If the recent boom in futuristic-looking headsets has left you feeling confused and/or hopelessly behind the curve, take comfort: you’re not alone.
While 2017 clearly sees us on the verge of a golden age for virtual reality and augmented reality, only two other things are clear: it took us a long time to get here and there will soon be about 8 billion headsets on the market. Let’s take a quick look at how we got here and how a new take on this technology could shake things up going forward.
First came Virtual Reality, a completely immersive digital experience in which users could neither see nor interact with the physical environment around them. The advent of VR set gamers' hearts alight with possibility but the path to broad adoption was a slow one. Ever seen Aerosmith’s 1993 “Amazing” music video? It’s a good laugh now, of course, but it’s also a great reminder that early VR headsets were essentially like wearing a TV on your head. The one featured in the video--the Liquid Image MRG2--was state-of-the-art at the time. How far we’ve come.
Then there’s Augmented Reality, another technology with roots in the early 1990s. Augmented reality layers digital, interactive objects on top of the physical environment. The most well-known example of this is the adorable (if occasionally hazardous) Pokemon Go app that became a cultural phenomenon during the summer of 2016. Another good reference point is Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro smartphone, which offers AR experiences based on Tango technology with wide-ranging applications for education and design, among other things.
And now comes Mixed Reality, a new take on VR that blends the physical and digital worlds to produce environments in which physical and holographic objects coexist and interact in real time. Windows Mixed Reality is the platform upon which our new Lenovo Explorer headset is built and it could well prove (in Microsoft’s own words) that “the future of computing goes beyond the isolated virtual world.” It could also provide the next fertile breeding ground for VR apps, not just for gamers but for commercial and industrial applications.
With a Windows Mixed Reality headset like Lenovo Explorer, you can travel the world and swim with dolphins. Move elegantly across time and space. Experience your favorite game--whether it’s Minecraft or Halo--in an entirely new way. (Microsoft has also announced Steam content will run on Windows Mixed Reality headsets.)
We designed Lenovo Explorer as a natural, affordable extension of your PC. You can use it to browse online or watch shows in a virtual home office environment. You can watch magnificent 3D, 360 and 4K videos. (You can even access Microsoft Office if that’s your thing.)
So what sets Lenovo Explorer apart from more established rivals like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive? Five things stand out to me: weight, price, resolution, comfort & simplicity.
Let’s hit simplicity first. The Explorer headset requires no external sensors--instead, you use a single cable to connect it to your Lenovo (or, if you must, non-Lenovo) Windows 10 PC and you’re off and running.
Lenovo Explorer’s price ($349 for the headset and another $100 for the motion controllers) also makes it a very attractive option. Its 2880 x 1440 resolution is superior to the 2160 x 1200 offered by both Oculus and Vive. And at 380 grams, Explorer is significantly lighter than its rivals (both 470 grams).
Explorer’s lighter weight plays into its comfort too. We showed off a prototype at an event earlier this year. The first thing most people said when trying it on? “Wow, it’s so comfortable.” It may have something to do with how light the headset is; it’s also because our designers and engineers put great care into its ergonomics, balancing the weight from front to back so you can go hours doing your favorite thing without feeling weighed down.
In the final reckoning, Lenovo Explorer’s greatest value may be that it takes your PC to new places, applying additional layers of value, usefulness and joy to a tool you already own.
With Windows Mixed Reality, Microsoft has said it wants to “democratize” Virtual Reality. Maybe someday we’ll look back at this moment as the first shot fired in a headset revolution. We can only hope Aerosmith will be around to see it.
For more information on Lenovo Explorer, go here.
Gavin O'Hara is Lenovo's Global Social Media Publisher.