- No external sensors needed
- Setup is refreshingly easy
- Future-sexy look
- Troublesome fit
- So-so visuals
Among the feast of VR headsets now available under Microsoft’s banner of Windows Mixed Reality, Asus’ was the last to appear on store shelves.
And although the Asus Mixed Reality Headset lacks some imagination in the name department, we were intrigued by the potential of the futuristic-looking headset when we first got a chance to play around with it late last year. Where it's found wanting through its name, it evens things up considerably in looks and some of its features.
Read next: The best VR games on Steam
But it doesn’t just stand out from its brethren through its design; this is the most expensive of the Windows Mixed Reality group. And, as such, it’s reasonable to expect a bit more from the overall experience. Don’t expect actual ‘mixed reality’ here, though, this is solely a VR headset for now, despite Microsoft’s branding.
So, does the Taiwanese giant deliver a VR experience that can match the offerings from Oculus and HTC, or is this a Windows-backed headset that flatters to deceive? We’ve been testing the device over the past few weeks in order to give you an idea on how it ranks. Read on for our verdict.
Asus Mixed Reality Headset: Design, fit and setup
With Microsoft offering much of the same through its Windows Mixed Reality range, there’s no escaping the fact that design is something which could give one an edge over another.
And in order to add its own touch to the headset – which are all pretty much identical in terms of performance, as we’ll explore below – Asus' option features a matte, polygonal 3D cover panel to the front. There are two external cameras sitting on either side to give you the look of having VR camera eyes, while functionally they also help support six degrees of freedom tracking (6DoF).
Read this: Dissecting the future – augmented reality vs. mixed reality
This means there are no base stations or additional sensors to worry about, and setup is a cinch. As soon as you plug the device into the USB and HDMI ports on your computer, it’s recognised by Windows, and you’re then walked through the initial steps, such as pairing the controllers and and mapping out a space for moving around with the headset. The whole process takes roughly 10 minutes, making it an absolute breeze in comparison to the likes of HTC’s Vive.
The power required by your PC is also pretty reasonable, which gives it an edge on HTC and Oculus. You can check the compatibility of your computer through the Windows Mixed Reality PC Check, but, essentially, there are two tiers for you to pick from: the basic Mixed Reality Ready, and more advanced Mixed Reality Ultra. At the standard level, which will be mostly for machines with integrated graphics, the frame rate sits at 60fps, while Ultra-level PCs will get 90 frames per second.
So, what about that look – are we fans? Well, while it’s safe to say that nobody ever truly looks good when under a VR lid (therefore, it’s key to ask yourself if you really care), the Asus MR probably gives you the best chance.
Generally speaking, the build quality is solid – though the plastic halo may feel a little flimsy to some – and when sitting on the head it does remain comfortable through long sessions. It’s a smaller front section than you’d probably expect, and the 400g weight means that, if you’ve got things locked in the right place, it shouldn’t strain you too much – even in extended play.
That halo we just mentioned is the way to make things secure, with a dial sitting at the back of the head tightening the plastic ring. It’s not the easiest thing to negotiate, but it’s certainly more friendly than having to faff about with velcro straps on either side.
The visor itself can also be flicked upwards – a really nice touch that means you don’t have to pull the entire front section up and down if you want to get your bearings or interact with other people in the room. The shape of this also doesn’t leave any gaps, helping to add to the feeling of immersion, though it does go pretty far down the nose.
This, oddly, left us consistently pushing it up our faces in order to, well, breathe. It won’t necessarily be a problem for everyone, considering head and face variations, but it does detract somewhat from the overall design points, and means that we did have to try and rest the device a bit further up than its natural position.
Asus Mixed Reality Headset: Tracking, controllers and games
The real crux of this device, obviously, is how it performs when you’re looking through it. And when it was first unveiled, the Asus headset sounded like perhaps the most advanced of the lot (save for the Samsung Odyssey, which came slightly later).
With a resolution of 2880 x 1440, a 90Hz refresh rate and 95-degree field of view, the visuals are decent, but it’s also not enough to really blow you away in use. That refresh rate is the same as what’s offered through the Lenovo Explorer, Dell Mixed Reality headset and Acer Mixed Reality headset, which is fine, but unfortunately the Asus also has some of the same problems when it comes to performance.
In your peripheral vision, blurring is very noticeable. And given the fact that, as we say, some users may have to consistently adjust the headset due to the tightness on the nose, this becomes even more of an issue. Naturally, as with other headsets, it’s a problem which is resolved when you’re looking straight ahead and able to keep the fit tight on your head, but it’s far from ideal.
Another thing which makes its way to the headset from the rest of the WMR range is the controllers. The sparkly individual lights add to the futuristic look of the Asus headset, but generally we’ve found the build quality to lack in comparison to high-end rivals, such as the Oculus Touch and Vive wands. On each, you’ll get a thumb stick, touchpad, option button, Windows button, side button and trigger.
There are no major hiccups in use, with tracking generally remaining consistent throughout menus, games and other experiences. We’ve had the odd instance when the controller has skewed upside down and we’ve had to wiggle it around inanely and re-pair in order to get things back underway, but this isn’t the kind of glitch exclusive to the Asus headset.
Head tracking, too, performed well during testing. It doesn’t feel quite as strong as Oculus or HTC’s options, but it’s also not the kind of thing you’re likely to notice too often. Again, there was the odd glitch which forced us to recalibrate things, but that comes with the territory. The movement tracking, really, is more affected by the fact you’ll have to plug in your headphones and deal with a fairly short extension wire to your PC.
So, that's how it performs, but let's talk about what you can actually play and do through the Asus. Thanks to the compatibility with Steam VR, users now have a considerable library to tackle. Not all games and experiences are designed for Windows Mixed Reality headsets, as we found the controllers synced up better on some games than others, and some games simply won't work without base stations, but this is now a far more in-depth experience than was initially available for the WMR range.
If you're a gamer, you're likely to spend much of your time in the headset through the Steam store. But there's also the home station, Microsoft's Cliff House, which is integral to the experience. It's from here you can rearrange apps, such as Skype, Edge and Outlook, onto the walls, and just generally wander about through the locomotion feature and decide your next move.
When we first entered the Cliff House when the Asus headset was first announced, it was essentially unworkable, with the controllers unable to grasp items and locomotion very laggy.
We're glad to say this is all cleared up now, and these issues also don't pop up in any of the games we've tried in testing, whether they be from Steam or the Microsoft Store.
How we test