While I enjoyed the Oculus Go, I am now looking at slightly more high-end headsets for more intense experiences.
Because of this, I wanted to try some higher-end experiences with the Lenovo Explorer and Oculus Rift being two of the more popular options.
I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison to see which one is superior and more deserving of your hard-earned money.
If you don’t want to read the whole review, the Lenovo Explorer wins because of its better value for money, comfort and user friendliness.
What You Need to Think About Before Buying a VR Headset
VR headsets are becoming more and more of a typical household item as people look for new entertainment experiences. Things are much better than they were even a few years ago and basically anybody can use them.
With that said, there are some things to think about before making an investment in a VR headset. These include:
You may want a headset that has a lot of software such as apps and games or you may want it to be compatible with a certain console or PC, so it is important to consider the user experience in terms of software and hardware.
Also, you will want to know whether the headset is tethered, how the controllers are charged and so on to make the most convenient choice. These factors all matter and you should consider them.
With a range of VR headsets available these days, the quality of the experience can vary considerably.
The main things to look for are; how smooth and detailed the graphics are, the quality of the audio and how interactive and realistic the virtual reality experience is.
Value for Money
There is always a trade-off between price and quality, it’s basic economics. The aim is to find a headset that is the best balance between affordability and quality, variety of features and so on.
Definitely get the best headset you can, but make sure it’s a good value.
To enjoy the virtual reality experience, the headset needs to be light and comfortable. The padding around the headset and the mechanisms vary across headsets, so it is important to look at these features and the weight of the headset.
Your Experience Level With VR
The market for virtual reality is segmented. You have light and hardcore gamers, you have people who are curious about VR, and you have businesses implementing VR in different ways. Before buying a headset, you need to think of which model will perform the best for the use case you have in mind as well as how much experience you have with VR.
The main audience for VR headsets are adults who have an existing interest in technology or gaming. You need to know a bit about PC’s, setting up Bluetooth connections and the like, but it’s nothing too technical.
Presenting the Lenovo Explorer and Oculus Rift
One main difference between the two is that the Oculus Rift has its own ecosystem of software, as well as being compatible with Windows applications. The Lenovo Explorer is a Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) headset, which means that Windows 10 provides the software for the Explorer. Lenovo does not have its own app ecosystem like Oculus.
Another major difference between the Lenovo Explorer and Oculus Rift is the way they track your movements. While the Lenovo Explorer uses a tracking method known as inside-out (the headset itself tracks your movements and your surrounding environment), the Rift uses a method known as outside-in (where the Rift requires you to set up motion sensors external to the headset).
Both the Explorer and Rift come with two controllers and have some overlap in the games and apps you can enjoy.
I ended up going through different categories that are important to most VR users and wanted to assign a winner. In the end, we’ll tally those categories up to let you know which device we feel is superior.
User Experience: Software
First, let’s look at the software for each model. With the Lenovo Explorer, the apps and games that are available are found on the Microsoft store – while there a many VR games with WMR headsets, there are not nearly as many as on the Rift.
SteamVR is supported by WMR headsets but not every single game is supported. However, the majority of games are supported and they work just as well as with WMR as with the Rift. You can play Rift games on WMR using LibreVR’s Revive app which effectively re-routes Rift games downloaded through the Oculus app over to the SteamVR store. If there is a game that is available on Rift but not on the WMR headsets yet, it should become available soon.
As a fan of racing games, two games I tried out on the Explorer and Rift were RaceRoom and Codemaster’s Dirt Rally. Compared with the Oculus Rift, the colour is not as vibrant and the brightness is not as good. For instance, when racing using the Rift, it looks like you a racing on a nice, sunny day whereas with the Explorer it seems like an overcast day.
As with the Oculus Go, I am a bit wary about privacy and it is something to consider when buying the Oculus Rift, given Facebook’s tarnished past of compromising its user’s privacy. It is important to keep in mind that there is a data sharing agreement between Facebook and Oculus. If you are privacy conscious, I would recommend the Lenovo Explorer over the Rift.
Winner: Oculus Rift
As mentioned already, the tracking is handled from the headset for the Lenovo Explorer. This means the headset has cameras and sensors which maps out your environment and tracks the controllers. The two controllers are tracked really well, even if controllers are behind your head for a short amount of time.
But if your hands are stationary by your side or if you move the controllers out of the headset’s field of view, the tracking will not function as effectively. Nevertheless, the tracking for sword and table tennis games is good enough, however, you may find with some VR archery games that the tracking is mediocre and has room for improvement. That said, the head tracking is on a par with more expensive models such as the HTC Vive.
The tracking of the Oculus Rift is much better in dimly lit rooms. You have to be in a well-lit room for the Lenovo Explorer’s tracking to work properly. With this model, you can also interact with virtual worlds in one of four ways; with the provided controllers, using your keyboard and mouse, using an Xbox controller, or using the Cortana digital assistant.
For the Lenovo model, there is no physical Inter Pupillary Distance (IPD) adjustment – which is the distance between your pupils in the left eye and right eye. However, there is a software in the Windows Store that can allow you to adjust the IPD, but does not work that well. With the Rift, there is a button on the top of the device which allows you to adjust the IPD.
Two features that the Rift lacks but the Explorer has are; a 3.5 inch jack to plug in your own headphones and a visor that can flip upward. The flippable visor is a feature that I really like, since I can quickly shift in and out of virtual worlds if my friend wants to speak to me quickly while I’m playing a game or if I need a drink.
The requirements for the Oculus Rift makes it less accessible than the Explorer, as you will need a gaming PC to enjoy the best the Rift has to offer. For the Rift, the minimum requirements are; a graphics card like the NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti, AMD Radeon RX 470 or any graphics card that is more powerful than these two, as well as a RAM of 8GB or more.
Winner: Lenovo Explorer
Surprisingly, the Lenovo Explorer has better optics in some areas than the Oculus Rift, with a higher resolution of 1440×1440 resolution per eye. Whereas, the Oculus Rift has a resolution of 1080×1200.
For the field of view – which is how much you can see in your peripheral vision – the Lenovo Explorer boasts 100 to 105 degrees, very similar to the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift’s frames per second is much higher however making the graphics smoother and there is no noticeable fuzziness when you move your head around.
Since the Oculus Rift provides a more immersive experience, the downside is that VR experiences may trigger unwanted feelings of nausea, motion sickness and vertigo. For example, in one of the games I tried on the Oculus Rift, my vertigo kicked in as it placed me on top of a mountain. This immersion gives Rift the edge here.
Winner: Oculus Rift
Value for Money
The graphics of the Lenovo Explorer are starting to get a bit dated, but this is not a major concern because it has a relatively low price point. Compared to the Oculus Rift, the Lenovo Explorer is almost half the price, yet the visuals are quite similar, and is even better in some areas than the Rift.
While we’ve already mentioned that the Rift has more games, Lenovo Explorer already has most of these same games and in the near future will have a very similar offering of apps and games. This gives the bang-for-the-buck value to the Explorer.
Winner: Lenovo Explorer
While the Rift is fairly light at around 400 grams and is quite comfortable, but the headset requires a lot of pressure to be placed onto your face.
However, the Lenovo explorer weighs just 380 grams, has a very light touch and does not push against your face too hard, making a big difference when playing for long periods of time. In the style of the PlayStation VR, the Explorer rests all the weight on your forehead.
For the Lenovo Explorer, you don’t have to make it too tight and will find that even after extended use, the device will stay fixed to your head. The Explorer is completely sealed with foam, even around the nose which makes it comfortable and prevents any leakage of light into your headset.
The only downside with the Lenovo Explorer is that it can heat up and become uncomfortable if you are playing for long periods.
Winner: Lenovo Explorer
Who The Headsets Are Built For
Finally, we look at what types of VR users each headset is best suited to.
If you are like me and want to upgrade a basic headset, then the Lenovo Explorer is the way to go as it is more affordable but offers a considerable improvement on models like the Lenovo Mirage Solo, Oculus Rift or the HP Windows Mixed Reality headset.
However, if you are a more experienced VR user and want to best possible experience and are not concerned with the price, then the Oculus Rift is the better choice.
Your lifestyle will also have an impact on which model will suit you better.
For instance, gamers might be better off with the Rift as it delivers a more powerful VR experience whereas, if you are like me and travel a lot, then I would suggest going with the Lenovo Explorer over the Rift as it’s much easier to setup and use.