What does it mean to have different Windows Mixed Reality headset options?

By the end of 2017, those interested in exploring Windows Mixed Reality will have several options available to them. Microsoft's hardware partners have all announced support int he form of full immersion headsets, which is to say VR headsets in the style of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The thing all of these headsets have in common in the thing that sets them apart from these better known headsets — inside-out tracking that doesn't require any external sensors to work.

But what about the things that set these headsets apart from one another? A closer look at the Acer and HP headsets, which are now shipping to developers, gives us a better idea of what we can expect when making a buying choice later this year.

Identical where it matters?

Glancing over the specs sheets for each of these headsets, you see the things on the inside of the headsets are the same. This is going to be a big deal with the rest of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets as well, as it keeps Microsoft's promise of a great experience at every price point. No matter how much money you spend, you know you're getting:

  • Two 2.89-inch 1440x1440 LCD displays at 90Hz
  • 95-degree field of view
  • Front hinge to lift the headset from your face
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • HDMI 2.0 cable
  • USB 3.0 cable
  • Inside-out tracking

Acer Mixed Reality LensesHP Mixed Reality Lenses

Acer (left) and HP (right) are using basically the same thing under the lenses.

All of this is incredibly important, because it means when you have any Windows Mixed Reality headset on, you're seeing and experiencing the same thing. When you tilt your head, the same sensors are capturing the same data and giving you the same motion experience in the headset. They all run on the same kind of PC, and they all let you plug in whatever headphones or earbuds you want. These details will make things easier for developers, but also give users a lot of choice without necessarily sacrificing on experience or general quality to get there.

That having been said, there are a lot of little differences when you get away from the display.

Acer Mixed Reality StrapHP Mixed Reality Strap

The most noticeable difference between these two headsets you'll see just by picking them up is the head strap. Both headsets rely on the Hololens-style "halo" strap to securely fit your head without pressing the headset up against your face, but the HP strap is much nicer. It's more padded, more rigid, and the twisting knob on the back of the headset lets you secure the headset with a single hand.

Acer's strap gets the job done, but by comparison feels flimsier and needs two hands to really fit your face well. While you won't notice the lack of extra padding right away, after an hour or so in the headset the difference between the two strap designs is absolutely clear.

Acer Mixed Reality Nose PaddingHP Mixed Reality Nose Padding

The face padding is another key area of difference. Neither headset really presses against your face like an Oculus Rift, but the padding is a nice addition for when you're moving around quite a bit.

The Acer padding doesn't feel particularly high quality, and bunches up in the nose area to help keep external light out of the headset. HP's design is a little cleaner, and the padding feels a lot more comfortable after an extended play session.

This is a fairly small detail, one that could easily be fixed with a replacement set of pads, but the more you wear these headsets the more those small details tend to matter.

Acer Mixed Reality Headphones

You may have noticed in that last HP photo that the headphone jack is placed under the display so you can quickly plug a set of headphones in when you're already wearing them. While that's a nice touch on HP's part, this placement also means you have to be very carful setting the headset down on the bottom while those headphones are connected.

Acer's placement is a lot nicer if you plan to leave the headphones plugged in all the time. It's tucked away towards the top of the headset, so the port is unlikely to take any damage if the headset is accidentally dropped.

Choice is key

Windows Mixed Reality

The bottom like here is Microsoft has worked hard to make sure there are choices worth considering and its partners are taking advantage of those ideas to make something different. HP's $329 headset may only be slightly more expensive than the $299 Acer headset, but there are some significant differences in design that may have users doing more than just reaching for the cheapest option on the shelf.

What about you? Is this the right price for these headsets, or are you waiting to see what Microsoft's other partners have to offer?