The balance struck with the HP Reverb G2 virtual reality headset, between cost and capability, is deftly done
There is a concerted effort among virtual reality hardware makers to integrate their headsets into a wider range of businesses. The HP Reverb G2 is the latest—and best—example of this trend.
With this immersive technology now a compelling collaboration, training and design tool, and other use cases quickly becoming apparent, hardware makers’ most recent and clearest step forward in this pursuit of wider enterprise adoption was cost reduction.
Oculus Quest 2 retailed at £300, well below the previous version, while Varjo recently announced that the next generation of its headsets will be half the price of their predecessors. Now, not only is virtual reality capable, it’s becoming cheaper.
Of course, there is always a risk that the virtual reality hardware maker, in the pursuit of cost reductions, could sacrifice performance or build quality, and risk alienating existing enterprise users and disappointing new ones.
As such, a careful balance must be struck between price point, so as to appease budget holders, and end users who are the first supporters any hardware maker must convince when developing and selling a new headset.
The HP Reverb G2, built in collaboration with Valve and Microsoft for workers and gamers, is an excellent example of how to strike this balance.
Specs and cost
Display 2 x 2.89 inches LCD
Resolution 2160 x 2160 pixels per eye
Field of view 1.4 degrees
Refresh rate 90Hz
Weight 1.1 pounds (w/o cable)
Content Windows Mixed Reality and SteamVR
Available for $599 in the US and £639 in the UK (orders made this month will likely ship in January), HP has kept the Reverb follow-up competitively priced in a busy field.
It’s cheaper than Valve’s own Index and HTC Vive’s Pro, both tethered virtual reality headsets that come with a copy of Half-Life: Alyx when bought directly from their makers. They are built for gamers, and that’s crucial.
While they are capable of meeting the needs of enterprise, they require base stations to deliver the virtual reality experience, costing time and space to set up and use. What about enterprises whose staff are working from home, at the kitchen table? Or customers half-way around the world that need to be provided with equipment?
Base stations are far from a barrier, but they are another bump in the road to wide-scale enterprise use of virtual reality.
The HP Reverb G2 virtual reality headset is smooth in comparison. VRWordTech received a review unit from HP, along with an OMEN 15 EK0005NA gaming laptop to run the hardware.
There are no base stations or complicated accessories to deal with. It isn’t quite plug and play, but it’s close. And the four cameras deliver excellent inside-out tracking, allowing you to use the headset almost anywhere.
Although the cable that plugs into the headset is thinner, lighter and longer than its predecessor, it does get in the way occasionally (it slots in at the top, behind the removable face plate) and takes some getting used to.
Still, this tethered headset is as natural to use as an all-in-one such as Oculus Quest, meaning new enterprise users can easily make the step up, and existing ones will be happy with the setup.
Attention to detail
It’s the attention to detail that really impresses, demonstrating HP’s commitment to quality in parallel with cost effectiveness.
The partnership with Valve has brought speakers to the HP Reverb G2 that sit off the ear by 10mm. They’re adjustable and conformable, removing the need for yet another cable.
Enterprise users will be pleased with the speakers, because they simplify a technology that’s traditionally too complicated. They also deliver a spatial audio experience that adds to the immersion.
During a launch event in Microsoft’s AltspaceVR, HP’s experts could be clearly heard, while the usual hubbub of networking time that precedes an event was present and held a particular clarity that’s usually absent in virtual reality.
Other headset makers need to take note; off-ear speakers are the way forward.
A note here too on AltspaceVR: Microsoft’s live events and meeting platform is getting better all the time. It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft further develops the platform for enterprise use in the face of stiff competition from the likes of Spatial and Engage.
HP’s headset is a comfortable, solid fit that doesn’t slip even during more energetic use, although the adjustable head straps are tricky to navigate for new users.
As this is a tethered headset that’s likely to belong to a sole user within a business, this is probably less of a problem than it might be for an all-in-one headset shared by groups.
HP has also paid particular attention to interpupillary distance, providing a manual adjustment mechanism that’s much better than Oculus Quest 2’s, and a replaceable face mask that provides more cushioning.
The whole setup is light and easy, allowing the headset to be used in-depth for long periods of time.
Touches that are not quite headline but are impressive all the same include the Reverb’s 90-degree flip feature, so you can keep the headset on while you’re working, and new and improved controllers.
The flip feature is a little stiff, requiring some practice before it works as easily as it’s supposed to, and then it’s an excellent touch for an enterprise user, creating a smooth transition between virtual reality and computer that will be appreciated by all.
The Windows Mixed Reality controllers can be pre-paired via Bluetooth and are easy to set up. Simply press and hold their Windows buttons and on they come.
They are very similar to Oculus controllers in layout and build, except much bigger. They feel a little uncomfortable to hold and use at first, but substantial because of it the longer you use them.
Similarly, no corners were cut when it comes to the processing power or visual experience. The HP Reverb G2 manages a refresh rate of 90Hz, making the headset capable of delivering top-draw experiences and serving some hefty software.
A clear endorsement of its potential comes from French software company SkyReal, whose platform allows engineers to enter virtual reality and work on design and product and production analysis using complex computer-aided design models and data, and carry out training.
SkyReal is happy for its customers to use this headset, because it’s capable, comes with inside-out tracking, and runs Windows Mixed Reality.
The headset offers an excellent visual experience, proving more than equal to the task of demanding gaming experiences.
At 4320 x 2160 px and a wide field of view, HP says it’s the highest resolution virtual reality headset on the market, presumably not counting high-end offerings such as Varjo’s human eye-resolution range.
It’s still impressive and makes the Windows Mixed Reality home environment a compelling proposition.
A real boon for workers
HP provides access to Valve’s Steam VR for gamers, but it’s Windows Mixed Reality that proves a real boon for workers.
It provides an expansive, customisable base from which to go about your working day, giving easy access to virtual reality apps in crisp clarity. From your headset, you can also access your emails, browse the web and much more.
Here, the HP Reverb G2 is also miles ahead of its competitors, because it connects seamlessly to the underlying desktop or laptop computer, and vice versa.
Desktop mode allows you to access your computer in the headset and it performs the role admirably. The visual experience isn’t quite there yet for it to be perfect, but this is the best example you’ll find of a seamless virtual reality working experience.
The headset is an excellent working companion as a result of every pro noted here. Windows Mixed Reality takes it to the next level.
The balance that HP has struck with this headset, between cost and capability, is deftly done.
Partnering with Valve and Microsoft to develop the Reverb G2 was a masterstroke, because it produced a hardware and software experience that meets enterprise users’ most pressing needs: ease, simplicity and quality.
It’s the best everyday working headset around.
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Images: HP and VRWorldTech