Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset First Impressions

Posted on October 19, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 31 Comments

Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset First Impressions

Acer’s Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset and motion controllers arrived today, giving me my first in-depth look at Microsoft’s latest platform push.

So there are a few things going on here: Acer’s hardware, which seems durable and well-made. And then Microsoft’s software platform, Windows Mixed Reality, which seems a bit immature to me.

So let’s start with the good news: Acer’s Windows Mixed Reality headset, which comes with two motion controllers, is on the affordable end of the Windows Mixed Reality spectrum, coming in at $399. I see little reason to consider other, more expensive devices: The Acer headset includes a nice hinged display, which allows you to flip up the headset so you can see the real world easily when needed.

And it is as comfortable as it can be, given the bulky, occluded nature of such devices. There’s a handy dial on the back of the headset for getting the right fit, and it stays in place well.

Setup is as simple as it can be, too, given the amount of hardware and configuration that’s required for VR.

Assuming you have a powerful enough Windows 10 PC—and I do, thanks to an HP gaming rig review unit with a Core i7 processor, dual NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics cards, 16 GB of RAM, and speedy SSD storage—you just need to plug the headset via both HDMI (video-in) and USB (power) and, optionally, to a pair of headphones, which will provide more immersive sound. This will launch the Mixed Reality Portal app on the PC, which will guide you through pairing the two motion controllers and getting started via a wizard-like app. The whole process took me 10 or 15 minutes.

Once you are up and running, Cortana will guide you through a short tutorial in which you learn how to navigate around virtual spaces using your gaze and the motion controllers. (You can optionally use a mouse or gamepad instead, but I haven’t tried that yet.) You have a choice between using a big space in your room or just sitting or standing in front of the PC. I chose the latter for now to get started more quickly.

Ultimately, you’ll arrive at a virtual home that is used to launch various apps and games. You can access a floating Start menu here—via a Windows button on either controller—and can pin apps and games to walls, and place hologram objects like lamps and pictures around the home to decorate if you’d like.

I quickly worked through most the built-in experiences, which include the Store, so you can find more VR apps and games, Groove for music, Movies & TV for immersive 360-degree videos, Photos, Skype, Microsoft Edge, and a few others. Each worked as expected, and while some experiences were more interesting than others—those immersive 360-degree videos are always pretty cool—there were no real surprises.

I like that Microsoft has formally made VR part of the Windows platform, and we’ve already seen the positive impact that this move has had on competitors, which are now lowering prices and promising less complex set-ups with future products. But the Windows Mixed Reality suffers from a few obvious problems, and it’s not clear when—or even if—all of these will be addressed.

The most obvious is that chicken-and-egg issue where there aren’t enough users to attract top-tier developers who might create truly first-class VR experiences, while convincing customers to buy into a platform with so few interesting VR experiences is likewise problematic.

The bulky nature of these headsets is a turn-off too, and while I’m not sure VR or AR will be a mainstream computing experience anytime soon, morphing these tethered headsets into glasses would make a huge difference. They’re just too much for most people, I think.

This looks better in VR

The price doesn’t help, either: While I’m sure the $399 price tag is justified by the components, that’s a lot of money to ask for something that is currently this limited.

And the resolution—1440 x 1440 in each screen, one for each eye—is very low. Noticeably low. When I pull off the headset and see the same view on my PC’s screen—you can mirror what the headset is seeing in the Mixed Reality Portal app—it’s like going from a 320 x 240 YouTube video to 4K. It’s immediately noticeable.

Is Windows Mixed Reality “better” than phone-based VR systems like Google Daydream View? Yes and no. Phone-based VR is far more portable, for sure, and while the resolution is low there as well, it doesn’t seem far off, visually. But phones get hot when used in this manner, and I’m sure battery life suffers. So your choices aren’t great: Mobility with heat and battery life problems vs. lack of mobility and tethered to an expensive PC with a bulky headset. Pick your poison.

Look, a hologram!

Basically, you need to take a long-term view to see the real impact of Windows Mixed Reality. Now that this platform is simply part of Windows, it can evolve and improve with Windows. And it will only get better over time. In the meantime, Microsoft has done a good job of letting Windows users access VR/AR-type experiences, including 3D, on their normal 2D displays.

Also, Windows Mixed Reality—and the HoloLens which inspired it—are the basis for some interesting UX improvements coming to 2D Windows; for example, the light-based selection effects we see in the Fluent Design System. Put simply, this is one step forward on a long journey.

I’ll keep exploring Windows Mixed Reality. I have some games to buy and try, and I really do enjoy the immersive 360-degree videos. There’s also that free-roaming room setup to try. But I’ll also be watching to see how this platform evolves, both in Redstone 4 and in future Windows 10 versions. Whatever it’s state of readiness today, Windows Mixed Reality is part of Windows now, and it may take on a bigger role in the future.


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Comments (31)

31 responses to “Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset First Impressions”

  1. Brazbit

    So the launcher is basically MS BOB/VR? Interesting choice...

    • NazmusLabs

      In reply to Brazbit:

      You don't get it, do you? This is the Hololens platform. Since you can't see your actual room, it put a virtual one instead. But when you use a Hololens, that virtual lamp and those apps would be in your actual room. MS intends in the future to have a headset that can transform to an AR device and a VR device by making the lens opaque or transparent. Now does it make sense?

      • Brazbit

        In reply to NazmusLabs:

        I understand that just fine. For Hololens this makes sense and is a natural interface. For VR it is highly inefficient to have to search through a virtual house to find which room you left Netflix in. There's a reason why Bob never took off.

        As for holograms, they are an awesome idea for AR but in VR they are nothing as the entire space is not real.

        I'm excited for Hololens style AR. VR, however, holds little to no appeal for me.

        • NazmusLabs

          In reply to Brazbit:

          I believe you misunderstood what I wanted to say. And apologies for my bad wording. What I was referring to was the recent announcement by Alex Kipman that hinted at a all in one viser that has lens that can become opaque or transparent on demand. Essentially, one device can do both VR and AR (hence the platform is called mixed reality) My guess is that is the next generation of hololens Microsoft is working on. That is the only reason for having this "ms bob" like environment in these VR headsets. The goal is your viser can switch to the real world and "ms Bob" world on demand and you won't lose your holograms. That is why this makes sense. If I didn't now about the recent announcement, I would be like you in asking why this virtual environment exists on the vr space. That is why I asked if you don't get it. I presumed you were not aware of the most recent announcement. :)

          • CaedenV

            In reply to NazmusLabs:

            This is exactly right, These particular headsets are VR only, but the platform is MR and will support AR, VR and (dare I say it) "convertible" devices. I am betting the AR devices are still a little ways off, and if MS flounders the platform then they will never come, but with any luck we will see them before the end of 2018.

  2. Mel Rodriguez

    I find the resolution fine personally. I have the Dell Visor and watching videos in the viewing room of the Cliff House is pretty epic, almost like being at the cinema.

  3. polymath

    Microsoft says minimum system i5, 8GB, GPU that docent sound too awful + $399 headset.,, dosent sound all that bad, for a beginners system..
    search for "... Windows Mixed Reality minimum PC hardware compatibility guidelines ...."

  4. zybch

    So utterly STUPID that they've gone back to the 90's virtual room UI crap.

    Did they get the morons who designed the Packard Bell Navigator UI for windows 3.1 to do this abomination?

  5. Tony Barrett

    I've said it before, these devices are too expensive with too many requirements (space, controllers, tethering, very high spec PC etc). Headsets are still uncomfortable and hot, the apps are extremely limited (and mostly pointless). The VR 'experience' is very much a single person thing, so has almost no family appeal. The resolution and field of few are still way too low to be considered life-like and the whole thing can be very disorientating. If you have a bad experience, or feel sick, you'll likely never use it again.

    For the casual user, the whole VR/AR platform is a non-starter. Gamers will have more fun, but they they probably have PC's of the required spec already. MS has once again, probably promised a lot to their 'partners' to get them all on-board, but I think sales are going to be extremely low, and it will eventually be one more experiment doomed for failure. The only time VR/AR will really work will be when they finally invent the glasses free holodeck, and then nobody will be able to afford one of those either.

  6. Rob_Wade

    This whole "cliff house" approach to interacting with Windows is just stupid. And wasteful. Just throw up the virtual screens, right in front of me with a way to pull focus to a particular app. THAT'S IT. Anything else is just annoying and a waste of processing and time. There's nothing attractive or useful about generating a horrible fake 'house' that serves NO purpose whatsoever. Who thinks this idiotic stuff up?

  7. wright_is

    Could this be a replacement in the future for multiple monitors? We currently run 3 to 6 monitors on each desk, I would think, having the ability to plaster application windows all over the wall and throw them around in front of you, even have less used windows behind you, so you turn around to see them, might be interesting. It is certainly how I envisage VR on Windows back in the mid 90s.

    • chrisrut

      In reply to wright_is:I agree. And think "heads up display" possibilities.

      But again, this resolution is limiting - as were the 640x480 color monitors back in the day... Gotta start somewhere.

  8. Pargon

    I think porn will likely be the "killer app" for the majority of mainstream VR adopters until more apps are released. Sure flying around the world or space in 360 degree VR would be cool but that didn't drive DVD and Blu Ray adoption either lol.

    Porn will get them in the door if these devices are priced low enough.

  9. ememmactello

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  10. nbates66

    So, wasn't it the case that Microsoft was working to include compatibility with SteamVR with their mixed reality headets?

  11. Roger Ramjet

    BTW, why do they have chairs and sofas in this make believe house.

    "Welcome Paul Thurrott".

    Golly, look a nice place to sit ...


    • Mel Rodriguez

      In reply to Roger Ramjet:

      There's sofas and shelves scattered round the Cliff House which are useful to change the view height of certain things, as you can teleport onto the surface at the height of the specific furniture. E.g the theatre room bit with a cinematic screen has sofa and raised shelf behind it that provide that sense of having a good seat in the cinema. If these weren't there you would be watching content on the massive screen from the ground level.

  12. Byron Adams

    Paul, can you write up more on the VR experience? I'm interested in it from a business perspective. For example this looks like a modern Windows Desktop. So can I multi-task? or is it run and app, stop run another app... etc. Do only UWP apps work or can I run desktop apps?

    How does it compare with the up and coming Facebook VR Dashboard. Can I multi-task and run desktop apps there?

    • NazmusLabs

      In reply to Byron_Adams:

      Are you still using Window 8? All modern apps run cam multi task fine and doesn't need to run in full screen like metro apps in Win8. I can answer your questions: the apps cam run in a Window and they float or can be attached to walls in your virtual worlds. You can run as many apps simultaneously so you want. Win32 apps work fine with this: these have confirmed STEAM VR support, which is Win32 Desktop tech.

  13. MutualCore

    My guess is Microsoft Stores will be slightly reconfigured to emphasize the VR headsets with 'ultra' PCs like Surface Book 2 and HP Elite x360, Dell XPS. At least if they're smart.

  14. Roger Ramjet

    Paul, if the resolution is too low as you say, then there is potential reason to get a more expensive VR headset -- Samsung's set has higher resolution. Regarding the App problem, the obvious thing is Microsoft need to build several/a few more "reference" Apps. If they truly believe this is the future blah, blah, then go the extra mile to kick start the thing. Show, don't tell. But that is where they are going with stuff like AltSpaceVR, I hope they have more in the bag. At this point you need just enough stuff to get the early adopter sets, then developers join, then users join, and its on. But still it will be a slow climb until the really usable technology shows up.

  15. jwpear

    This brings back some memories! When I was in school in the early 90's, I got to take a VR class taught by Dr. Robert Geist at Clemson University. We did our development on SGI Indy workstations. Most of the time, we worked in 2D with monitors. From time to time, we'd get to take our work into special labs with SGI Indy workstations connected to hardware mounted overhead to track us and the tethered VR headset that we wore. The headset simply housed the displays sitting in front of your eyes. The tracking was accomplished with magnetic fields. We all wondered if it was safe for long term use, but never hesitated to jump on the opportunity to "play" in the lab. It was just so cool.

    It would take many, many hours to process reasonably real scenes with textures and realistic lighting to prepare them for display in the VR world.  To reduce this, we mostly worked with wire frames. There was just no way to produce truly realistic looking VR worlds in real-time. But the immersiveness was still so cool. Remember, this was the early 90's. Computers were just beginning to hit mainstream users. Those that had access to computers up to that point were mostly using character-based UI's from mainframe and minis.

    On one occasion, a few of us got to go to a lab where grad students built and ran VR environments on an SGI Onyx machine (yes, one machine). The Onyx was a $100,000 plus machine; whereas, the Indy's were $10,000+ machines. The processing power of the Onyx was amazing back then. It could bake scenes much faster and render the VR world much more smoothly than the Indy. It was incredible! At least we thought it was.

    Seeing these realistic VR scenes with AR on roughly $2000 of hardware and no need for special tracking devices mounted above is amazing to me. It's also a little sad at the same time. We really haven't come all that far in roughly 25 years.

    The true potential of this is training and design (and, of course, entertainment). At least, that's what we thought it was in the early 90's and the reason we got grants that allowed the purchase of the expensive hardware. For this to become commonplace, it must get to complete immersion with untethered hardware at affordable price points. I've often wondered why the headsets can't be wireless while the real processing is done in the wirelessly tethered machine. Seems this would give better than HoloLens experiences at a much cheaper price. I suppose there just isn't enough bandwidth for this yet.

    Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.

  16. QuantumC0mputer

    Hey Paul what about the Steam VR compatibility? Is that there yet? That would make it a much more reasonable expense since its a pretty large VR library.

    • NazmusLabs

      In reply to QuantumC0mputer:

      Steam compatibility has been confirmed. So yes, people can relax now :P

      • Justin Weltmer

        In reply to NazmusLabs:

        I hate to be a Negative Nancy, but I bought a 950xl when I heard that android apps for W10M were confirmed. Though I do believe they'll pull through this time, I'm not buying a headset until they release it for consumers (not just insiders).

        As a product designer who has designed and shipped products, I can safely say that after "confirming" a feature, all the work is still ahead, lol.

  17. mjw149

    Low resolution is not a great look for VR, really. $400 is still a lot.

  18. gregsedwards

    I'm disappointed that Windows Mixed Reality won't work on Surface Pro 4, apparently due to the Intel Graphics 520 driver not being WDDM 2.2-compliant. I didn't expect a spectacular experience on a machine without a discrete GPU, but c'mon, it's by no means an ancient setup. Intel has said they don't plan on making a WDDM 2.2 driver. Is this something Microsoft can budge on?

  19. mocavo67

    but the new Xbox, will it have these capabilities? All I have read are its only PC right now.

    • zybch

      In reply to mocavo67:

      It was promoted as being VR capable for a while, but recently MS has said that it doesn't want to put any pressure on devs for a system thats still nowhere near being mainstream. So while the One X is certainly powerful enough, there are no plans for any HMDs to work with it.

  20. polymath

    try looking on you tube for "alan kay Croquet demo 2" this is Smalltalk / squeak in 2003,,

    Smalltalk / squeak the stuff xerox used for there Alto computer which Steve jobs "..saw.." and made a facsimile of in the form of Lisa followed by the Macintosh, then Microsoft made a facsimile of the mac in the form of windows.

    while your at it look on you tube for "Jordan Explores: Active Worlds!" this is even older,,, they should make a version for Microsoft mixed reality,, it was great fun, telephoning around, talking to all the people in it back in 2001, you could even make your own buildings, powerful stuff ,, and all most forgotten.