 dual channel or better
- Graphics card: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, NVIDIA MX150, AMD Radeon RX 460/560 or better
- Graphics display port: HDMI 1.4/2.0
- Connections: USB 3.0, Bluetooth 4.0 (for controllers)
If you're not sure whether your machine is capable, you can use the official app to test compatibility. As you can see, this low specification requirement sets the Windows Mixed Reality system apart from higher-spec HTC Vive or Oculus Rift setups.
- HTC Vive review: An experience that's out of this world
- Oculus Rift review: The VR revolution begins here
An Asus' easy setup is also a highlight of its design. Unlike the best virtual reality headsets available, the Asus WMR headset doesn't require additional sensors or base stations to run. Instead, the device uses two cameras on the front to read the room around you in real time, including tracking the controllers to relay the action to your eyes.
That means setup takes a matter of minutes. Plugging the device into the USB and HDMI ports on your computer will force it to be instantly recognised by Windows, which talks you through pairing the controllers (via Bluetooth) with your machine.
The next step is using the headset to map out the room if you want "world scale" play, by simply tracing the limits of your area. One issue we had here is the cable on the Asus headset is quite short, at just four metres. This is restrictive unless your computer happens to be at the edge of an open space, which not only limits play area but also leads to a lot of tugging and unnecessary discomfort while playing. The setup does help by creating virtual borders within the Mixed Reality universe to stop you bumping into walls and household objects while you play.
What's with the polygon design?
- Front hinged flip-up display
- Built-in audio out and microphone support via 3.5mm jack
The most striking thing about the Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset is its main visor section isn't smooth and rounded but made up of multiple polygons. It's a more visually arresting design than any of its near competitors. It's not for any distinct purpose, but it looks way cooler than the competition - especially when seen against the blue plastic design of the Acer Mixed Reality headset.
That said, the Asus does look and feel rather plasticky. This design certainly has its ups and downs. The large headband features cool-touch, antibacterial padding on the front and back and sits relatively comfortably on the head.
Fitting the headset is easy too. There's an adjustable wheel on the rear - a bit like a cycling helmet or similar - which can be twizzled to change the fit with ease. The padding is particularly comfortable and the weight isn't too bad either. We did find, however, that the headset is pretty tricky to strike a balance between comfort and clarity.
A visor-like design allows the headset to easily flip up and down without the need to fiddle with any additional buttons or latches. But this design also seems to lead to unnecessary pressure on your nose which can make it difficult to breathe during use.
It also lets in a lot more light from behind and the sides while playing, which can spoil the experience if you're playing during the day or in a well-lit room. This seems to be an issue with WMR headsets in general and isn't limited to the Asus model, but the result therefore isn't as immersive as the experiences with the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
That said, it's great to be able to flip the headset up and out of the way to view your surroundings or take a quick breather if you need to. We also like the easy-to-adjust headband, which is far less faff than multiple velcro straps.
The only other problem we had was with audio. The Asus headset doesn't have integrated sound - you need to use your own 3.5mm headphones plugged into the jack on the device. The trouble we found was fitting headphones over the head strap is tricky; it's too bulky. In-ear earphones are a possible solution though. We're sure many will be disappointed by the lack of USB or USB-C connection options too. That aside, the audio delivery is pretty immersive.
For ease of use and a quick plug-and-play setup that's a breeze, the Asus WMR headset sure ticks all the right boxes. But it's not without its comfort and fit issues either.
Tracking and reliability
- Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer, P-sensor and inside-out tracking cameras
- Six degrees of freedom tracking
- Two AA-battery powered Bluetooth WMR controllers
- 1000-nits brightness
Without any base stations or separate tracking sensors, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Asus Mixed Reality headset would be less accurate than its high-end rivals in the VR world. However, there are a number of sensors built into the headset as well as the two inside-out tracking cameras to monitor your movement and the boundaries of the world. All this means six degrees of freedom tracking which means the headset can monitor your movement horizontally and vertically within the play space.
We put the headset to the test with a number of different games that we've played on the HTC Vive to see how the tracking stacked up. We were impressed with the results. Knockout League, a fast-paced boxing game, didn't seem to connect quite as quickly and efficiently as on the HTC Vive, but punches are still accurately tracked. Ducking and dodging left us rarely frustrated by the headset not properly relating to our movements.
This free tracking feature is a real highlight of the design, as it means fewer wires in the room and a much simpler setup every time you want to play. We had some minor issues with the controllers not registering occasionally, but removing the Bluetooth pairing and repairing quickly fixes any issues.
Graphics and available content
- 2.89-inch diagonal display size (per eye)
- 1440 x 1440 per eye resolution (2880 x 1440 total)
- 90Hz max refresh rate (game and computer dependent)
- 95-degree field of view
When it was first announced, the Asus headset sounded like the most adept system going, thanks to its 2880 x 1440 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate.
While that's perfectly good for decent visuals, it's not actually better than any of its competition. Firstly, the resolution is 1440 x 1440 per eye, making the combined total 2880. Secondly, the 90Hz refresh is matched by Dell, Acer and Lenovo - so long as you are running Windows Mixed Reality Ultra and have the beefier PC spec to handle this.
We found that the visuals fairly good, but there's also quite an issue with peripheral vision. There's a distinct blur at the edges of the lenses and it's painfully obvious if you're doing anything other than looking straight ahead. Again, this is a problem with most VR/MR headsets, but it seems especially prominent here.
Of course, Windows Mixed Reality headsets aren't meant to be cutting edge when it comes to graphics. They're far more accessible and intended for easy access - which is clear based on the low minimum system specs. Visuals need to be considered with that in mind.
Windows Mixed Reality, as a platform, is also slowly becoming more appealing thanks in part to the addition of compatibility with Steam VR and a growing games library that's compatible with WMR headsets.
So the Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset works with Steam VR games, but not all of them are designed for it, which is something to bear in mind. On some games, the controls may either not work or do work but are a bit clumsy - with Arizona Sunshine, for example, the controllers aren't mapped as well and movement is a bit awkward compared to playing on the HTC Vive.
Elsewhere, games like Killing Floor: Incursion will load, but won't run because of the lack of base station tracking. The game is not yet compatible with WMR, but we wanted to test to see how VR/MR worked cross-platform.
Outside of Steam VR, there's also the ability to run other games purchased from the Microsoft Store. We also discovered, to our delight, that you can even play PC-compatible Xbox Play Anywhere within the WMR world.
The Windows Mixed Reality experience opens to door to Microsoft's Cliff House. It's a physical venue with all your base Windows components accessible. Here you can pop apps onto the walls and resize them to fit the room or go to the edges of the space and fill up the worldview with a screen.
This is where we setup State of Decay 2 onto a massive screen, plugged in an Xbox controller and had a nice play around smashing zombies. Although this doesn't turn standard games into VR experiences, it's surprisingly easy to play standard games on a seemingly gargantuan display that can be resized and moved to your own pleasure.
As well as games, you can use this area to watch a movie or 360-video in the theatre. Make Skype calls. Listen to on some tunes. Go exploring for the sheer hell of it. Play about with specially designed holograms or mess around with a variety of Windows applications in VR form, which is fun, but not a distinct reason to buy the headset.
Microsoft Edge is available for browsing the web - which is pretty interesting on a big screen, while installing a 360 viewer add-on means you can access all the 360 video content on YouTube. If that's not enough video content, you can easily access Netflix too.
The Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset is an interesting device for those considering their Mixed Reality headset options. In reality, it's the design that makes the difference on these devices, as the foundations mostly depend on the Windows Mixed Reality platform - which is continuing to improve, but is one and the same in each device.
The highlights of the Asus headset include the easily adjustable fit, flip-up visor, easy on/off access, and the fact it's incredibly easy to setup and use. That said, the blurry visuals are a bit of a letdown, especially when compared with the higher-end VR headsets available out there.
The fact this device doesn't require a powerful PC to run will be a pull for some, but the price tag might be off-putting when you consider you can get an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift for a little bit more outlay (if you've got the right PC anyway). Unless you're invested in the Microsoft Ecosystem, of course, in which case the Asus WMR headset certainly has some pull.
Alternatives to consider
Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset
The Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset is one of the cheapest of the current offerings. Like the Asus WMR headset it's easy to setup, easy to use, and tracks well. With access to the same content, it's certainly an option to consider - although we prefer the funky polygon style of the Asus headset, but that's all down to personal preference.
- Read the full article: Acer Windows Mixed Reality review
We have a feeling that the Dell Visor is going to be difficult to beat. With similar design features to the Asus, such as a pop-up visor, the Dell is enhanced with a comfortable counter-balanced fit to ensure the highest levels of comfort. Like the rest though, the Dell Visor relies on the content within Windows Mixed Reality to really shine.
- Read the full article: Dell Visor preview
If the price is on your mind, then the Oculus Rift should be considered as an alternative. It's actually cheaper than the Asus WMR headset and offers better quality gaming. You will, however, need a capable machine in order to run it.