HP and Microsoft have announced a new version of their high-resolution Reverb virtual reality headset, aimed at VR gamers rather than businesses. The Reverb G2 is slated to launch this fall at $599, with US preorders opening today. It’s got the same resolution and field of view as the first-generation Reverb, but it features more tracking cameras, a redesigned controller, and new lenses and speakers from VR pioneer Valve.
The Reverb G2’s resolution is still its clearest selling point. At 2160 x 2160 pixels per eye, it’s far higher than the high-end Valve Index, which has 1440 x 1600 pixels. The original Reverb suffered from cloudy visuals, but HP is promising that new lenses and panels will clear that problem up. While the G2 uses the standard Windows Mixed Reality tracking system, HP has supplemented the headset’s two front-facing cameras with a camera on each side. That gives it a setup closer to the competing Oculus Rift S or Quest.
HP and Microsoft built the G2 with input from Valve. The headset shares little with Valve’s own Index, though. It’s apparently using different lenses, and while the G2 offers more pixels per eye, it’s still got a lower refresh rate (at 90Hz compared to 120Hz) and smaller field of view (114 degrees compared to 130 degrees). HP did, however, adopt the Index’s impressive and comfortable off-ear speakers.
The G2’s most welcome change might be its controller redesign. For years, Microsoft has undercut its Windows Mixed Reality headsets — made in partnership with Samsung, Acer, and HP, among others — with awkward nonstandard hand controllers. The G2’s controllers mirror the now-standard Oculus Touch design, adding two face buttons to each hand and removing the inconvenient trackpad. Earlier this year, I made a long-shot wish that HP might adopt Valve’s “knuckles” controllers — by far my favorite VR hand setup. That clearly didn’t happen, but the smaller redesign still opens a door to improvement across the entire Windows Mixed Reality lineup.
HP teased its new headset around the launch of Half-Life: Alyx, signaling that it would pitch a consumer design in contrast to the industry-oriented Reverb. “The primary goal of this was to develop the best immersive gaming experience,” said John Ludwig, HP’s lead product manager for VR. “However, the wants between your typical commercial customer and your typical gamer don’t tend to be very different.” That means it won’t be introducing a specialized professional version of the headset, although you can get optional features like a shortened cable for a VR backpack — something that home users probably won’t have but arcades and simulators might.
HP will continue selling to professional clients, but right now, it’s apparently serving an audience that’s demanding VR headsets and having trouble finding them due to supply chain problems. Ludwig says preorders are opening early so HP can gauge demand and have enough stock at launch.
HP originally described the Reverb as a “no-compromise” headset, but its pitch appears to be compromise — in a positive way. It distinguishes itself from the often-generic Mixed Reality lineup with above-average resolution and speakers, while supposedly improving the original Reverb’s biggest drawbacks, like its limited tracking cameras and muddy screen. (While it’s slightly heavier now, it’s also got redesigned ergonomics, with added front padding that could take pressure off the face.) It doesn’t try to outdo the Index’s field of view or controller design, but it’s significantly cheaper and its inside-out camera setup is more user-friendly.
Conversely, the G2 doesn’t try to beat the $399 Oculus Rift S price, but it includes features like a manual slider to adjust the distance between lenses, something that the Rift S sorely lacked. It’s comparable to the HTC Vive Cosmos, but the Cosmos made some early missteps that the Reverb might avoid, including bad tracking and confusing software.
We won’t see the Reverb until later this year, so we can’t judge important factors like comfort or practical image and tracking quality. But Windows Mixed Reality’s VR headset lineup seemed practically in stasis a few months ago. The Reverb looks like a promising attempt to revive it — and add more options for frustrated would-be headset buyers.