In my article on the new Windows Mixed Reality Headsets I basically straight-up said that this was the VR and AR revolution we’d all been waiting for. Here was a standard for virtual and augmented reality that was built into the most widely-used operating system in the world. It also has support from some of the biggest hardware makers in the world, including Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Acer.
Even more incredibly, Windows Mixed Reality has support from one of its main competitors – Valve. The co-creator of the HTC Vive and the SteamVR platform seems to have embraced the Windows standard by letting it in on the SteamVR action. To me that’s a sign that even Valve knows there’s something to Windows Mixed Reality.
Apart from this, I was incredibly impressed with the design of the headsets we’ve seen so far – they are much more user-friendly and have a price point that would be palatable to more people. It’s also possible to use these HMDs with lower-specced machines if you’re going to do less fancy productivity VR or AR.
The best part of it all has to be its inside-out tracking technology that frees us from needing an external camera system to track movement. Instead, the HMD uses two cameras that scan the environment around us to make sense of our movement. This is also the key to the augmented- and mixed-reality technology that underpins everything.
A Slow Start
Unfortunately, the first run of hardware products has been a little lackluster. Yes, they are all priced around three hundred bucks, which is very attractive. However, the design, build-quality, and technical specs have been a little underwhelming, especially when compared to premium VR headsets such as the Vive and Oculus.
For example, while those headsets have a field of view around 110-degrees wide, the Windows HMDs have been stuck on 95-degrees, while using two 1440×1440 LCD panels. That’s still over the immersion limit of 90-degrees, but not nearly as good as the VR pioneers.
Doing It Right
That’s where Samsung has now come in with their Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality Product. They’ve taken almost all of the aspects we’ve seen in the first HMD releases and addressed them in some way. That means, at least to my mind, that this is the first Windows Mixed Reality product that can be a real Oculus and Vive killer.
Samsung is one of the best hardware makers in the world. They not only make great tech themselves in the form of phones, TVs, and just about everything else you can think of, they also make many of the components that are inside other brands as well. There are plenty of devices with Samsung screens, hard drives, memory chips, and other components inside of them. In fact, the iPhone relies heavily on Samsung parts and would be a lot harder to make without them.
That means it’s reasonable to expect something special from the Korean tech giant when it comes to its take on this new class of HMD.
Samsung Odyssey Competition
Up to the release of the Odyssey we saw products from Lenovo. HP, Dell, and Acer. Two of these are developer kits; not really meant for the average consumer. The HP is probably the nicest unit among the four, but all of them have that standard set of specs I mentioned above.
Just at a glance, the Odyssey is clearly a much nicer product to look at than any of the other devices on offer. It’s sleek, black, and tightly made. It retains the same headband and visor design of other WMR HMDs, but you’ll notice the integrated headphones, which we’ll get to a little later.
Even those all-important cameras are made in such a way as the headset does not have the same ugly googly-eyes of other models. This is clearly a product that’s at least as good looking as a Vive and, in my opinion, even more so.
That’s all just superficial, however; its when we look at the spec sheet that the real differences come to light. The biggest feature comes in the form of AMOLED panels, each at 1440×1600 pixels.
The base spec of other HMDs use a lower resolution LCD. AMOLED is not as color-accurate as IPS LCDs, but it has lower persistence, better black levels, and a lot more “pop” to its color. Both the Vive and Oculus use OLED technology, and Samsung is probably the best OLED maker in the world.
These improvements in screen resolution and width also translate to a field of view measuring 110-degrees. That’s exactly the same as the Vive and Oculus, removing one of the only caveats I have about these Windows HMDs. Frankly, in terms of visual specifications the Odyssey now has those premium pioneers dead to rights.
While the other HMDs in this new family of products only have an audio passthrough, Samsung has brought in technology from AKG to provide integrated spatial audio to their headset. This means that the Odyssey is also a complete solution not requiring the purchase of additional headphones. That may not be a boon to everyone, but to me the easy fit and utility of other Windows HMDs is spoiled by the need for a non-integrated pair of headphones. The Odyssey makes it all fit together as one. Besides, AKG is hardly a slouch in the audio department.
A Total Package
Before the Odyssey, Samsung’s last attempt at a VR HMD was the Gear VR. I’ve owned a Gear VR for more than a year myself and can’t go back to the crappy plastic HMDs that I had been using before. Samsung has become incredibly shrewd with the hardware that it designs and makes. It knows who it’s trying to beat, and both Oculus and HTC/Valve should be wary that the Korean behemoth is now moving into premium VR territory.
I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to say anyone looking to buy a premium VR headset right now would have to come up with lots of really good reasons not to choose the Odyssey over everything else. After all, Steam has rolled out the red carpet with support, and the API is being baked into Windows itself. If I have to ask myself whether buying the Odyssey is the best decision, every fiber of my being is telling me “yes”.
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