Windows Mixed Reality: Hands-on with the Lenovo Explorer

A compact but convincing example of Microsoft’s VR push.

The forthcoming launch of the Windows Mixed Reality platform has birthed nearly as much confusion in the naming strategy as it has from the suggested quality of the hardware. While the specifications are up-to-scratch on paper, there’s been some doubt as to whether such a hardware agnostic approach can deliver the results demanded by virtual reality (VR) early adopters. In a hands-on with the consumer edition of the Lenovo Explorer, it does appear as though Microsoft has established a welcoming multi-purpose VR platform.

For the uninitiated, the Windows Mixed Reality platform comes in two flavours; a standard edition that can work on low specification PC hardware and the Windows Mixed Reality Ultra format, which allows the same head-mounted displays (HMDs) to use more powerful PC hardware to deliver richer VR experiences. The demonstration VRFocus experienced was clearly the latter given the software on show, but in that a direct comparison in quality to established HMDs, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, was possible. Thankfully, the Lenovo Explorer performed very well in this comparison.

During the ‘guided demonstration’ VRFocus was presented with – which featured a virtual ‘home’ location through which the small selection of content was accessed – SUPERHOT VR was the first videogame that could be sampled. Just as with the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR editions, the reactions of the AI opponents are based upon the head movement of the player, and thus was a very appropriate experience for examining the worth of the inside-out tracking. The Lenovo Explorer performed very well in this regard; no immediate issues with loss of position or direction. Though it was only a short demonstration, the tracking did actually feel slightly superior to Oculus VR’s Santa Cruz prototype hardware.

The next part of the demonstration was a view of Machu Piccu captured with photogrammetry. The player is elevated high above the city with a view of the surrounding landscape, distant details providing a good test of the Lenovo Explorer’s screen resolution. Sadly, despite being informed that this part of the demonstration was designed for assessment of the six degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) tracking, the desire to move outside of the small sphere provided resulted in a blackout of the experience, thus making it rather irrelevant as a case study for the inside-out tracking.

Lenovo VR HMD

Instead, it fell to Space Pirate Trainer to be a compliment to SUPERHOT VR in this regard. An experience that calls for sudden movement and wide stepping will always be a superior way to assess HMD tracking over a stationary 360-degree video. The HMD and the motion-controllers performed perfectly well in the videogame which has become a standard choice for many public demonstrations of VR – undoubtedly a boon for Microsoft’s platform – providing a convincing argument for the Lenovo Explorer sitting next to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

While the quality of the videogames and experiences on the Windows Mixed Reality platform are comparable to the leading HMDs, the hardware itself is another matter. The Lenovo Explorer is smaller and more lightweight than any of the rival PC HMDs, though it also feels less durable as if made of weaker materials. With the launch around the corner it’s only a matter of time until consumers will be able to evaluate the long-term viability of the Lenovo Explorer for themselves, and VRFocus will be bringing you much more hands-on coverage of this promising new HMD.

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