Lenovo Explorer Windows Mixed Reality Headset Review

Today i’ll be reviewing the Lenovo Explorer which is a Windows Mixed reality headset…

I’ve opted for the headset only version, mainly because I will be using it with driving simulators, where steering wheel and pedals is the preferred device. So this review will not be covering the motion controllers.

Specs

  • Display Resolution of 2880 x 1440, which is 1440 x 1440 per eye
  • LCD Display Type
  • Supposed 110 degree Field of View
  • 90hz refresh rate
  • A 4 metre (or 13.1 feet) long shared USB and HDMI cable from the headset
  • A 3.5mm audio jack for your own headphones
  • It weighs 380 grams, 90 grams lighter than the oculus rift CV1 and the HTC Vive Pro

Just a quick note, a bluetooth receiver is only required if you’re using the motion controls.


First impressions

What you see when you open the box and remove the documentation

When opening the package for the first time, straight away you’re presented with documentation, which doesn’t deliver the best Out of Box Experience. However once you move them aside you’re greeted with a well protected headset pointing right at you. I imagine it’d be hard to get a damaged headset from shipping.

Picking it up for the first time you instantly notice just how light weight it is, which should bode well for long gaming sessions.

No Integrated Headphones
It comes with no integrated headphones, which doesn’t sound like an issue for those with their own headphones, but the overly thick and long strap at the back meant my over the ear headphones wouldn’t fit. I ended up using some earbuds instead.

It is a bit of a bummer that it doesn’t come with integrated headphones, as it can really make the experience seamless when you have headphones you just flip down onto your ears.

The Playstation VR has volume up, volume down, mute and power button controls on the headset cord, it’s a pity this headset doesn’t have something similar as it’s a nice convenience.

Setup
The headset connects to your computer with an HDMI and USB plug, both of which are combined into one small cable to the headset.

When plugging the headset in for the first time, it downloads drivers and software needed in the background, so it’s best to leave your computer for about 5-10 minutes while it does this, when it’s ready a Windows Mixed Reality Portal will appear.

I skipped controller setup as I’m not using the motion controls, so I can’t comment on that.

For the setup of the headset you are prompted to choose between a room scale setup, and a seated experience. I chose the seated experience as I’ll only be doing driving simulators.  There was only one step for me which was to hold the headset facing the monitor in front of me. And that’s was it. done!

As this headset uses no external sensors for tracking, this will save you room and time. I’ve already got a whole lot of wires going to my PC, not adding more for some external sensors is a big plus in my books….

Overall the setup took far less time and effort than setting up either the Oculus Rift of HTC Vive, and even less effort then the PSVR.

Putting on the headset
You tighten the headset via a dial on the back strap. Inspired by the Playstation VR, except I feel there is more of a gap between tightening clicks, so you can go from “this is a little loose” to “this is maybe a tad too tight now”. There is no quick release button, and it does feel a bit cheap in build quality comparatively speaking.

Putting the headset on, when tightening the headset I managed to get a little bit of hair caught in the strap which wasn’t overly nice. This is due to gaps between the strap and the tightening mechanism. About one in five times I’d get my hair caught in it.

Positioning the headset correctly meant I could get absolutely no light leak which increased my immersion. On other headsets I had built up a bit of a habit of looking down by my nose to look for say my keyboard, I couldn’t do that with this headset which was a good problem to have, just tilting the front up a tiny bit meant a change in routine.

The weight of the headset is distributed between just above your forehead to the lower back of your head. The display itself kind of hovers in front of your face, but little to no weight is ever applied there, which means it’ll be hard to get the ‘ski goggle’ impressions on your face after a long gaming session. Overall a lot more comfortable than using the Vive (non pro) or the Oculus Rift, but still not as comfortable as the PlayStation VR.

One of the best features is that you can flip the whole front of the headset up so you can keep the headset on but can also see around.

The flip up part is quite a big selling feature, as it makes it the easiest headset to put on and take off with glasses which I very much appreciate.

One thing which compromises the whole flip up system is the way the cable management is handled, the wires that are held into position on the headband from the display itself sometimes snag, which means that it restricts the ability to flip the front open, then you have to manually feed the wires through the hole so you can flip open the front. This happened far too often and sometimes resulted in my hair getting pinched again as I accidently push the whole headset up a little bit when the cables snag.

Display
The resolution of the display is enough of a bump up to make text noticeably more readable, which is great for menus that have text in the far corner that is usually a bit more straining to read, the higher resolution is also especially noticeable for racing where you are fixated on the horizon searching for your next breaking point. If you have a good enough graphics card then cranking up the downsampling helps it look even better.

The display is LCD, this particular LCD display gives blander colours and less impressive blacks when coming to competing headsets which feature an OLED display.

There was a tiny bit of smearing when rotating my head fast enough, or when I jumped in a very fast car, more so than competing VR headsets. Not enough to notice after 10 minutes of use however.

Doing my first practice laps around iRacing with the contrast of the track vs the blue sky you really notice the screen door effect, but it’s not like the other headsets i’ve tried, this is more like a semi transparent knitting pattern, it’s hard to explain but it isn’t a deal breaker, you just know it’s there when looking at plain colours. It’s more the layout of each individual pixel you can see. Not so much some hard lines in between the pixels.

Optics

A view of the inside including the optic protectors


Now onto the optics… there are next to no ‘god rays’ as seen in the Oculus Rift. looking at white text on a dark background was perfectly fine which is good news, as I know how distracting that can be.

However the optics in general have a lot to be desired. There is a very very small ‘sweet spot’. If your eye is slightly off centre then it’ll be blurry and have quite a bit of Chromatic aberration, which in layman’s terms means the optics are having trouble in focusing all colours together at one point so you see the red, blue and green colours smeared in all different directions from various pixels.

It also means if your eyes are not looking directly straight ahead you aren’t going to get an ideal experience. This I feel undermines the advantage of having a higher resolution display. I found I was moving my head around more, and moving my eyes less so I get the optimal clarity, which really wasn’t very natural, and just felt plain awkward.

However once you are in the sweet spot, and only looking directly straight ahead, it does look very good.

No IPD Adjustment

IPD …  interpupillary distance …. Or just the distance between the center of your pupils … anyway… there is no physical IPD movement slider for the lenses in this headset!!! Which is crazy considering the sweet spot is so small. The previously mentioned issues with the optics are exaggerated with the fact that there is no IPD adjustment, if your IPD is slightly off to where the center of the optics is focusing, then you are going to have a very bad experience.  This isn’t so big of an issue with the Playstation VR which doesn’t have a physical IPD adjuster, as that has a much much large sweet spot in its optics, so they can offset the IPD via software without too much issue.

Some people may just have the exact IPD this headset is after, so experiences definitely differ per person. Personally I didn’t have too much of an issue, but would have been nice to slightly adjust it.

Field of View

Looking through this headset, if feels like you’re looking through some binoculars, this may be due to the much smaller optics used.

With the supposed 110 degrees of field of view, I was expecting a similar experience to the Oculus Rift or PS VR. However it feels smaller to me, you don’t notice it so much once you’re about 10 minutes in and focused on the experience, but when you take the headset off you can really tell how restricted your view was.

Inside Out Tracking

I was quite surprised with how well the tracking worked, sometimes completely forgetting I wasn’t being tracked by external cameras. Some say the tracking needs a lot of light to work best, I have been running under an artificially lit room and have not had any issues. The tracking seems very impressive.

Setting up to play VR games
You just need to install the Windows Mixed Reality for Steam VR drivers on Steam, then you can play any Steam VR game.

When you launch steam VR, the Windows Mixed Reality Portal pops open automatically in the background, and then Steam VR is ready… well most of the time, some of the time Steam VR will not detect the headset, or say that it is not tracking well. So it is best to launch Windows Mixed Reality portal FIRST then launch Steam VR, as I feel there are some timing issues otherwise.

The next thing you should install is a program called Revive, this program makes it so you can play Oculus Rift VR content. It can be a bit confusing at times when you have three layers of Virtual Reality Compatibility… Windows Mixed Reality, Steam VR, Oculus, which software do I boot first? What game is compatible with what? From a consumer point of view it really doesn’t make for a great user experience.

Racing Simulations
Dirt Rally – Only works with the Oculus Rift, so you need Revive to run this software, which is relatively straight forward. Once I had it all working the game runs and looks fine. Big tick from me.

Assetto Corsa – Positional tracking didn’t work for OpenVR, but wow the higher resolution display when focusing on the braking points really shined.

Assetto Corsa Competizione – Every time I booted up the game I was about 3 metres up in the air, I reconfigured steam VR and windows mixed reality but nothing solved it other than manually offsetting my position via an app called OpenVR-AdvancedSettings.

The game is a bit blurry in VR (I think this is a known issue), and also is in very early access when I tried it.

Project Cars 1 – Booting straight into Steam VR mode from the steam menu worked fine, positional tracking worked flawlessly, framerate was great, and good clarity. Attempting to read details on your steering wheel by glancing quickly highlighted the issues with the optics.

Project Cars 2 – Booting straight into it from the Windows Lighthouse (which loads into steamvr)

iRacing – Worked with Steam VR, I was struggling to hold 90fps no matter the graphical settings in game, and outside of the game with Supersampling, which was very strange, feels like some kind of bottleneck with the Windows Mixed Reality for Steam VR software.

Final thoughts
The Lenovo Explorer hits a couple of boxes well, and for the price you can get it on sale is actually a pretty decent purchase considering its negatives.

My suggestion however would be to wait for a second refined version, or start saving your money now for when Oculus releases their CV2 headset.

Pros:
-Flip up front part
-Higher resolution (when in the Sweet Spot)
-Next to no setup time
-Light weight which would be good for long play sessions
-Can be very cheap when buying the headset separately when it’s on sale, I got mine for roughly a third of the price of the oculus rift.
-I experienced Zero light leakage when I put it on correctly
-Surprisingly accurate inside out tracking.
-Great with my glasses

Cons
-Quite a small sweet spot for the optics
-Felt like looking through binoculars
-No physical IPD Adjustment!
-Cheap feeling strap with no quick release (and hair pinching! Ouch)
-Poor cable management design which can restrict opening the front up
-An odd form of screen door effect can be seen
-Having three different VR platforms installed can be fiddly at times.
-No integrated headphones, and couldn’t use my over the ear ones.

Published by Matt van der Haas

Matthew van der Haas is a lively, motivated, professional yet sarcastic web developer who loves nothing better than exploring new technology. Having not being used to writing in the third person, Matthew tells a story of how he's had over 10 years of professional web experience, and experience in front of a computer since he opened his eyes. At a small age Matthew was described as knee-cam, due to being interested in taking video when he was as tall as the height of peoples knees. Matthew also enjoys the hardware side of things, enjoys good old fashioned tidy soldering and wiring job, as well as playing with GPIOs on the Raspberry PI

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