(Pocket-lint) - If there's a theme at this year's IFA show - that's the largest technology show in Europe, if you're not in the know - then it has to be Windows Mixed Reality, Microsoft's dive into easy-to-setup virtual reality experiences.
Lenovo had previously announced its commitment to the product category, but only now have we seen and utilised its latest kit, which is called Lenovo Explorer.
The Explorer is an interesting prospect because - and unlike some other products, such as the heavier Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset - it's lightweight so doesn't slip down the face or put excess weight on the bridge of the user's nose. It's the most comfortable Windows Mixed Reality Headset we've yet worn.
Lenovo Explorer review: What is Mixed Reality?
But let's back up for a minute. In the world of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), how exactly does Mixed Reality (MR) fit into the equation? Well, VR is the immersion into another world via a headset, where you see none of the real world. AR is where virtual elements interact with the corresponding real-world, like a pass-through layer over the world around you.
Mixed Reality is defined differently by different sources: HTC, for instance, would cite its Vive headset as the premier example - a device which has cameras on its exterior to sense where the wearer exists within their surroundings, injecting visible objects into the virtual world if real ones enter the field of vision.
Windows Mixed Reality is a little different. The experience is fully immersive, just like VR, and while compatible devices do have cameras on their exteriors these don't pass through the real world to the wearer at any point - instead they're used for sensing surroundings for quick setup and, in the demos we've experienced thus far, that's all they do.
Point being: if you think Mixed Reality is the cross-over between virtual and augmented reality then think again, because it's not. Yet, anyway.
Lenovo Explorer review: Setup
The Lenovo Explorer is particularly easy to put on. To the rear is a rotational wheel that extends or tightens the strap, a bit like an easy-to-adjust cycling helmet. It further assists in ensuring that the fit is snug relevant to each wearer, plus it's easy to get on and off without additional assistance.
Our only issue with fitting is that it's key to align the centre point of the internal lenses with your own eyes, otherwise the peripheries of the image will blur. If you wear glasses then this is exagerrated, so we would recommend contact lenses if possible. We found the Explorer more susceptible to this edge blurring than some other headsets. It's also not as fully contained as a solution like Oculus Rift.
Before putting the thing on your head, it has to be plugged into dual USB connections of a connecting laptop or PC. The Explorer headset then has a loose wire with a 3.5mm jack on if you wish to add headphones into the mix. Having these wires does affect use to some degree, as the constant tether to the device feels a bit like someone gripping at your head.
Still, setup is quick and easy. We've only been through the setup process with an Acer headset, not this Lenovo one, but as all Windows Mixed Reality headsets run via a PC with Windows 10 (clue's in the name), it's a universal experience irrelevant of hardware. And it'll take no more than 10 minutes the first time, far less once you've got the hang of it all.
Lenovo Explorer review: At the controls
Better still, there's no need for external sensors, like those necessary to place around the room for a product like HTC Vive. That's why the Windows solution is far quicker than any competitors' solutions.
In addition to physically moving the headset to move through the virtual world, it's possible to connect a controller, or dedicated VR controllers (much like those used with Oculus).
Thus far we've only dabbled in Microsoft's "Cliff House" warm-up experience, which pits Windows content around a house on the top of a cliff, in which it's possible to navigate and open various Windows content. There will also be Steam compatibility for gaming, plus plenty more in the future.
The last point that's worth noting is that you don't need a beefy PC to run things. Connect Lenovo Explorer to any Windows 10 laptop and it'll happily work with what it has, no discrete graphics or high-end chipsets required (although the more powerful, the better the resulting graphics).
Overall, the Lenovo Explorer is a comfortable vision of what Windows Mixed Reality can be. We still think the Windows solution is easy-to-setup virtual reality rather than true mixed reality, but ignore that and focus on the core experience and there's stacks of future potential.
The big question is whether the masses will be on board with a £399 headset (including the controllers) when the Explorer arrives in October. That's the same price as an Oculus Rift. But if you don't have a beefy gaming PC then the Windows 10 route into Windows Mixed Reality will certainly open up the potential for many.