Len­ovo Ex­plorer head­set

£399.99 | $449.99 www3.len­ovo.com The best Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity head­set yet?

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Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity head­sets are al­ready shak­ing up the VR mar­ket, with big-name brands in­tro­duc­ing more af­ford­able head­sets than VR com­peti­tors such as the HTC Vive.

Since Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity (WMR) head­sets are all pretty sim­i­lar in terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tions, what re­ally dif­fer­en­ti­ates them is de­sign and com­fort. With Len­ovo be­ing one of the more re­spected brands we’re ex­pect­ing big things from the Ex­plorer, both in terms of per­for­mance and build qual­ity.

Price and avail­abil­ity

Like other WMR head­sets, the Len­ovo Ex­plorer was launched to co­in­cide with the ar­rival of the Fall Cre­ators Up­date, which brings Mixed Re­al­ity to Win­dows 10.

The price of the Ex­plorer, which in­cludes two wire­less mo­tion con­trollers, is £399.99 ($449.99). This is cheaper than the HTC Vive, which costs £599 ($599), and around the same as the Ocu­lus Rift, which costs £399/$399. Acer’s WMR head­set sells for $299 in the US on its own, or $399 (about £399) with a pair of wire­less mo­tion con­trollers.

De­sign

Aside from price, the key dif­fer­ence be­tween WMR head­sets is their de­sign with the Len­ovo Ex­plorer dressed in un­der­stated black.

At 380g, the Ex­plorer is light enough to wear for a de­cent amount of time, and a large dial at the back en­ables you to ad­just the head­set so it sits com­fort­ably – it’s eas­ier to use than the straps-andVel­cro de­sign of the HTC Vive.

The Ex­plorer’s vi­sor can also be lifted up – handy when you want to re­join the real world tem­po­rar­ily – but its hinge move­ment isn’t as smooth as it could be.

The Len­ovo Ex­plorer uses two in­side-out mo­tion-track­ing cam­eras, a gy­ro­scope and an ac­celerom­e­ter for track­ing move­ment. You don’t need ad­di­tional de­vices like the HTC Vive’s Light­houses, which keeps the in­stal­la­tion sim­ple.

A 3.5mm au­dio socket is also in­cluded, en­abling you to at­tach your own head­phones. This is nice if you have a pair you like to use, but un­like the Ocu­lus Rift the Ex­plorer doesn’t come with its own head­phones. The head­set at­taches to your PC via a 4-me­tre ca­ble that splits into a USB 3.0 and HDMI con­nec­tion. This is bet­ter than the mass of ca­bles that spills from the HTC Vive, al­though a wire­less ver­sion would have been nice.

Two 2.89-inch lenses with a com­bined res­o­lu­tion of 2,880x1,440 pix­els and an LCD dis­play of­fer up the vi­su­als. This res­o­lu­tion is higher than the Vive’s 2,160x1,200, but lower than that of the up­com­ing HTC Vive Pro, which will boast 2,880x1,600 pix­els. It’s worth not­ing that the Vive’s PenTile OLED dis­play is su­pe­rior to the Ex­plorer’s LCD.

The lenses have a field of view of 110 de­grees and a re­fresh rate of 90Hz – sim­i­lar to the Vive.

As with other WMR head­sets, the Len­ovo Ex­plorer is bun­dled with two mo­tion con­trollers – odd­look­ing de­vices that are sim­i­lar to the HTC Vive con­trollers, be­ing a wand with a cir­cu­lar head and a num­ber of but­tons, a trig­ger at the rear, a side but­ton to repli­cate grab­bing mo­tions, and a touch­pad. These sim­i­lar­i­ties mean you can play some games de­signed for the Vive with a WMR head­set.

How­ever, WMR con­trollers dif­fer from the Vive’s in that they in­clude a Win­dows but­ton to bring up in­stalled apps in the Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity Por­tal pro­gram, and a thumb­stick for move­ment. The thumb­stick is a nice ad­di­tion, and makes move­ment eas­ier in VR, but un­til WMR head­sets be­come more pop­u­lar we may not see many VR games or ex­pe­ri­ences make use of it. The rings at the top of each con­troller also have lights that il­lu­mi­nate when in use, so the head­set can track their move­ment.

The con­trollers have a light and plas­tic feel to them, and don’t feel as ro­bust as the Vive’s con­trollers.

Each one is also pow­ered by a AAA bat­tery, so you’ll need either sin­gle-use or recharge­able cells.

Per­for­mance

Be­cause there’s no need for ex­ter­nal sen­sors, and Mixed Re­al­ity is an in­te­gral part of Win­dows 10, the in­stal­la­tion process for the Len­ovo Ex­plorer is straight­for­ward. You plug in the head­set, down­load the WMR Por­tal from the Mi­crosoft Store, and then go through a step-by-step cal­i­bra­tion process.

You can use the Len­ovo Ex­plorer either sit­ting down or stand­ing up. If you want to use it stand­ing up, you’re asked to hold the head­set and walk along the perime­ter of

“The Ex­plorer uses two in­side-out mo­tion-track­ing cam­eras, a gy­ro­scope and an ac­celerom­e­ter”

the area you’re go­ing to be mov­ing around in. This is a sim­ple way to help WMR apps keep track of you, while keep­ing you in a safe area away from ob­sta­cles. It’s sim­pler than the HTC Vive setup pro­ce­dure.

With the Len­ovo Ex­plorer set up, we tested it out on the vir­tual re­al­ity ‘house’ from which the Mixed Re­al­ity Por­tal launches WMR apps. Graph­i­cally, the Len­ovo Ex­plorer does a good job, and thanks to the higher res­o­lu­tion the ‘screen door’ ef­fect – where you can see lines be­tween pix­els – was less no­tice­able than on the HTC Vive, al­though over­all im­age qual­ity is lower on the Ex­plorer thanks to its use of an LCD dis­play; that’s an ac­cept­able com­pro­mise given the dif­fer­ence in price, how­ever.

Apps built for the WMR plat­form per­form well with stand­out apps, al­though the smaller lenses of the Len­ovo Ex­plorer do mean your field of vi­sion isn’t en­tirely filled, which does af­fect im­mer­sion slightly.

We also tried out a few SteamVR games, which re­quires you to down­load Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity for SteamVR in Steam and then launch the games from there.

Many of the games we tried worked fine, al­though there were some is­sues – Nvidia VR Fun­house, for ex­am­ple, de­tected the mo­tion con­trollers, but got them mixed up, so the right con­troller showed up as our left hand in the game.

Through­out our time with the Len­ovo Ex­plorer the mo­tion con­trollers worked well, and re­sponded ac­cu­rately and they’re com­fort­able to hold. They’re also graph­i­cally rep­re­sented in WMR apps and sup­ported SteamVR games, mak­ing them easy to use.

Sum­mary

We have high hopes for WMR head­sets and, if the Len­ovo Ex­plorer is any­thing to go by, those hopes seem jus­ti­fied. This is a head­set that of­fers very good vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences, some­times com­pa­ra­ble to what you get with the HTC Vive and Ocu­lus Rift, while also of­fer­ing more choice and bet­ter value.

The Len­ovo Ex­plorer is a good ex­am­ple of the po­ten­tial of the Win­dows Mixed Re­al­ity plat­form.

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