XTAL: Hands-on With VRgineers’ 180° FoV Headset

When it comes to virtual reality (VR) headsets there are two distinct markets, consumer and enterprise. The two may go hand-in-hand when it comes to particular uses cases, which initiatives like Oculus for Business has tapped into with Oculus Quest and Go. However, there are companies that require way more than these headsets can provide, turning to manufacturers like VRgineers and its XTAL head-mounted display (HMD) for that quality and feature set a consumer device just can’t match. But what do you get when spending £5,000 GBP on a VR headset?

VRgineers XTAL

Recently VRFocus was fortunate enough to test VRgineers’ latest model, the XTAL, at its head office in Prague, Czech Republic. The device arrived last year with one of its headline features being the 180-degree field of view (FoV). One of the widest of any commercial-grade HMD, VRFocus was interested in seeing this headset a year after launch to see how it holds up against new competition and to allay early doubts.

VRFocus first encountered XTAL at CES 2019 and in all honesty wasn’t that impressed after the demo. The auto-IPD adjustment (AutoEye) seemed to struggle to find the exact position leading to a slightly uncomfortable experience that wasn’t sharp, as such trying to test the FoV just seemed like a non-starter. Due to this disappointing start, the XTAL had a lot to prove and hopefully, in less rushed surroundings, there was going to be time to properly scrutinise the HMD.

Any VR headset offering wide FoV’s above the fairly industry standard of 110° is going to be big, there’s no way around that with current technology. This does mean XTAL is a beast of a headset and if you thought Oculus Quest was a little front heavy then you’ll find no pleasure with XTAL. Upfront are two Quad HD high-density OLED displays offering a resolution of 5120 x 1440 (2560 x 1440 per eye), built-in Ultraleap hand tracking, and AutoEye which mechanically moves the lenses to automatically adjust for each users requirements. So that’s a fair amount. Additionally, the team wants to add cameras to the front for augmented reality (AR) functionality – which is still being developed so wasn’t available to test.

These means that XTAL doesn’t really suit long durations of use – 10 minutes was enough to start feeling the weight – although the actual comfort and fit from the facial interface and head strap were very good. VRgineers had a little trick up its sleeves when it came to improving this, as well as the immersion. XTAL is designed to provide accurate experiences for simulation purposes, one of which is piloting aircraft. So the team had a headset attached to an actual helmet which improved the overall experience immeasurably.

It was during this pilot demo that XTAL really began to shine. Stepping into a helicopter with full flight controls, the detail of the screens suddenly came to life when peering into view each dial and its readout. Each one was clear and legible, even when leaning in – which is usually the opposite in cheaper headsets. This was further proven in a later demo using a convertible BMW, with the definition of the leather seats and their various crinkles and patterns clearly visible.

Back to the helicopter as this also provided the best test for that 180° FoV. Such a wide FoV presents numerous problems, from image sharpness to chromatic aberration, hence it’s difficult and expensive to fix. From what VRFocus has seen VRgineers has nailed 180° VR. The clarity at the edges looked superb even when trying to find and pick fault, looking out over a wide landscape whilst flying over Dubai. It elicits a very strange feeling, especially when going back to narrower FoV headsets. 180° feels natural as if you can see this digital world properly for the first time. Doing back to 110° almost seems like being put inside a bubble – or just like a horse with blinkers on. If the wide FoV wasn’t up to the task then it would make no difference, however, because it is, means that it does.

VRgineers XTAL

When it comes to enterprise needs all of this is further aided Ultraleap’s hand tracking which currently still provides one of the better systems for controller-free interaction. Plus XTAL supports SteamVR! So yes, you can, in fact, buy one for £5k, add some Lighthouse base stations and a couple of HTC Vive controllers to play Beat Saber if you so desire – probably not the best use of XTAL. A better one would be if you have a full HOTAS setup.

There’s no getting around the fact that XTAL is an unwieldy HMD with big cables coming out either side and a price tag to match. But it’s with the resolution and FoV that VRgineers will win customers over, whether that’s car manufacturers looking for detail or training centres looking to provide the best immersive simulations. VRgineers’ ambition is as wide as the headset and there are still hurdles to climb when dealing with form factor. That 180° view is nice though.