Not too long ago I was gushing over the release of the Windows Mixed Reality hardware and software. We proclaimed it the “biggest VR news of 2017” and I still stand by that sentiment. Features such as inside-out tracking and the convenient, compact HMD design have essentially convinced me that a Windows MR HMD is the VR/AR device to own.
However, the hardware we’ve seen so far definitely suffers from that “first-generation” disease. Two of the HMDs are developer kits, which aren’t really built to make consumers happy and the one commercial unit is built to a price. Although none of them are bad as far as we can tell, there is definitely a lot of room for build quality improvement. Apart from that, all of the HMDs that we’ve seen so far hew pretty close to the reference design and specifications. Which means that there really is little beyond price and aesthetics to set them apart.
Luckily it seems at least one company has not been resting on its laurels and Samsung now has its own Windows Mixed Reality HMD, the Odyssey up for preorder. I think it’s fair to say that there is now at least one Windows Mixed Reality headset that can honestly be labeled as a “premium” option.
Getting Into Gear
This is not Samsung’s first crack at an HMD. They are probably best-know for the Gear VR series that only work with their Galaxy S series of phones. If, like me, you’ve spent a significant amount of time with the Gear VR products, you’ll know that they are some of the best thought-out and made mobile HMD units you can buy. I’ve spent hours watching Netflix VR or playing games from the mobile Oculus store without any hassle.
That’s before we remember that Samsung is one of the best hardware makers in the world. Their smartphones are right up there with the likes of the Google Nexus and Pixel phones and even the iPhone. Even if you buy products of other brands, chances are that some of the major components inside are going to be from Samsung anyway. Ironically, Samsung’s component division is probably going to make more money from iPhone X sales than from selling the Galaxy S8. Talk about having it both ways!
So understandably I have high hopes for the Odyssey. Especially since I have now been forced to learn the correct spelling of “Odyssey” and don’t want to have wasted that time.
All the preceding Windows Mixed Reality units from other hardware makers have stuck to a solution that has a 95-degree field of view, 1440×1440 LCD per eye and no included audio. Preferring to provide an audio pass-through only.
Right out of the door the Samsung blows past that with two 1440×1600 AMOLED panels. If you’ve never had the pleasure of using a Samsung AMOLED, let me tell you that these are some of the most attractive mobile display panels money can buy. Yes, AMOLED is not great for colour accuracy, but if you want inky blacks, fast response times and popping colours you should look no further.
It also brings the display technology in line with the first-generation premium VR HMDs which all used OLED for its low-persistence nature.
Another headline specification for the Samsung unit is the 110-degree field of view. One of my largest concerns about these HMDs so far is the relatively narrow 95-degree FoV. It skirts dangerously close to the generally agree minimum of 90-degrees for VR presence and immersion. Worry no more, since the Samsung HMD is in-line with the FoVs of the Vive and Oculus now.
A Sound Choice
It’s worth noting that Samsung have decided to partner with AKG when it comes to the audio systems in the Odyssey. The headphone solution looks quite a but like the Oculus solution, but these are made by AKG and use AKG 360 spatial audio technology. Other Windows Mixed Reality HMD haven’t really paid much attention to this aspect of the product and basically expect you to plug in whatever you want, this is a much more cohesive and complete package from Sammy.
While none of us have had a chance to actually wear any of these HMDs, it’s clear that from a design perspective the Odyssey looks the most expensive and attractive. It’s as well put together as I’d expect from Samsung, with only the HP unit coming close. Dell, Lenovo and Acer now only look even more like Fisher-Price products in comparison.
The hands-on impressions we’ve read from people who have been lucky enough to try an Odyssey are pretty positive and honestly that’s unsurprising given how long Samsung have been making stuff.
The Price of Nice
The big fly in the ointment is the asking price for the Odyssey. Preorders are up for about $500 which is quite a bit more than the 300-ish dollars the other headsets are going for. However, given the specification superiority of the Odyssey it’s clear where the money had gone and, frankly, I’m surprised it only costs $150 more. It just goes to show what you can do when you make your own AMOLED screens.
The One To Beat
Despite being technologically inferior on many fronts, I was personally prepared to give up my Oculus for one of the early Windows HMDs. The price was right, the tech impressive and clearly Microsoft is getting the support part of it right. After all, we’re even getting SteamVR support from their competitor.
Right now, if I were in the market for my first premium headset you’d have to argue hard why waiting for the Odyssey isn’t the most sensible thing to do.