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Lenovo Explorer and Windows Mixed Reality Review

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Experience – SteamVR:

It should be immediately stated that SteamVR support is only in beta on the Windows Mixed Reality platform. There might be performance and stability issues as a result of this, so while I have suffered some application crashes, I am not going to hold them against either SteamVR or Windows Mixed Reality. One type of crash that has been happening consistently and I do blame on the beta support is the games always crashing when I try to exit them, instead of properly quitting. Besides the crashes, two Croteam VR games I have tried still show Vive controllers instead of the WMR controllers, which might be due to the beta support and remain until the developers change this. It is really just cosmetic, so hardly a problem. In one of the games I have played, it is still the Vive controllers being shown instead of the WMR controllers, and this is possibly due to the beta support, though other games are showing the correct controllers. I'm not entirely sure what is up with that, but again, beta. (Almost certainly the games crashing when I try to exit them is a symptom of the beta status.)

To access SteamVR with a Windows Mixed Reality headset requires downloading Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR and launching this application instead of the Windows Mixed Reality portal mentioned before. It seems SteamVR is basically running through the Microsoft-made application, so you need to launch this Steam application to properly access SteamVR. I would guess this will change eventually, with a proper means of launching SteamVR from within the portal, or a way to bypass the portal entirely. For now, you need to launch the special Steam application to enter the SteamVR home, but directly launching a VR game will properly launch SteamVR and the portal.

In a nutshell, the SteamVR home is what I want for a special room like I described in the previous section. One wall is dedicated to my Steam, with a panel for my VR games and another panel for my friends list. (I cannot remember what the third panel on this wall is, but there is one.) On another wall is a list of environments for SteamVR and some recommendations. Honestly, I just look at the games list because that is all I am interested in. When I load up into SteamVR, it is with the purpose to play a game, so I get straight to it. The various customization systems you have, such as painting around the room, placing props around, and even customizing your avatar in the room are features I looked at, but moved on from.

Of course you have to go through a tutorial before getting to this, and this tutorial has a nice sense of humor as it has apparently been designed by Aperture Science. It does a good job as well, but you might notice something about the tutorial, and it is something I think many look forward to seeing changed in the future. You see, the WMR controllers have joysticks on them, but the Vive controllers do not, so when within SteamVR, the joysticks have almost no purpose. When clicked, the left joystick brings up the Steam Overlay, much as Shift+Tab does in a normal Steam experience, and clicking in the right joystick swaps the controllers. I am not sure exactly how useful this ability to swap the controllers is, but it is there. Up on the joysticks will allow you to teleport around the SteamVR home, like in Cliff House, but this does not extend to within any of the games I have played yet. Inside of a game, except for the two joystick-button uses I already described, they are pointless, and it would be nice to see that change. Joysticks can just be a nicer input than touchpads in some scenarios.

By the way, the overlay that comes up with the left joystick button has a button to exit SteamVR, just like I would like to have within Cliff House.

Okay, the left joystick button does have another use, and I really wish I could change it. To take a screenshot you need to click on this button and pull the trigger, which is actually not that comfortable to do, and is something I tend to forget about. Unfortunately almost every other button is being used, so it is not exactly an option to have a dedicated screenshot button, short of disabling the Windows functionality of a Windows button for this (which is a capability I would be in support of). An alternate combination I would also prefer would be the two grip buttons at the same time, but if there is a way to change it, I do not know what it is. Valve, could we maybe get the Steam Controller API extended to include these controllers, because that level of manipulation would be much appreciated and enjoyed. Even without changing the screenshot command, it would be enjoyed.

One positive I really, really have to give SteamVR is the depth of options if you choose to open the settings. You can do things like set the headset audio device to be mirrored to another device, so your normal speakers could also play the game audio, which will be useful if only for easier gameplay recording (if the audio is mirrored, you do not need to setup a new audio device in whatever software you are using, though I did notice it was a little delayed, but still, it is useful). You can also perform a quick calibration, and this is a feature I have taken advantage of multiple times. It is under the Developer settings and allows you to define the center of the floor with a press of a button. Just set the headset where you want the center of the floor to be, hit the button, put it back on and height, orientation, and position will all be reset. Of course these options are all only accessible from the desktop, but then they can also be accessed without the headset even being turned on (though the calibration probably needs the headset on for its sensors to be used).

It is also possible to have the headset display mirrored onto the desktop, but this does not seem completely necessary as I think all of the games I have tried already renders another window to the desktops, mirroring the headset but without the related distortions. This is how I have recorded what videos I have captured.

The simplest way I can think to put it is the SteamVR experience is much more refined than the Windows Mixed Reality portal experience. Of course it has also had more time to be refined, and can be more focused than the WMR portal is and possibly ever can be. Steam is meant for games and Windows is meant for everything, which may hold back the WMR portal as a 'jack of all trades, master of none.' Both are functional, but SteamVR is still a better experience.




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