As the Virtual Reality scene continues to improve, the aging first-gen conceptual headsets are becoming less expensive. The HTC Vive initially retailed at CAD $1200, and now sells for$700, whereas the Oculus Rift dropped from $800 for the standalone headset to$530 including motion controllers. Windows Mixed Reality headsets are the consumer offspring of all the R&D that occurred for the HoloLens, namely inside-out tracking, and positioned themselves as the budget alternative to these premium headsets. I purchased a Lenovo Explorer on sale for $300, less than half the cost of either premium HMD; these are my thoughts on the headset and platform. Update 2018-12-14: I’ve decided to finally finish and post this article, because Dell WMR headsets are currently on sale for$250 CAD from Microsoft, and the Oculus Rift is discounted to $450 on Amazon. I think this is a fantastic chance to jump into VR, provided you have a capable system: ### Table of Contents ## Disclaimers 1. I already own a fairly powerful PC, packing an i7-4790k, GTX 980ti and 32 Gigs of DDR3. The cost of VR is far higher if you do not already have a powerful desktop system, (I’m fairly certain mobile CPUs can’t push 90 hertz,) you’ll have to make an investment of ~$2000 CAD or more.
2. VR is NOT for everyone. at this early stage, you’ll need to have a fair bit of patience and high tolerance for unnatural movement; players can easily get motion sickness or eye problems. If you can tolerate reading in the car or working on the bus, you ought to be fine. Interpupillary distance is another common problem, especially with Windows Mixed Reality headsets which have a fixed IPD. If your eyes are significantly further apart then the 90%s ~62.8mm, do some research to find out if your face is compatible with any of the available headsets.

## Lenovo Explorer First Impressions

Lenovo’s HMD arrived in a clean, well-padded box. While nowhere near the premium, luxurious packaging and thoughtful presentation of the Oculus rift, which I have also helped to unbox (and will be comparing to throughout this review,) the HMD and controllers were well-protected and easy to unpack.

The controllers eat batteries, which isn’t all that surprising when you note the thirty-two LEDs used to track the wands, while also considering the constant transmission of sensor data. The wands work fairly well, though are a far cry from the hand-fitting, effortless controllers of the Oculus Rift. What matters is that the wands track accurately (as long as they are in front of the visor,) and won’t frustrate you in the middle of an intense situation.

Right off the bat, the setup process was easy; much easier than the Oculus. To set up room-scale VR, you simply walk your headset around the room to establish your boundaries, and can begin. On occasion, the floor would be at the wrong height, but this is easy to adjust while inside the headset. If you don’t move anything or change the layout of a room, WMR will remember the layout of the room and re-apply your boundaries and height at startup.

## Games & Compatibility

I’ve mostly played room-scale, movement-filled games with the WMR headset. My favorite room-scale experiences so far have been Gorn, Superhot VR, Skyrim VR, Arizona Sunshine, Robo Recall, and Valve mini-games. In particular, Gorn and Superhot VR will make you feel like an absolute angel of death. Arizona Sunshine, especially during the dark levels, has the ability to give you a panic attack. Robo Recall is beautifully crafted, and Skyrim is (with tons of mods,) a blast.

Also very playable with a WMR HMD are sitting experiences, where you rest in a chair with an Xbox controller to fly, drive or observe. I’m not a huge fan of sim racing, which one of my friends plays almost exclusively, but have enjoyed Live for Speed and Project Cars. My favorite sitting experience, by far, has been House of the Dying Sun, a fantastic space-combat game.

The support for HTC Vive games is, generally, very good. The greatest problem I’ve stumbled into is poor mapping of the Vive track-pads to the WMR controllers, resulting in agonizingly slow movement, and this can be resolved in a number of ways (but not without work.)

Oculus games are a different story. The ReVive layer has a performance cost, and many of the beautifully-crafted Oculus games require you to use the controllers in ways that feel awkward or don’t work with WMR. Echo Arena, one of my favorite games to play on the Oculus, is unplayable in WMR because of a gameplay mechanic: While floating in space, you will often need to anchor yourself to an object that is behind you, so you can catch and throw the ring with the other hand. WMR cannot reliably track controllers behind you.