So, as a VR enthusiast and eternal kickstarter slave since the DK1 era, i found myself yet again waiting for my new VR HMD to arrive. I play mostly Elite Dangerous but am found of anything VR, mostly because in this new medium anything can become magical, from a boring chess game to a dragon riding game.
I preordered it in the first 2 minutes but even so only got it shipped in december 2018, arriving to me exactly 07/01/2019. Being backer 12#ish i thought that it would be faster, but it arrived very well packed.
Previous HMD´s: DK1, DK2, CV1, Vive, Odyssey and then Pimax 8k (and hopefully still this month, 5k+)
My PC config: firstname.lastname@example.org AVX0, 16GB 3200hz, 1080ti 2ghz custom cooled, onboard intel USB 3.0 ports are used. Normal Win10 pro. High beefy level.
THE PACKAGE - 10/10
Came very well packed. The external box is very tough and can sustain punishment normally. Inside you find the real HMD box, with a design that reminds you of a Playstation 4 (black box with blue line).
The HMD is secured between sheets of rigid foam while the cable and other accessories (power brick etc) are inside a rectangular box.
PROS: The package is very protective, beautiful and practical. No real problems here.
CONS: None really.
THE DEVICE - 9.0/10
Surprisingly very light. So light that it worries you. The case is made of hard ABS plastic (i believe) that feels cheap and weak, but it is actually quite resistant. Mine haven’t got any cracks so far. In it´s front you find the now commonly know “ninja visor” that change color depending of which rendering method you´re using (more on this later).
On it´s bottom you find the USB C plugin, on the right the IPD dial (that works just fine) and the P2 headphone connector to the left. On the upside, to the left you find the cable. It is rugged, snapped in firmly in it´s crevice. You have to use quite some force to remove it.
So it won’t move accidentally at all. The connector is proprietary and carry lot of signals, similar to a DisplayPort. On the other end is the 12v female connector, USB 3.0 and DisplayPort connectors.
The cable have a nice length, but i wish we had the 10 meters one. The cheeks area is covered in soft cloth that is nice to feel and should mitigate the heat/sweat. The power on and volumes buttons are easy to find, visually and by touch. The lighthouse system works without a problem, just pair the controllers and you are ready to go.
PROS: Good enough construction. Plenty of connections. Good enough cable length. IPD dial really works.
CONS: Somewhat cheap feeling.
The included headstrap is very basic and only fulfill the task of glueing it to your face, no headphones, nada. Obviously i ghetto modded my Deluxe Audio Strap and it increased the confort by tenfold (WARNING, MATURE CONTENT BEWARE!!):
Being so light really helps. The nose crevice have good space and because of that light enters the eyes area killing the immersion. You can solve this by putting some foam there, so it can block light without hurting your nose.
The included face foam is very cheap but do the job well “in my case”. This is troublesome because the IPD (interpupillary distance) really depends of the shape of the user’s face to correctly match the foam pad and consequently the positioning of the eyes, so the distortions (more on this later) are mitigated or barely visible. This is VERY important and some users are totally oblivious to it.
PROS: Easy to use, fit all heads. Compatible with DAS with some “mods”.
CONS: Not so comfortable, no headphones attached. The foam smells really strong, but dissipate after some hours. The ‘facepad” is generic and oriented to fit the majority of users. This can cause severe mismatch and consequently lots of distortions on the image.
EASY OF USE - 7/10
The initial setup is completely painless. Just plug the USB (preferably on an onboard intel 3.0 usb port in the back panel of the motherboard), DisplayPort and connect the 12v plug to the HMD input and it is already on.
Next is the Pitool installation. Here is where some problems can occur. I just installed it and was ready to go. But after restarting, my play area wasn’t tracking effectively. I had to redo it from 0 and after doing it, the problem persisted.
This is where the Pimax forums community shines. With a massive user base, avid to tinker and help other fellow enthusiasts, we rapidly discovered the problem. The lighthouse profile was corrupt and deleting it solve the issue. I was ready to really play now.
There’s a plethora of options that can be used to match the user needs and the PC capability to play them. In the case of the 8k, the 1.75x SuperSampling on normal FOV is the best albeit resource intensive (it´s the limit of “diminishing returns”, i actually recommend 1.5x).
SteamVR integration is functional and Oculus’s games can be played directly from Pitool (although the compatibility really depends of the Pitool version to shine).
Oculus games played:
- Lucky´s Tale - Pitool .95 = Working flawless
- Edge of nowhere = Low resolution, but playable
- Roborecall = Pitool .95 = Working Ok (very heavy)
- Lone Echo = Pitool .95 = Working flawlessly
THE DISPLAY - 8.5/10
And yes, here is the main dish, the crown, the reason we all flock together. IMAGE QUALITY and CLARITY. This topic is actually composed by 4 different aspects of the same idea.
As we already know, the display is a custom LCD with overdrive and other clever settings to mitigate slow pixel response and low brightness. In the 8k case, the very high pixel density of theses panels SHOULD kill any trace of SDE and give the much needed clarity we all seek.
NOTHING comes closer to Pimax in Spec and features. While the newest competitors are reaching 1400p or 1600p, the 8k obliterates anything next to it by boosting 2*3840x2160 (although the input resolution of the panel will always be 2560x1440p) . It uses the full bandwidth of the DisplayPort, making HDMI unusable for it´s specs.
So, we are walking in cutting edge territory here.
PROS: Cutting edge display parts.
CONS: Angled positioning of the panels created “unforeseen consequences” (more on this later)
SCREEN DOOR EFFECT - 9/10
One of the worst if not the main antagonist of this generation of VR is the dread SDE. But in the 8k i have some really good news. It is almost vanished. You can still see it if you look for it hard enough but ONLY in same color bright images (like a white background) but it’s not in the level of discomfort anymore, you simply forget about (not because you can still see but dismiss it). It’s difficult to take a picture of this, but i like to use this image of the Odyssey+:
The Odyssey+ have almost exactly the same SDE of the 8k, with the latter winning for little (the lower input resolution stretching to match the panel´s native 4k causes almost the same blur effect of the SDE filter present in the Samsung. IF the 8k could operate at it´s native resolution, it would destroy the Odyssey+). But the high pixel count in the display is what REALLY makes up for the low SDE.
PROS: 99.5% SDE free !
CONS: The 0.5% is a combination of low input resolution (very minimal impact from it) and Pentile subpixel arrangement (Oh cyberlords, please give us true RGB subpixel greatness).
FIELD OF VIEW - 10/10
The main area where the Pimax is simply king, undisputable ! With the largest FOV to date, ANYTHING that came before Pimax could be described as the picture bellow:
Yes, this dog summarize the Rift/Vive/Odyssey era.
Simply put, the 200º FOV SHINES and give a whole new meaning to VR. It is something in the cusp of cheating, really. With it you can see so much more, it is difficult to put it to words and it does have a WOW! wow ? HOHOWOW!” effect.
This effect is funny, because the first time you use it, you instantly notice how large the FOV is (WOW! part). But after a while, your brain start to adapt and you forget that initial impression, it is now your normal experience (wow? part) and finally, when you try your Vive/Rift/Odyssey and remember in horror how could you use this claustrophobic device for so long ! And ditcht it while running back to your spacious Pimax FOV (the HOHOWOW! part)
I created a gif with the perceive difference:
Not all is flowers though, Large FOV is not really usable all the time (causes a lot of problems, most related to software, the humongous resolution needed cause some problems, supersampling related maybe?). 90% of the time you will be using normal FOV. Small fov can be used, but i practically never use it. The difference between normal and large is not game changing, but small to normal is never return territory.
PROS: Best FOV of the generation, 3 choices for compatibility, freedom feeling.
CONS: Can cause problems, depends of the game and can become quite heavy on the GPU (large area to render). The bigger the FOV, the bigger the distortions (more on this later).
OPTICS/LENS - 8.5/10
“Not all is flowers though” summarize exactly this topic.
Because of the angled lens and large FOV (cover most of panel area), the lens had to be custom tailored to mitigate the problems while maintaining maximum user IPD/Face compatibility. You can’t have 100% precision in a multivariable scenario like this, so lots of users are experiencing out of sweet spot area, distortions, uneven barrel correction and related problems. Lots of users didn’t experienced those (like me), but the distortions are present, even if little, independent of the FOV.
Correct positioning of the face in the facepad and correct Near Pupillary Distance are PARAMOUNT, CRUCIAL, FIRST AND FOREMOST.
Whatever the FOV, the edge distortions are present, i have created a GIF to try to demonstrate the issue:
As you can see, the outer edges suffer greatly from the distortions. This is because of both the angled panels and the lens type. Even so Pimax managed to create something unique here. Also they are trying really hard to compensate and get better barrel distortion compensation in software, with new profiles every new Pitool release.
PROS: Almost no glare, even in dark background. The lens don’t scratch easily and are easy to remove if necessary.Gigantic sweet spot, the largest of all.
CONS: Although the sweet spot is huge, it can induce wrong positioning and this cause SEVERE discomfort (barrel distortion mismatch etc) and increase the distortions on the edge of the screen. So all attention and care are needed to lock your eyes/face in the correct positioning. Need NPD measured and set to mitigate distortion problems. Maybe if the panel weren’t angled ?
CLARITY AND IMAGE QUALITY - 9/10
With it’s massive resolution (even considering the 1440p input upscaling) everything became readable and the amount of perceived details skyrocketed ! BUT, the upscaling introduce a soft blur on the edges of the objects and text. Similar again to the Odyssey+, like it with even greater resolution.
I didn’t test the 5k+ yet, but it should be EVEN clearer. Every text and label in Elite Dangerous is readable without eye strain. Same for details in weapons and in long range things in all games.
This is specially true if you can increase the SuperSampling in Pitool. With it at 1.75x in normal FOV i can read the runes in the stone pillars in Skyrim while in Odyssey they are just a gray stone pillar whatever the SS setting. But this is VERY resource intensive, so mind your settings. With the addition of the BrainWarp, this become possible again (more on this later).
Even so, if i could reference the actual 8k text readability i would put it on a 640x480 monitor. 1024x768p with maximum supersampling. The pixel density and the resolution simply aren’t there yet. Maybe the 8k-X.
I created a gif to try to simulate what differences you will see:
PROS: The best image clarity and image quality on the market (considering the 5k+ and 8k supersampled) ! No more eye strain ! Long range details and perceived quality !
CONS: Still not desktop text readability, the upscaling blur text and thin objects on the 8k, costly supersampling needed to achieve intended clarity.
THE SOFTWARE - 7.5/10
Here is where you could say there’s plenty of space for improvement.
Pitool is a coarse jewel in lapidation. Theres plenty of problems and every new feature add quite few bugs too. I for one had lighthouse playarea problems etc, but our community are made of pioneers and beta testers, so we can easily figure those out, but for the normal user (plug and play type) those are dreaded.
Recently we had access to the Brainwarp tech, that is Pimax AWS counterpart or Valve’s Smoothmotion. Thanks to it, now we can crank the Supersampling even more ! And here is where we should praise Pimax for it’s efforts.
In less than a year we have Brainwarp and even very experimental tech (like Fixed Foveat Rendering!) that nobody else has ! The current pace of updates is at least 2 per month, with some beta test versions being tested by Nvidia and other partners !
Because of the nature of the angled panels and Large FOV, Pimax had to make compatibility options, like Parallel Projections, which is heavy in the GPU, but enable users to play games that don’t have support for such high resolution, fov and angled panels like the 5k+ and 8k.
If the developers desires, he can update the game to enable native support for the Pimax (like many are doing) and benefit the community. He can even update the game distortions and occlusion profiles to match Pimax Large FOV. This is really a Work in Progress tech.
Oculus games support is currently very good. All the major games (Lone echo, RoboRecall) can be played in full detail (and FOV ! With some tricks) and some others can be mitigated to become playable (like Edge of Nowhere).
SteamVR is fully compatible and games work out of the box most of the time (some games have occlusion problems, others can work with the high resolutions). Large FOV is still a Work in Progress too, crashing game and sometimes producing inferior image quality.
With the pace of updates, pursuing of bleeding edge tech of Pimax and the community’s support we should have a stable and feature rich Pitool by the end of the year, making the Pimax the King in VR in the world ! Hopefully, till there, the 8K-X will be release, dwarfing again anything that the competition has to offer.
PROS: Bleeding edge features and a plethora of options makes Pitool an all rounder software. Good pace of updates. Developers are always hearing the community. Intense forums communication.
CONS: Bleeding edge features and a plethora of options makes lots of bugs happen and confound users, creating more chaos and problems. New versions fix things only to introduce new problems.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5 !
Independent of the issues and problems, we should be grateful to Pimax to push VR tech this forcefully forward ! They are taunting multi billion companies that simply can’t compete for now (Rift S ? LOL) against them. Also, if you consider the storm launch of both Rift and the Vive, Pimax isn’t so bad at all. I can call their Kickstarter one of the most successful EVER. Also we have here one of the toughest, friendly, active and growing VR community ever !