Hands-on: Pimax’s 8K Headset Impresses but Isn’t Ready yet

When Pimax launched a Kickstarter campaign for its ‘8K’ head-mounted display (HMD) last year it not only acquired massive media attention but also a huge sum of money, smashing past the initial funding goal of $200,000 USD in a few hours and going on to raise over $4 million in total. A big portion of that success can be put down to the claimed resolution and wide field-of-view (FoV), two areas of virtual reality (VR) headsets that users want to see improved. The question is, has Pimax actually achieved it? VRFocus got its hands-on the headset at CES 2018 to find out.

Pimax 8K Headset image 1

Massive events like CES 2018 do help to showcase lots of new technology, yet due to the constrictions of public expos some tech can be more troublesome than others to demo. VR can fall into this category, thankfully Pimax had a large enough stand to provide useful roomscale demo space although it didn’t actually make the best use of it.

On offer was the Pimax 8K VR Headset – the Kickstarter also offered a 5K version – which looked and felt fairly decent seeing that it was still a prototype rather than a finished production model. The plastic body construction was adequately robust (but you wouldn’t want to drop it) but still some way off the quality of HMDs like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Similar to both of those the Pimax used adjustable soft straps to tighten around the head, clamping the device to the face. While the HMD feels lighter than the HTC Vive that type of attachment isn’t as comfortable as PlayStation VR’s system. Pimax has release images of a forehead style design similar to PlayStation VR which should make the wearable experience better, until VRFocus gets to try it however that remains to be seen.

Comfort is one thing, what you really want to know is how good or not the Pimax 8K VR headset looks inside. Well first off it’s not exactly an eye watering 8K resolution. Yes there are two 4K displays inside the headset, however in a similar vein to TV’s these aren’t true 4K, rather 3,840 × 2,160 resolution per display – certainly a jump up from 1080 × 1,200 found on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. As you maybe aware, manufacturers then round up these numbers so one display becomes 4K then adding two together becomes 8K. While the numbers have been slightly fudged for marketing purposes the end result is still very good for the most part.

Pimax demoed WEVR’s theBlu, a visually impressive experience that’s quite often used to demonstrate VR headsets. On the Pimax 8K it certainly looked the part, the ocean blues were deep and rich with the jelly fish appearing suitably colourful and vibrant. It was almost easy to forget that the headset also had a much wider FoV that its counterparts – Pimax claims 200 degrees – which it certainly does, wrapping the ocean vista from ear to ear.

Yet on closer inspection not everything was as beautiful as it seemed. Standing stationary looking at objects in front was fine, but glancing to the periphery there was a weird reflected distortion like the lenses were catching more of the screen. This is likely due to the way Pimax’s custom lenses have been elongated for the extra wide FoV, and proved to be somewhat distracting in such a serene VR experience.

There were further issues once physical movement came into play. Now this shouldn’t be an issue as Pimax is using Valve’s SteamVR tracking system used on HTC Vive, yet there was noticeable lag and latency when turning – even when trying really slowly. As mentioned show floors aren’t always the best environment for roomscale but other HTC Vive demos at CES 2018 had worked fine. Which could mean the issue is PC-based, trying to run those displays, either way that part of the system still needs improvement before a full commercial release.

Pimax controllers CES2018

One last disappointment about the entire demo experience itself was the lack of interactivity. Pimax had brought along some of its controllers which weren’t needed as theBlu isn’t that hands-on. It would have been good not only to try the devices out but to see the headset deal with intense action and actual gameplay. The latency issues were probably a big reason why Pimax choose theBlu over something more hectic like DOOM VFR.

That being said the Pimax 8K certainly shows potential and it’s easy to see why so many people funded the Kickstarter campaign. There are certainly issues that need to be addressed, especially considering shipments are due to go out to backers in the next few months. The largest hurdle Pimax has to jump over is one of its own making, promising a device that can walk over competitors by offering an experience like no other. It doesn’t yet, but that’s not to say it won’t.