First impressions and to add context I come from over two years of Rift ownership with many hundreds of hours in Elite Dangerous, so I will only compare the two and not some mythical perfection that does not and cannot exist due to engineering compromises. Also excuse the lack of polish, flow and typos etc.
Opening the box my first reaction was the packaging is nice. Maybe not as “bespoke” as the Oculus Rift, but has the same kind of rubberised feel as the Rift’s just not the same levl of moulded interiors, but its well padded and nicely assembled…a solid 8/10
Headstrap assembly - basic, but functional. You will need a pair of tweezers or long nails to pull the strap through the hole for the centre (overhead) strap end. The rest of the assembly was a breeze and there are two Velcro straps for tension relief on the single cable.
Once assembled my first impression of comfort - is that its nicer than the Rift once adjusted, with a slightly smaller gap than the Rift around my nose, which for me is fine as I like being able to see bits of my cockpit setup through that gap. The foam interface is nicer to the touch and firmer than the Rift, which is good. I’m not sure I’ll need to get a VR Cover set for this headset.
Cabling is of good quality with a splitter that goes to 1 USB and 1 DP1.4 plug and takes a power input. The associated power brick came with a UK plug, which is always nice (unlike the HTC Vive lighthouse) and again better than most cheap wall-warts.
First niggle I came across and a thing to watch out for - make sure the cable where it attaches to the to the headset is pushed home in its socket properly (mine was not and others have reported this also). The PiTools software will not detect the headset until this is done.
Once that was out of the way, I then encountered problem number 2. I had no Pimax Logo on screen and the headset was showing as not being tracked. I recently bought a Vive Lighthouse/Base Station to use with the 8K for 6DoF, as without that you are limited to 3DoF (pitch, roll and yaw of your head), so it was a bit of a punt to see if I could get just one Lighthouse to do the tracking and it would appear that you can provided you have two when you run the setup routine for these. What I wasn’t expecting was a blank screen until I stumbled across the “Enable Lighthouse Tracking” checkbox, unchecked it and suddenly the 8K’s screens came to life with the Pimax logo. I’ve now ordered a second Lighthouse, as once I got into Elite Dangerous, 3DoF after using the Rift’s 6DoF was very weird feeling.
PiTool itself is an OK piece of software, its well featured and probably a bit too well featured, as when you encounter issues like the tracking above, its a bit hit and miss, which option you should be trying in order to get things working. I think there will be a need for a wiki or faq somewhere to cover common failure states and if possible meaningful “in app” reporting of conditions and what to try to resolve things.
Next up was trying to get Elite Dangerous up and running:
When I first fired up PiTool it had Elite Dangerous in the Oculus Apps list within PiMax’s software, which was nice. However I could not get Elite Dangerous to display when launched via the shortcut (which opens the Ed Launcher and Oculus Home). I could also not externally launch ED, as it fired up the Oculus home each time. Considering the Rift will now be going on Mrs Teatime’s rig I decided just to uninstall Oculus Home and all its “stuff” and remove a variable from my quest.
Once I had native ED restored, that then launched OK, but refused to detect an HMD and go into the VR Hanger. I then tried Importing ED into PiTool, but that also refused to detect the headset. I may revisit this option at some point, as I’m sure I was missing something.
This left me with the SteamVR option, so much as I don’t like running Steam these days, I launched that and got SteamVR running. This then gave me some new challenges as there are settings in PiTool and SteamVR that overlap in functionality and some like room setup I’m pretty sure are calling the same routines, which is fine but you are now messing with two sets of options some of which have overlaps. Anyway now I have the SteamVR home environment loaded and visible, so I’m getting somewhere and now Elite Dangerous is loading up and the primary monitor screen/window is showing the correct VR Hanger in game, but still no display. So I mess with the SteamVR resolution and also try Direct Mode in the SteamVR settings screen and suddenly I have the familiar Elite Dangerous VR Hanger with its Eagle and SRV in front of me…hooray.
I then spent a completely unrelated 20 minutes remembering how to setup up Voicemeeter Banana, so I can get sound coming out of my headphones/mixer/speaker setup and then I feel ready for a flight to see how it performs and what the differences are.
First up is the distortion in the peripheral vision in the wide 170 degrees viewing mode. When I first got into VR this was quite pronounced, but diminished a lot to the point where I couldn’t see it, as I started to adjust the HMD’s straps and get the thing comfortable and seated properly on my head. I can see how some people would find this distracting during a demo where spending 30 minutes playing with the straps would be impractical. I can also see why some were not seeing it or very slightly. Once you have the headset position dialled in the distortion and chromatic aberration almost completely disappears and I feel in Elite its probably easier to ignore anyway as the very edge of your vision doesn’t have a huge amount going through it.
That brings me to the Field of View - there is no way I am going back to the Oculus Rift, as the field of view increase whilst not totally covering your vision is markedly improved and you start to notice stuff in your periphery that I could couldn’t see in the Rift’s limited field of view. This is very useful when docking and passing objects as you get to see them moving alongside without having to turn your head and taking your main view away from your direction of travel. Several times I caught myself glimpsing objects that would just not have been visible in the Rift and kept having “what was that?” moments just to realise it was a star for example in my periphery. Docking is also improved and I’m expecting surface/nap of “earth” flying to be be greatly enhanced, even though I didn’t venture down to a planet’s surface. I have also yet to try combat, but that will be my next trial.
Other positives are that the sweet spot in the lenses is huge and a lot more forgiving of HMD position on my head with text being nice and sharp. In fact everything is nice and sharp compared to the Rift, with very little to no noticeable SDE and the infernal god rays from the Rift are all but gone in the 8K. SDE is there but you have to make a conscious effort to bring it into focus and more easily just forgotten about. I still have some tweaking to do with graphics as there is a tendency towards jaggies in places and also the 3DoF I had didn’t not help with this, due to the whole environment moving slightly when I made lateral or forward/backward movements, which the 8K couldn’t do anything with (the lighthouses once I get a second one will cure this I’m sure).
That’s all the positives from my short time in Elite Dangerous, but its not all rosey. First up is the default strapping. Its not bad as such, but does tend to be a bit binary in terms of its either gripping your head, but a bit tight or not tight and not gripping. I’m sure I’ll dial this in with more time, but the deluxe head strap can’t come soon enough in my humble opinion.
Second is that failure states are not well documented e.g. I was trying to get Elite Dangerous running at one point and selected the Parallel Projection option in PiTool. This resulted in a purple light next to the power button and I have no idea what that means, but luckily reversing the option turns it back to green. I also have no idea what the two triangular buttons next to the power button do. Better documentation even if online is needed.
One thing I think PiTool would benefit from is a set of profiles or settings options for different games (similar to GeForce settings) even though Pimax have done a great job in integrating with both the Oculus and SteamVR ecosystems, its not quite there and just seems to be a bit hit and miss with little to indicate what’s needed to get things working.
I’m not going to comment on performance in any detail, as I don’t chase frame rate counters and this has been a great marketing tool for the hardware vendors in recent years, which I don’t agree with for the majority of use cases. However, I would say I didn’t feel like I was flying in treacle and everything felt smooth. There is more tweaking to be done here I feel to minimise jaggies and get to a balance point between graphical fidelity and smoothness of experience.
TL:DR is that I am happy I backed the kickstarter and feel that the headset is the best on the market for consumer prices. Even though it is not perfect I think it shows just how poor the first gen headsets really are, although I don’t for a minute regret buying the Rift two years ago. The software and especially the user experience side of things needs some work, as does the documentation and I hope this gets iterated on, as Pimax move out of production ramp up into steady state production.