#IFA2017, #ShowStoppersIFA – Microsoft has promised to democratize Virtual Reality (VR) “this holiday,” and it has called upon its hardware partners to help. The Lenovo Explorer is an upcoming VR Headset that matches Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality specifications. We’ve had some play time with it.

I’ll explain quickly what Mixed Reality means in this context, and why the official name for this product is the Lenovo Explorer immersive headset. Microsoft says “Mixed Rea
lity” to mean mixed reality spectrum of which one end is Augmented Reality in which the real world is mostly seen (translucent headset).

On the other end is Virtual Reality in which only the digital world is visible (opaque headset). In theory, you can imagine experiences that are in-between these two extremes, hence the notion of “spectrum”.

The Lenovo Explorer is a VR headset, so it’s completely opaque. The experience is designed to be easy as there are no no external motion trackers. It is pretty much Plug and Play (USB+HDMI connectors). The system lets users move within a space of 3.5×3.5 meters (1m is similar to 1 yard).

It does not require external trackers like Oculus or HTC Vive, but the Lenovo Explorer has two external wide angle cameras that can build 3D data of the surrounding in real-time to help the user navigate and know where obstacles are if needed.

Integrated cameras make the setup process much simpler, and make the system less expensive than external trackers. However, tracking can only happen within the field of view of the external cameras. This is a restriction that more expensive systems don’t have. That is, however, a necessary tradeoff to make VR easier and more affordable, and it’s perfectly fine for many VR use cases.

When we tried it, we found the headset to be surprisingly well built, light and comfortable. The visual experience was very good, and without testing side by side, it felt like looking into one of the more expensive systems. Of course, the tracking is very different, and we’ll have to see how they compare side by side before passing a final judgement.

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