Holidays are always the best time to see the good and bad of tech, I feel. Most people come together bringing friends and family of different ages, tech skills, and interests all around a table or a sofa. If your family is anything like ours, playing games is a big part of what the holidays are all about. Of course, nowadays with games often comes technology and professional hazard gets me to look more at the dynamic of tech games than playing the game.
Over Christmas I was testing one of the new Windows Mixed Reality (MR) Headsets, and I loved not having to set up any sensors around the room. I was very much looking forward to the plug and play experience, but alas that was not meant to be.
The Out of the Box Experience
Instant gratification was not what I got. My first attempt at using the headset failed because the PC I was using, running the latest Windows 10 software needed an update for Mixed Reality, the installation of which took over an hour. My second attempt failed because the USBC to HDMI adapter I had was not working correctly. Three days in and I finally got to set up the headset and the perimeter to play in, which was pretty straightforward and painless as was connecting the controllers. The problem was maintaining those connections. Quite a few times the controllers were lost and had to be turned off and back on.
I don’t want to comment on the connectivity part as I have not compared across devices yet, but the out of box experience must be better. If the MR part of the software is not going to just be added as part of a regular Window 10 update to all PCs, then new MR users should be warned that a lengthy software installation is necessary before the fun commences. Vendors should also be clear as to what adapters are needed. Assuming I will use my brand-new MR headset with a PC of the same brand might not be the best assumption to make. I might have bought the Lenovo Explorer – the headset I was testing – because of the reviews but be a Dell PC user, for instance. The degree of my delight might determine if I will switch brands on my next PC purchase. Any opportunity a brand has to delight the customer has to be taken in the current market where brands are looking at building loyalty through multi-device experiences.
Having tried MR before I was familiar with Windows Mixed Reality Cliff House and how to move around in it, but it was no problem at all for my daughter to figure out what to do with the controllers as the initial set up just walked her through teleporting and other actions. The initial excitement of the Cliff House wore off when it became the place you went back to whenever a game malfunctioned or a connection was lost. This cool new home started to feel more like Monopoly’s Jail space. The nice open space design also made it a little difficult to place “windows” around the house as there are not many useful walls to hang them to so you end up with these random “screens” in the middle of the lawn or floor.
My Cliff House was empty of content, so I had to go and find something which was not that easy. Navigating through the headset although straightforward was cumbersome due to the controllers. I ended up just taking the headset off to find the content. This was the other step that impacted instant gratification as downloading three apps took a long time given their size and despite being in a home with decent broadband. On a positive side, there were quite a few good deals on some more pricey apps. Maybe because of the delay I had already faced, I would have very much appreciated having some little experiences ready for me to try as soon as I walked through the door.
Content is also where you are reminded this is Mixed Reality and not “just” VR. Most of the time you wouldn’t know there is a difference, to be honest, but some apps that say are MR compatible are windows you can plaster your full wall in the Cliff House with but do not give you an immersive experience. Sadly, I found out the hard way after spending $19 on a Pixar app. I believe this to be a big issue and possibly the most significant driver of disappointment for users. Content must be clearly labeled so the right expectations are set on how immersive your experience will be. It is possible that with headsets with a broader field of view that big window will deliver an immersive enough experience but we are just not there yet.
Long Engagements are Still Ways Off
At a recent Mixed Reality event in San Francisco, Alex Kipman said we would soon be living in MR more than in real life. I was skeptical when I heard him say that and even more now that I saw my kid play with MR. I have a child, who, like most gen Z kids, can spend hours glued to a screen yet 30 minutes wearing a headset were enough for her. This gave me pause and made me conclude that it is one thing to get lost in a screen but still be able to see and hear what is going around you and a totally different one to be forced out of your world entirely to enter another. This is ultimately why I remain much more bullish on AR than VR.
While MR headsets were available in time for the holidays, I expect sales would have been limited both in numbers and target audience. Testing a device comes with the understanding that being one of the first means we get more than a fair share of “kinks.” It also means we are likely to soldier through more than an average consumer is prepared to face, especially when they paid good money for the device. Luckily, all the hiccups I experienced are easily fixed with a mix of communication, marketing, and second gen products which will hit the market in 2018.