Dell Visor hands-on review: VR meets MR in this impressive £350 kit

Update 14.09.2017: The Dell Visor, Dell’s mixed reality headset, is now available to preorder from Dell’s website and PC World in the UK ahead of its 17 October release date.

Prices start at £358 and, from October, the headset will additionally be on sale from Microsoft, and Best Buy in the US. 

The headset is sleek and stylish, with gorgeous white contours, complemented by the black handheld controllers. The flip-up visor is engineered for convenient transitions, but it’s a cool sensation just raising and lowering it, like a sleek pair of Ray-Bans.

The Dell Visor is a curious beast. Is it competing with Microsoft’s HoloLens, Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, or both? The answer is kind of moot: when it costs just £350, it undercuts both, even when you factor in the extra £100 for controllers.

But before we get any further, let’s talk acronyms. In the race to escape the real world, there are three ways you can engage in technological escapism: VR, AR and MR. You can read more about them in our explainer, but in short the former is a 100% digital world, while the latter two merely borrow digital elements to drop into a digitised version of your real environment.

READ NEXT: What is mixed reality?

 The Dell Visor does both virtual reality (think Oculus Rift) and mixed reality (think HoloLens). Slip the Dell Visor over your face and your eyes will be tricked into thinking you’re either in a completely different world, or the same world with added elements. Both have their place, but if you can get both in a single device, then why wouldn’t you if the price is right?[gallery:2]

At IFA 2017, we got the chance to go hands on with the Dell Visor, and early impressions are really positive. While you may quibble with the usefulness of VR and MR, the implementation here is definitely sound. The Dell Visor is lightweight and fits comfortably around the head, with plenty of space inside for those who need glasses – something that current devices frequently overlook.

READ NEXT: IFA 2017 highlights

Theoretically, this means the Dell Visor can do everything that the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift can, but it all comes down to software support. If VR continues to go down its cul-de-sac of format exclusives, it’s hard to see the late-coming Dell Visor putting up much of a fight. If things get more open, there would be no reason not to plump for this one – especially as it has the HoloLens trick as well.[gallery:4]

The Dell Visor has inside-out tracking cameras, like the £3,000 HoloLens and ASUS’s new Windows Mixed Reality Headset. What this means, in practice, is that the headset can scan the room you’re in and drop it in a virtual world, meaning it can overlay useful information or objects into the room to interact with.  As you’d imagine for a device that’s significantly cheaper, room tracking isn’t as comprehensive, but that’s a sacrifice we’d imagine most people are willing to make.

The problem, perhaps, is that the Dell Visor has already been undercut by Acer’s stab at MR, reviewed here by our sister site Expert Reviews, which will be available for £275. Dell’s trump card is the external controllers, which offer six-degrees of movement in the virtual space tracked by the headset itself without the need for messy external sensors. The problem? They’re an extra £100.[gallery:5]

At that point, you’re hitting the price of the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers, which recently had a price cut. You don’t get the mixed reality element, of course, but that’s an even less proven technology than VR, so all bets are off.

This makes our early impressions of the Dell Visor a little more qualified: it looks great, but at a price where it’s that bit more expensive than it’s almost-as-good rivals. There’s very little to choose between devices that are rapidly coming down in price. That’s bad news for the companies behind them, but great news for consumers who will soon be spoilt for choice. If the cross-platform support is there, then the Dell Visor and its MR brethren may just give the format the kickstart it needs. 

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