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Lenovo Explorer and Windows Mixed Reality Review

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Experience – Windows Mixed Reality Portal:

This section is mostly going to focus on my experience using the Explorer with the Windows Mixed Reality portal, the application and virtual house, called Cliff House you can exist and work in. My experiences with SteamVR and playing games will be a different section.

When you first connect the headset and bring up the Windows Mixed Reality portal, there will of course be a series of set up steps. These are to ensure the controllers are paired, assuming you are using them, centering the headset, and tracing out the space you can move about in, if you are going for a room-scale experience. If you are not, you only need to worry about centering the headset, which is to set what 'forward' is. Curiously this calibration initially set it to be a quarter turn to the left of my monitor, where I was aiming it when I centered. Initially this annoyed me, but after resetting forward to face my monitor, I set it back. There is more open space to my left, so while it might seem odd that the monitor and headset are not aligned, it is well worth it as I do not need to worry about bumping into my monitor or mic. (I bump the mic enough when my eyes are not covered.) It is possible to return to this calibration through the portal application if you ever need to.

There is actually another step to setting up, which is to configure Cortana so voice commands can be used. It was taking more time than I liked, so I always skipped this. Honestly, I am also not one for voice commands and it is only now I am remembering they were an option.

Once the headset is configured, you enter a tutorial going through the basics of interacting with the virtual world, like turning, teleporting, and grabbing. After completing this you can enter the Cliff House virtual world, which is a large house, with some impossible architecture, placed atop a cliff, and partially built into the rock around it. It is a nice enough setting and is meant as an introduction to a mixed reality experience, with various application windows already placed on walls in multiple rooms. There is a room with Edge up, Skype, the Microsoft Store, Groove Music, Photos, and the Movies & TV application. Of these I have only worked with Edge, the Microsoft Store, and the Movies & TV application. Both Edge and the Microsoft Store were 2D experiences I had through these windows, while the Movies & TV application would pull me into a new virtual space, if the video being watched was 360º capable. Functionally, the 360º video experience was nice, but visually could have been much better. The videos just looked like they were either being stretched more than they should be or are at a lower bitrate than they should be. Either way, better videos would improve the experience, though the ability to look around within them is still good.

 

 

In the Microsoft Store I mainly just looked around for VR games I could try and its interface is served by just pointing with the beam projected by the virtual-version of the controllers. Nothing too special there, but the behavior is also what you expect.

Similarly Edge is just a point-and-click experience, which on its own is fine, but not when it comes time to type. Point-and-click is a slow way to type, especially if you are a touch typist and are used to the speed it allows, but the muscle memory was not all that helpful with the headset on. While it is very possible for me to type without looking at the keyboard, and in fact I have my eyes closed now to prove it, I think the issue is that I have no other visual cues to go off of for orienting myself, like my monitor. (With eyes closed, the only two mistakes I made was putting an 's' at the end of 'issue' and I backspaced too much when I decided to end the sentence after 'monitor' and clipped the 'r' off.) This is the only explanation I can think of for my inability to type with the headset on; that my awareness of where my hands are also relies on an awareness of where the rest of my body is, and so I need to be able to see markers such as my monitor or desk to type at speed.

Now, to be fair, I am unsure how often one is going to be typing while wearing any MR/VR headset that completely blocks their vision. Personally I find this scenario very unlikely but if it were to come up, I think I would then configure a microphone and the appropriate software and dictate whatever I wish written.

There are a few more points I want to mention about the portal application. One is if you flip the controllers over, you will notice battery meters are placed on the battery compartments, which is rather useful. If you ever want to have the headset's view mirrored on the desktop, you can do so by pressing what looks like a Play button in the portal application. Two behaviors that are somewhat annoying, but also understandable are the application's desire to lock the desktop, requiring Win+Y to unlock for normal keyboard and mouse control, and it opening because some other application triggered it to. When launching a VR game, this is a convenience, but visiting a website in Firefox somehow triggers SteamVR to launch, and that pulls open the WMR portal application that subsequently crashes, taking the browser with it. I am not aware of any means to restrict this behavior, but I hope it is developed as the platform grows in popularity.

 

 

Now onto the list of criticisms I have for the application and Cliff House, starting with something that might be a me-thing. When I am done with my MR/VR experience, I want to shut down the headset, and I would prefer to do this before taking it off. This is not an option, or at least I have not found it yet. Presently it is necessary to remove the headset so you can see the desktop again, closing the portal application, and confirming you want to shut down the MR experience.

This next one is probably going to irritate more than myself and it concerns the placement of windows about Cliff House. Bringing up new windows is as easy as hitting the Windows button and finding the application you want in the list (though not all are in the list, but you can have a window to the Desktop). Once in Cliff House you can move the windows to any location, but aligning them is difficult. I like things aligned, if only to optimize the space being used, so the Windows Snap feature of the flat desktop is something I enjoy using, but there does not appear to be any equivalent feature within the mixed reality environment. Even just snapping to a wall is not an option.

My next criticism I feel might sound a little weird and it is to have the ability to add rooms to Cliff House. The reason is because I would like to have rooms I can dedicate to specific tasks, like an office with a browser, email client, word processor, and music player I could turn to by literally turning my head. The Movies & TV application is in a theater-like space all its own, and I would like to be able to recreate such a space for the uses I have. Also, this would help because Cliff House is so large, it is hard for me to decide where to put things, so the ability to just make a room for what I want will make the process easier. Plus these rooms could possibly also have doors on them, allowing you to be disconnected from the rest of the house, for when you want to focus.

On a related note, I have not found any way to put folders or Explorer itself into Cliff House, so it really seems to just be a portal to Microsoft Store applications. This and virtual shelves where you could collect things would be nice too. I might be overthinking the experience at this point though.

Finally, I want chairs in the virtual world, to set the viewpoint with. Currently, if you throw a window up or look at one already placed, there is a good chance you are not aligned with it. My idea for a chair is a way to set a position relative to a window such that the window will be directly in front of you when you choose to 'sit' in it, like the placement of your chair is to your monitor(s).

Overall, the Windows Mixed Reality portal application is functional, but in some ways it feels more like a tech demo than an actual environment to work in. To be fair, I am not sure if we are at the point with the platform, or the larger world of MR/VR technologies to really do extensive work in these virtual spaces. At the minimum I feel this would require a way to accurately position your real keyboard in the environment, and except for a single Logitech accessory for a single one of its keyboards, this does not exist. For now, I somewhat wish it were an option to avoid the portal and instead be able to launch applications directly to the headset from the desktop, and then return directly to the desktop when the application is closed. Actually, this is near to what is done with SteamVR, but not exactly as the portal application must still launch, and thus must also be closed. Conveniently, it is time for the SteamVR section.



  1. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Introduction
  2. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Hardware
  3. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Experience - Windows Mixed Reality Portal
  4. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Experience - SteamVR
  5. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Experience - Gaming
  6. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Room-scale vs. Sitting/Standing Experience
  7. Lenovo Explorer & Windows Mixed Reality Review - Conclusion
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