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Acer’s mixed reality Windows headset paves the way for a cheaper VR future


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Acer Virtual reality, Microsoft Virtual reality – Virtual reality tech is expensive. Microsoft’s own mixed reality headset, the HoloLens, is yours for just over £3,000 after all. VR has been sitting at the enthusiast level of necessity for far too long, but Acer says those days of parting with oodles of cash to enjoy a proper VR experience are a thing of the past.

Acer’s first stab at a proper VR headset is an interesting one. Properly demoed for the first time at Acer’s annual Global Press Conference in New York, it undercuts most VR headsets by a considerable margin. It’s also supported by the chaps at Windows too, as part of its ‘Mixed Reality’ umbrella.

Acer VR headset review: Price, release date and competition

Now that we’ve got some proper hands-on time with it, we also know how much Acer’s virtual reality headset will cost, and when we can pick one up. The Acer Windows Mixed Reality HMD Development Edition (yep, that’s its full title) will release Holiday 2017 for just $299. That works out at around £275.

Acer’s competition? That’ll be all those other firms signed on to Microsoft’s mixed reality Windows headsets. That’s five in total: Dell, Acer, Lenovo, HP and Asus. While news on the other four has been a little light on the ground, Acer has plenty on offer to make its own headset stand out from the crowd.

It’s also up against those already well-established VR headset firms. There’s HTC’s Vive, which will set you back £689, and the Oculus Rift, priced just shy of £400. Of course, there’s also Samsung’s mobile-friendly Gear VR headset to consider too, at just £50.

Acer VR headset review: Design, key features and first impressions

Now, the term: ‘Mixed Reality’ is hardly well-defined. Acer says it’s the process of interacting with virtual objects as if they were physical, although there isn’t exactly a go-to definition. The differences between mixed reality and virtual reality? Well, there aren’t any as far as I can tell.

Acer’s headset is lightweight and snaps nicely around my overly-sized head. It wasn’t noticeably uncomfortable over my glasses either thanks to its roomy interior, something Oculus can definitely learn from. It does feel a mite cheap, thanks to its overly blue plastic exterior, although I’m sure this was a cost (and possibly weight) saving exercise on Acer’s part.

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t do a whole lot different to its competition. You can pretend you’re in a remote location (Machu Pichu looks lovely this time of year) and view 360-degree footage you’ve taken on your recent skiing trip. But, it does let you multi-task – browsing the internet, looking through your emails and such.

The best thing, though? It doesn’t require any sensors placed around the room for it to be picked up. It works entirely through a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes built into the headset itself.

It’ll also pair seamlessly with the other Windows-branded VR headsets on offer, too. As all of them use Windows 10 as its base operating system, you’ll be able Skype or play VR games with your friends, regardless of which Windows mixed reality device they own. And, all Windows 10 apps will be available through the headset on launch.

Now, there’s no word yet on minimum spec requirements, however. I was running my demo unit on Acer’s newest Predator Helios 300 laptop, with GTX 1060 graphics and 16GB of RAM. Acer did say that a Windows update later in the year will allow for integrated graphics devices to run it, so I doubt it’ll be an overly-demanding headset come launch.

Acer VR headset review: Early verdict

Acer’s Windows Mixed Reality HMD Development Edition headset may be a mouthful, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. I might be jumping the gun a little – other devices in Microsoft’s mixed reality umbrella haven’t been demoed yet – but I’m completely sold on this interconnected approach to virtual reality.

It may not be as technically impressive as Microsoft’s own HoloLens headset, and doesn’t completely map your living room either, but at 10% of the cost for dev units, these complaints should be shrugged off.

Its launch is still a long way off, but I can see Acer’s VR headset (along with those other Windows-labelled devices) paving the way for the future of virtual reality. Keep that cost down, and it’ll be a best seller.

Stay tuned for my full review in the very near future.

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