How does the (relatively) cheap and very cheerful Acer Mixed Reality headset stack up?
To a certain extent, the review of any device is also a review of the software available for it. Launch-day console reviews are difficult to write for the same reason, and in spite of being in the mainstream for two years, head-mounted virtual (or in this case, mixed) reality displays still feel a bit like they’ve only just launched.
I’ll do my best to not judge the Acer Mixed Reality headset based on the available library, then, but it’s difficult to extricate the two. They are symbiotic, and even if one is in good shape? The health of the other may pull it down.
For starters, I rather like the 80s robot visor aesthetic of the Acer unit. Where other Windows Mixed Reality headsets – from the likes of Dell, HP, and Lenovo – are muted, dour slabs of black and white plastic, the Acer model has bold flashes of blue. The majority of the device is still a matte black finish, but the visor surround and in a nice piece of accenting, the adjustment cog on the rear of the band, are a bright, electric blue.
Only the Asus Mixed Reality headset, with its architectural “low poly” sculpted visor looks aesthetically more interesting than Acer’s. You could argue that the Acer model is more instantly striking, though; the Asus unit is still black plastic, albeit formed into a funky, faceted finish.
The blue won’t be to everyone’s taste – just like the colourful neon Nintendo Switch JoyCons versus the sensible, grey default – but if you want your headset to look a little more vibrant than the monochromatic alternatives, then the Acer is basically your only choice.
In reality, the bold, blue colour is just about the only thing which makes the Acer Mixed Reality headset stand out from its brothers from other mothers. The units are all extremely similar, with the same baseline specs across all of the brands:
- 2 x 2.89″ 1440 x 1440 LCD displays
- Up to 90 Hz refresh rate
- Flip-up visor
- 2 x front-mounted cameras for inside out tracking
- 1 x HDMI 2.0 / 1 x USB 3.0 combined cable
- Headphone/mic jack
While most of the specs are damn-near identical, the things that vary are the design, the size and weight, and for some reason, the field of view. The Acer unit only features a 100° field of view, for example, where the Dell one boasts 110°. The real benefit of the Acer Mixed Reality is its weight, however: it weighs around 450g, while other headests can weigh over 600g.
(The newer Samsung model also features an AMOLED display – rather than traditional LCD, like its contemporaries – and built in headphones, incidentally. But for the most part, the Windows Mixed Reality headsets are all the same.)
And you will appreciate the reduced weight of the Acer Mixed Reality headset when you’re wearing it.
Up to this point, I’d thought that the PSVR was the most comfortable head mounted display, tipping the scales at around 600g. The PSVR also features a mounting ring which keeps the weight of the headset on your forehead and not the bridge of your nose, which increases the comfort further; it may be heavier than the Oculus Rift (470g) and the HTC Vive (555g) but the PSVR always felt more comfortable as a result.
The Acer Mixed Reality headset features the same forehead-first design, but also shaves over 150g off the weight of the PSVR. It’s not the most adjustable device out there, but in terms of low weight and clever distribution, it’s easier to wear and for longer periods of time than pretty much anything else on the market.
Perhaps Acer saved a little weight on the quality of the hinge. The visor, like all Windows Mixed Reality headsets, flips up. If you’ve used a Rift or Vive for any extended period of time you will appreciate this. The ability to take a look at your surroundings, or take a drink without dousing your shirt front, or even just take a breather for a few moments generally reduces discomfort and extends session time.
Unfortunately the hinge on the Acer model we were sent is quite loose. That didn’t cause too much bother while looking straight ahead or even upwards, but if the game or application needs the player to look down at the ground? The visor lifts and bounces up slightly, allowing light – and the outside world – to seep in under the foam padding.
As with the Acer Nitro 5 laptop we reviewed, which had been given a bit of a battering by previous reviewers, you might find that a brand new device doesn’t suffer from this issue. I can’t say for sure, but based on the device I’ve spent time with, the build quality – at least, of that hinge – could be an issue.
There are other niggles, that perhaps aren’t specific to the Acer unit tested here, but it would be remiss not to mention them.
The screen door effect is in attendance, for one thing. While we all dream of VR as sharp as the human eye can see, and it is on the horizon, that’s likely to be priced out of the consumer segment. The screen door effect is no better or worse on the Acer Mixed Reality headset than any other head-mounted display we’ve tried, but it’s there. You either get used to it, or you don’t, but you should be aware of it.
The inside out tracking is also a little iffy, at times. Yes, you really do appreciate not needing to have base stations and cameras and wires trailing all over, and it makes Windows Mixed Reality a far less permanent setup than the Vive or Rift. But setting up your room scale area – by slowly pacing round your perimeter holding the headset, like a very confused, caged, headless horseman robot – can be a pain.
Likewise, the tracking of the motion controllers works fine while they’re both in your eye line, but the nature of VR – and the desire to look around in wonder at the environment around you – means you’ll lose them. Frequently. This typically sees your “hands” completely disappear until the headset reacquires them, or worse, hover disembodied in the middle of your vision in the last place it tracked them; until it realises that’s not where they are anymore, and updates accordingly.
But once again, the biggest difficulty faced by the Acer Mixed Reality headset is the one faced by all virtual reality (or mixed reality) devices: the software.
There have been some genuinely interesting games for virtual reality, like Adrift or Moss, and some remarkable experiences, like Star Trek: Bridge Crew and the Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR mission. There’s also a lot of fun to be had with the likes of Job Simulator, or I Expect You to Die, or Gorn, or Superhot VR.
But if you were feeling like virtual reality games were still in the experimental stage, I’d be inclined to agree with you. That doesn’t mean those experiments aren’t fun and interesting and worthwhile doing, but that constant, nagging feeling that it all came to market too early is still there.
I was worried that a Windows Mixed Reality headset would suffer even more acutely for this, but thankfully, Steam VR support for Windows Mixed Reality actually works quite well. The library on offer here isn’t as restrictive as the Windows Mixed Reality name would suggest, at least.
That all makes the Acer Mixed Reality headset a decent budget option, if you absolutely must have a virtual (or mixed) reality device. I can’t unequivocally recommend it (or any other VR headset, for that matter) until the software catches up with the ambition of the platform – and that could be years away still – but if you’ve outgrown Google Cardboard and want a relatively inexpensive and comfortable device that supports motion tracking, you could do a lot worse.