I received the Lenovo Explorer as part of the Lenovo INsiders program. All opinions are my own.
I have been excited about the Lenovo Explorer ever since last spring, when I heard it was coming. I have tried a HoloLens before, which looked amazing. So I was hoping that Microsoft’s Mixed Reality platform coupled with the headset from Lenovo will live up to the hype and expectations.
While not following VR development very closely, it has been a technology that I have been interested in for a long time. I remember playing a game called Hexen in a VR headset some twenty years ago. VR headsets never took off then, it took a good 20 years for them to become widely available and adopted.
The Lenovo Explorer came in a large box. Despite the size it was light. Most of it was foam padding to keep the devices safe inside. I have been using the box for storing the devices as well. There are three devices inside: the headset itself and two motion controllers. While you should be able to find a box without the motion controllers (for a cheaper price), do yourself a favor and get the motion controllers right away!
You need a free HDMI and USB3 port to connect the Lenovo Explorer to your computer. The Lenovo Explorer does not include headphones or speakers – you will need to connect your own.
You also need fairly recent video drivers that support the newest Windows Driver Model (WDDM). I first tried the Lenovo Explorer on a ThinkPad X1 Yoga (2nd gen), and I needed to manually update the video drivers for it to work.
There is a helper app that anyone can download: Windows Mixed Reality PC Check. It is available from the Windows Store. This will tell you if your computer is compatible. At least when I used it, the tool was a little misleading. It told my PC is not compatible and suggested to look at a list of supported computers. Looking at the requirements more closely, the tool did tell me that my graphics driver was the reason for the incompatibility – which was fixed by updating it. So don’t rush out buying a new PC just yet, whatever the PC Check tool tells you! 😊
(If you have a PC with a 7th gen Intel CPU, you should be able to use the Lenovo Explorer)
Setting things up
The first time you need some time to set up Windows Mixed Reality.
First of all, you need the Fall Creators Update for Windows 10. If you do not have that installed, that will take a while. Then, when you plug in the Lenovo Explorer, Windows will install the Windows Mixed Reality bits, which again take some time. And finally, you will need to setup the experience itself. For example, you will walk around the perimeter of your “play area”. Windows Mixed Reality will be able to tell you when you are close to the edge – so you don’t bump into a wall or walk into your sofa.
After the lengthy setup experience, it was finally time to enter Mixed Reality. And I was very surprised at what I saw. The experience left me breathless. It felt so real, and it fooled my brain completely. I was so amazed by what I saw, I just had to have more. And unfortunately, I did not have a gaming PC around the house, just business machines for doing programming and work.
So not soon after I tried it for the first time, I placed an order for a Lenovo Legion Y520 gaming notebook. This allows me to run SteamVR and experience even better graphics with the Lenovo Explorer.
So how is VR?
First off, it is better than anything I could have imagined. It feels real, and it fools my brain completely. It is also very frightening when you watch something scary. And I mean scary to the point of screaming or yelling as you get frightened.
Head tracking is very precise with the Lenovo Explorer. It was following all my movements very precisely. You can look around, even walk around, lean forward and backward, and what you see follows your movements perfectly.
The motion controllers felt a little weird at first, but I got used to them pretty quickly. The headset feels comfortable to wear, and not heavy or disturbing even for longer stretches. The edges have a foam padding where it sits against your head. This does not close up all gaps 100% on all sides (depending on the shape of your head), and some light might leak in from the sides.
The resolution of the display is 2880x1400, so quite high in my opinion. But you have to adjust the headset tight into your forehead, or you will experience some blur in parts of the image. But when you find the ideal position, the visuals look really great. Plug in headphones, and the immersion is complete!
It is very difficult to describe with words, how VR feels like or what it looks like. You really have to see it to believe it – which is why I have been showing it to as many persons as I possibly can. I will share some of their opinions later.
Windows Mixed Reality
Windows Mixed Reality places you in the Cliff House, a virtual open house you are free to look and move around. On the walls, on the floor, or just about anywhere, you can place shortcuts for the various apps you want to launch. You can also download more content from the Windows Store. Like Jaunt VR.
Jaunt VR can be used to view 3D / 360 degree videos. Which means you will be at the center of action. You can look in any direction around you. And the action unfolds around you, regardless of where you look. There are different kinds of videos to explore. Visit a Star Wars scene as it was filmed. Look one way, and you can experience how the actors acted out the scene. Look in the other direction to observe what the film crew was doing. Or maybe visit exotic locations? Movie trailers and experiences look really cool as well. Join a band on stage as they are performing for the audience. The experience is very immersive.
There are other movie players to explore and various short movies to look at. But what if you want to try yourself at something more interactive? Jump into Minecraft.
You might have played Minecraft before, but I guarantee you it was nothing like the VR version. You can choose from two playing modes: either you look at a giant “virtual” screen on which you play, or you can turn on full immersion, when you see the action from a first-person perspective. But be warned, almost all people I gave the headset to experienced some form of motion sickness. Your brain does not like to be fooled this way: seeing motion but feeling none of it with the other senses.
If your PC is capable of gaming graphics, you can jump into SteamVR and try some VR experiences or games there.
To start with, there are different environments that you can explore. For example, you can walk on a beach in Hawaii, or explore the shore of the Themes River near the Tower Bridge. Or why not hop into a virtual boxing rink and hit it out with a robot opponent – if boxing is your thing, that is.
Valve also created a Steam game called The Lab, which is a VR “demo” of sorts. These are small little environments or mini games that you can check out, and that showcase what VR is capable of. Take a walk in Iceland for example, with a robot dog. You can find some branches in the grass, and you can pick them up using the motion controllers. Throw them away and your little robot dog will go and fetch it for you. Shoot with a giant mechanic slingshot to destroy as many crates in the warehouse as possible. Take up a bow and shoot opponents with arrows. Or just walk around a model of our solar system.
My opinion of VR
I think VR is in its infancy at the moment. But I feel a tremendous opportunity and possibility in it. I have no doubt this will be incorporated into education and entertainment in the future. The very near future, possibly. But we are not quite there yet. The content I tried is certainly exciting, but I do feel it leans towards the “show you what VR is” category, and not giving you coherent, big experiences. I will admit that I have to try my hands at some full games, but I had not had any time for that yet.
That said, the Lenovo Explorer is wonderful piece of hardware that will keep you (and possibly your family and friends) entertained for many hours. You will not need a very special PC to take advantage of it and experience VR for yourself. Only if you want to do more serious graphics / gaming will you need more powerful hardware for it.
I showed the Lenovo Explorer to many others. Most did not expect such a good experience. So good head tracking and immersion were common comments. Some screamed (I showed them scary things, but nobody minded), and everyone had fun.
Here are some comments from other users.
“The resolution of the graphics could have been a bit higher, but it was good enough to be immersed in the experience. Even though moving around is mostly carried out by using the motion controllers, the overall experience felt surprisingly authentic. After a while and a couple of accidental clicks the motion controllers felt pretty natural to use. Jumping around in Minecraft induced quite authentic feelings of fearing heights. I noticed my palms were actually getting sweaty at some point. “
“Lenovo Explorer surprised me by it’s high quality and how good and well thought out device it is. Moving around in the virtual world and playing felt natural and there were no technical issues or difficulty with controlling [the experience]. During my short testing I was left with the impression that I could play more with it. The only thing I might complain about is better resolution and in some darker places contrast was not that good. All in all, a very good VR device.”
“I have not tried a VR device before, and the experience was awesome. Immersion was stronger than I could have imagined beforehand, especially with the headphones blocking out outside noises. Before trying them I was suspicious about the motion controllers, and how they can be used in the virtual world, but having tried them, the usability was good. I immediately felt sick as soon as my mind thought I should be moving but I was just standing still. I wonder if you can get rid of this problem [Motion sickness] somehow. A very good test, and I look forward to testing a real game on it as well.”
Have a question about the Lenovo Explorer? Post it in our community here.