As a tech analyst, I’ve tried virtually every VR headset in existence—the good ones and the bad ones. While the technology is improving greatly (particularly with headsets geared towards the enterprise), one area that I consistently hear complaints about is resolution. Seeking to address this, HP Inc. recently announced its own foray into VR headset category, the HP Reverb. Let’s take a closer look.
Taking resolution to the next level
In my mind, the new HP Reverb VR headset marks the beginning of the second generation of VR headsets. It starts to address consumers’ problems with VR and ups the ante in a way that convinces existing VR headset owners that its time to upgrade. So, what makes it so special? First off, it has a resolution of 2160 x 2160 per eye, a wider 114-degree field of view, and a 90 Hz LCD display. Together, this means considerably higher pixel density and improved image quality over the current generation of VR headsets. The HP Reverb features a 9.3 megapixel resolution—considerably better than the Oculus Rift’s 2.6 megapixels and the HTC Vive Pro’s 4.6 megapixels. Even the just-announced Oculus Rift S falls below HP Reverb’s resolution.
This higher resolution means that consumers can view things in VR that were previously restricted to the ultra-high-end headsets (such as text). I can think of many enterprise and consumer applications that would immediately benefit from adopting this headset. All of the obvious training applications would feel more immersive with the higher resolution, but I could see this being especially helpful in medical training applications where resolution is particularly important. Paired with a VR backpack, these headsets could also be extremely nice to have at a VR arcade. The obvious enterprise verticals of architecture, engineering, and construction could also benefit from the Reverb’s wider FoV and higher resolution. While I’m not sure the user interfaces are quite there yet, HP Reverb’s resolution is good enough that users could, in theory, get rid of their monitors and run fully virtually. That’s a first for VR headsets.
The HP Reverb is also incredibly light (at 1.1 pounds), with ergonomics that allow the headset to feel extremely comfortable for long periods of time. While the headset doesn’t have eye-tracking, it has a bigger ‘sweet spot’ where the image quality is optimal. HP also opted to include pretty good headphones into the headset, which can be removed if a user chooses to. These headphones are built with spatial audio in mind, and they got loud enough that I needed to turn them down to hear others in the room with me (which bodes well for immersiveness). HP stuck with Windows Mixed Reality as the platform for HP Reverb, which means the headset has inside-out tracking and doesn’t require additional cameras or lighthouses. I believe this is a big deal—the friction of setup is problematic for VR and being able to just plug in the headset and go considerably improves the experience.
HP also pre-pairs the controllers with the Reverb headset via Bluetooth, which means that the user only has to plug the headset into their computer to be able to use VR—as long as a person has the latest fall update from Microsoft for Windows 10. One thing that might go unnoticed (but not by those with the first generation of Windows Mixed Reality headsets) is HP’s integration of a Bluetooth controller into the headset, for pairing the controllers with the headset. This is a big deal because many PC users, including myself, don’t have Bluetooth built into their PCs—we had to go out and buy Bluetooth dongles to be able to use the first generation of Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets.
One thing worth thinking about is that the HP Reverb headset is essentially a 4K gaming monitor running at 90 Hz—in fact, it’s actually 12% higher resolution than that. Today, very few 4K monitors run above 60 Hz and only a few run above 90 Hz (144 Hz). Those 144 Hz 4K displays are incredibly expensive and require considerable GPU horsepower; similarly, the recommended spec for the HP Reverb VR headset is very high compared to most other VR headsets. HP recommends a minimumof an NVIDIA GTX 1080, Quadro P5200, and Radeon Pro WX 8200. While HP doesn’t mention it, I believe that an AMD Radeon Vega VII would also suffice, since it falls into roughly the GTX 1080 performance profile. HP also recommends a minimum of 16GB of RAM, which shouldn’t be difficult since anyone who is using a GTX 1080 or higher should already be running at least 16 GB of RAM. The company also recommends the latest Windows 10 October 2018 update or later versions of Windows 10 for the smoothest setup and driver installation experience. Unlike the Oculus Rift S, the Reverb is clearly not designed for the entry-level VR PC user—this is for people who already have high-end gaming PCs or workstations and are looking to upgrade their headsets.
Since the HP Reverb is a Windows Mixed Reality VR headset, it has access to both Microsoft’s store for virtual reality applications and the Steam library, solving the entire ‘applications’ problem. I actually believe that long term, Microsoft made the right decision to cede the gaming applications of VR to Steam and focus on enterprise and business applications. HP Reverb is an enterprise and commercial headset first and consumer second. The enterprise headset costs $649 and includes two removable face gaskets and a shorter 0.6m cable for VR backpacks. Meanwhile, the consumer version costs $599 and comes with a washable face gasket and a standard length cable. Both headsets will ship with two motion controllers, a 3.5m standard length cable, and a DisplayPort to mini-DisplayPort adapter. Headsets will purportedly start shipping in April.
If you are a VR enthusiast and have been waiting for an affordable, truly high-resolution VR headset, I can’t recommend the HP Reverb enough. Its next-level resolution and ease of use sets it apart from the first generation VR headsets, and I believe it will enable the next generation of enterprise and consumer VR applications. HP Reverb is everything you need in a VR headset and I imagine that many enthusiasts will gleefully upgrade their GPUs for it. I can’t wait to get my hands on one for long-term testing.