This week, I attended Acer's Next@Acer press conference in New York City, where I was able to try out the company's Windows Mixed Reality Development Edition HMD (head-mounted display). Microsoft said that the HMDs began shipping last month, but unfortunately, you can't buy them just yet.
And this was my first opportunity to try out the new devices, which were first announced last October. The promise was that new HMDs from Acer, Dell, Lenovo, HP, and 3Glasses would bring mixed reality to a more budget-friendly user base.
I've tried out Microsoft's HoloLens on multiple occasions, and as far as VR goes, I've spent time with the Gear VR, Alcatel's IDOL 4S with Windows 10, the HTC Vive, and the Oculus Rift. Naturally, I was excited to see what Windows Mixed Reality would look like from a VR perspective, rather than the AR perspective that one gets from HoloLens.
One thing that you'll notice is that unlike Samsung's Gear VR, there are no controls on the headset itself. This demonstration was actually similar to my first HoloLens demo, as there was simply a pointer in the center of my field of view, and I was given an Xbox One controller to click.
The only problem is that while using the headset, you obviously can't see the controller. While this is fine for someone that knows their way around an Xbox controller, it could end up being a problem for other users.
Luckily, there will be other ways of controlling the HMD; however, I was told that the Xbox controller would be the primary way to do it.
Ultimately, though, I really enjoyed the experience. I quickly learned on my own how to pull up the Start Menu, and how to move various windows and pin them to different places. I got to use apps like Weather, Mail, and of course, the Edge browser.
I also got to try out the HoloTour app, which was a really immersive experience. The scene that I selected was from Peru, and immediately I found myself standing in a booth in the sky, and this is where I got to experience six degrees of freedom, which means that I could move forward, backward, left, right, up, or down.
When I ducked down, I was looking through bars in my booth in the sky. But here's the really weird thing: I actually felt like if I took a few steps forward, I'd fall to my death. It really did feel that immersive.
Another thing that I was really impressed with was screen resolution. Considering that this HMD might cost as little as $299 when it comes out, I was really impressed with the quality, which seems to be quite a bit better than many of its competitors.
The one part that bothered me is that it's tethered to a PC. At one point, I was told to turn to the right, but then told to turn all the way around to the left because the wire would have been wrapped around me. What's the point of six degrees of freedom if there's a wire in the way?
I'm fairly certain that if it's possible to make an untethered headset like the HoloLens, it shouldn't be all that hard to do it with VR. Generally speaking, VR is easier to do than AR.
Finally, I did ask Microsoft when this headset is coming out, how much it would cost, or even when the Development Edition could be purchased, and I got concrete answers to none of those questions. The final version will be out later this year, targeting consumers and businesses; presumably, it will arrive alongside Redstone 3, as will the other headsets from Dell, Lenovo, HP, and 3Glasses.