Comfort and quality collide with the latest Windows Mixed Reality headset.
Windows Mixed Reality, while not the highest quality VR platform currently available, is an excellent jumping-off point for those looking to step into the world of VR without breaking the bank. Multiple budget-friendly headset options, compatibility with a massive library of experiences offered by SteamVR (and Oculus via LibreVR’s Revive app), the list goes on.
With the launch of the latest Windows Mixed Reality headset, the HP Reverb, the company hopes to step up its usual offerings with a significantly more powerful PC VR headset capable of competing directly with higher-end devices, such as the HTC Vive Pro. And while the HP Reverb is an impressive upgrade from its various cousins—such as the Samsung Odyssey and Acer AH101—the headset still falls short in several key areas that, unfortunately, keep it just shy of greatness. Here is our official review of the HP Reverb Windows Mixed Reality headset:
In terms of visual appeal, the HP Reverb is a slick-looking VR headset. a sleek, lightweight design paired with a charcoal fabric front plate creates a sense of approachability that’s lacking from other more intimidating VR devices. A simplified single cable system removes a majority of the frustration that comes with multiple branching wires. The experience offered by the headset is made even more convenient thanks to inside-out tracking which removes the need for any external sensors to keep track of its position.
However, we did not notice some issues with keeping our headset connected to the cable. The connector attaching the Reverb to the primary cable is located very close to the headset itself, which creates a noticeable amount of tugging during certain motions. We also found the connector be surprisingly loose, which resulted in the headset becoming disconnected from the PC on several occasions. Now, this could be an intentional safety feature designed to prevent users from ripping their headset out of their computer; regardless, we found ourselves worrying about accidentally disconnecting on a regular basis, which definitely took a toll on immersion.
Where the HP Reverb truly shines is in its comfortability. Next to the Oculus Go, the HP Reverb is the most comfortable VR headset available at the moment. The circle-based ergonomic backstrap does a commendable job at balancing the headsets overall weight, allowing you to spend even longer sessions in VR without any discomfort.
Weighing in at 1.1lbs, the Reverb feels extremely light. This is due in large part to smart design choices that result in better weight distribution. Similar to Oculus headsets, the Reverb features two velcro harnesses on either side of the headset as well as a third going over the center.
The real magic, however, is a circular pad that rests on the back of the users head which provides a surprising amount of support by effectively distributing a majority of the headset’s weight. The machine-washable face padding provides an adequate amount of comfort, while at the same time doing an excellent job of preventing any outside light from leaking into the headset.
The HP Reverb features built-in spatial audio provided by two on-ear headphones with the option to plug-in third-party headphones via a 3.5mm jack located at the rear of the headset. For added convenience, the Reverb’s front visor can be raised up several inches; not enough to see what’s happening in the room, but enough to check your phone or make sure you aren’t stepping on your cat. When you do need to pop back into reality, you can use Microsoft’s patented mixed reality “Flashlight” to illuminate your real-world surroundings; this is possible thanks to Reverb’s two forward-facing cameras.
The visuals on the HP Reverb are absolutely fantastic. With two 2.89-inch LCDs offering a resolution of 2160×2160 pixels per eye (the HTC Vive Pro features a resolution of 1,600×1,400), the Reverb provides arguably the most impressive visual experience currently available on a VR headset. Every texture presented includes a stunning amount of detail, resulting in hyper-realistic environments that immerse you deeper into your experience.
RGB-stripe sub-pixels and 90Hz refresh rate create a sharp, crystal-clear image which does a commendable job at minimizing the dreaded “screen door effect” that plagues a majority of modern VR headsets; almost to the to point where it’s gone completely. There is, however, a noticeable inconsistency with brightness and color that creates a bit of a “Mura” effect during certain experiences. Like the other visual issues stated above, however, the effect is minimal and fleeting.
Automatic software-based IPD adjustment does an excellent job of adjusting to a users personal preference, but that’s only if your IPD measurement resides within the allowed range of 55mm to 71mm. Those with measurements outside that spectrum are just plain out of luck. I did notice a slight amount of flickering throughout my time inside the headset coming almost exclusively from the right side of my field-of-view. Although the sudden slashes lasted only seconds and appeared only rarely, it was still enough of a disruption to take me out of several experiences. But considering just how truly crisp and detailed the visuals are, I was generally able to look past any minor inconsistencies.
No matter just how visually captivating the experience may be or how satisfying the gameplay is on the HP Reverb, at the end of the day you’re still—unfortunately—using a pair of Microsoft Mixed Reality controllers. While the Reverb headset does everything it can to increase user immersion, it seems as though the controllers are dedicated entirely to breaking it. In terms of comfort, the controllers are a disappointment. No matter how you position your hands it’s almost impossible to maintain a solid grip. The large magnetic battery plate also has a habit of becoming loose during intense moments of play, creating an even more cumbersome scenario.
A far as button layout is concerned, the Windows Mixed Reality Controllers are a bit of a mixed bag. While the clickable touchpad is responsive, it dominates the rest of the controller. In comparison, the physical menu button is so small it often becomes lost between the various larger inputs that surround it. And the single analog stick—while convenient—is fairly slippery.
Are the controllers servicable? Yes, but only barely. The rich, sharp visuals and considerable comfort offered by the headset feel bizarre when paired with the awkward design of the controllers; so much so that various experiences actually felt somewhat cheapened.
WINDOWS MIXED REALITY
Much like other Windows Mixed Reality devices, HP Reverb users begin their experience inside a customizable home space referred to as ‘Cliff House.’ This gorgeous open-format home serves as a users base of operations, allowing them to navigate their games and apps, check the weather, access the Microsoft Store, move around 3D furniture, project 2D windows anywhere on their walls, even stream their favorite media from a personal in-home movie theater.
Seeing as the Windows 10 pop-up window doesn’t allow access to every app or setting, you’ll find yourself visiting Cliff House often. While not nearly as convenient or well-designed as the spaces provided by SteamVR or Oculus, Cliff House’s unique layout and residential feel is still an interesting take on the virtual home format.
At the time of this writing, the HP Reverb headset has yet to be released to the public. Originally, the company was advertising a late April launch, which was then pushed back to May 6th. Several retailers have since had the item listed on their websites, however the headset remains unavailable.
HP has stated that the Consumer Edition of the HP Reverb will be available for $599, while the Pro Edition—which features an easy-to-clean leather face pad and short cables—will go for $649.
Despite a handful of issues in terms of visuals and design, the HP Reverb is still hands-down the best most impressive Windows Mixed Reality headset offered so far. The visual clarity alone makes this a smart purchase for any user who values a visually-impressive VR experience, and the excellent level of comfort offered by its effective ergonomic design will only keep you immersed longer.
However, if you’re someone who much prefers a seamless in-headset experience, this may not be the option for you. While an overall awesome piece of technology in terms of hardware, the device still operates on the Windows Mixed Reality platform and uses the standard Windows Mixed Reality controllers. That being said there are some workarounds for using Vive wand controllers with WMR headsets, an option I definitely recommend to anyone thinking about picking up a Reverb.
There are times when you may experience some slight stuttering or flashes during moments of intense physical play, and once in a while you may accidentally disconnect the headset from the cable, but your journey inside the headset will generally be a pleasant one.
Put simply, the HP Reverb is an impressive headset held back by the frustrations of the Windows Mixed Reality Platform. For $599, this may not be the friendliest option on the market, but if then again, you are getting a better visual experience than the HTC Vive Pro for considerably less (the HTC Vive Pro headset currently costs $799, not including the necessary external sensors and controllers).
If you’re looking for affordability and convenience above all else, pick up an Oculus Quest or Oculus Go. If you want the best visual experience currently available in VR, choose the HP Reverb.