Lenovo's VR HMD, Such As It Is

We fully expect to see a smattering of VR HMDs from PC makers at CES, and the first one we got a look at is a yet-unnamed model from Lenovo. It’s just a non-functional prototype for now, with a working title of “Lenovo VR Headset.” However, in our conversation with Lenovo about the HMD, it’s clear that the company is not merely taking a set of recommended specs from Intel and Microsoft. It’s working through a variety of ideas, issues, and costs to develop the headset that it thinks will be ideal, within the bounds of the specifications that Intel and Microsoft have outlined.

The Design

Lenovo’s HMD feels remarkably lightweight (it's about 350g) and comfortable, and it accommodated my glasses as well or better than any HMD I’ve worn. It has a headband that’s similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens, with a dial at the back that loosens or tightens for an ideal fit. The entire front assembly actually flips up, so you can pause what you’re doing and look down without having to take the entire thing off your head.

It seems that Lenovo is working hard on the industrial and ergonomic design of the device, and so far, the company is doing a fine job on that front.

What We Know

The specs list for the HMD is woefully incomplete, but that’s because Lenovo has not yet determined what they will be. We do know, though, that it offers 1440 x 1440 resolution per eye with an OLED display. That puts it towards the top end of the range of specifications for the new HMDs in that regard.

The interface requires a two-cable solution: there’s a standard USB connector and an HMDI connector at the end of a (rather short) cable. There’s also an audio jack, which means that this HMD won’t have built-in headphones. We’re unsure if that means there will be an integrated mic array or not. (Microsoft “strongly” recommends one.)

It will come with at least an Xbox controller, although there are other options Lenovo may choose to employ. For example, a representative noted that joystick controllers will likely be a common input device with these HMDs, so it stands to reason that Lenovo may have one of those. However, it seemed as though that part of the equation was unsettled just yet, so we consider the input tool options for Lenovo’s HMD to be wide open (beyond the gamepad).

Most importantly, we know that this will be a merged reality device with inside-out tracking, because it has a two-camera assembly on the front.  

Finally, we know that Lenovo is shooting for a price tag of under $400, although a rep noted that they’re working to get it down to as close as possible to the $300 baseline price point that Intel and Microsoft spelled out for these HMDs.

Price is going to be a delicate balancing act, and it will be intriguing to see how OEMs sort it out. We’re told that Microsoft’s advice to OEMs is to target a package (PC plus HMD) of no more than $1,000. Doing a little math, that means a PC that goes along with this HMD should be around $600.

What We Don’t Know

Even given the above, there are, of course, lingering questions. We don’t know anything about the refresh rate or field of view, and there’s no word on the lens type.

Beyond acknowledging that the device has a two-camera system for merged reality and inside-out tracking, Lenovo had no further details. For example, we don’t know if there are IR sensors--all we really know is that it’s not a version of Intel’s new RealSense camera, which will be deployed on Intel’s own Project Alloy HMD.

Of course, the device will have an IMU of some kind, but Lenovo wouldn’t even cop to its existence, let alone offer any details on it. (The only way it wouldn’t have one is if Lenovo used sensor fusion, which seems less than ideal on such a pricey item.)

It’s also worth noting again that this was not a working prototype, but a mockup.

We expect to see more of these HMDs during our week at CES; whether or not any of them are working remains to be seen.

  • Jeff Fx
    If the user has to use a gamepad or joystick, they've failed to produce a 21st century VR system. Gamepad VR was available decades ago. It's not 21st century VR if you don't have tracked controllers.
  • djtrik
    I disagree with the 21st century VR system comment. The graphics and resolution have increased dramatically since the earlier versions. Some people like myself are simply looking for an immersive visual experience but on a decent budget. Tracked controllers and additional sensors become costly. Tracked controllers can become a hindrance in-game as well on a lot of platforms we're used to. Take for example an FPS - you have to spin around a lot to watch your back and spinning causes dizziness real quickly in VR. Then you're also talking about different gun types - pistols, rifles, etc. How would you hold them? Do you really want to purchase multiple devices to get that proper simulated feel?
  • wifiburger
    sure go for it, waste money / resources to produce those to sell to 1% of pc markets see if that makes sense in the long run
  • Poozle
    @WifiBurger VR is the future ;) . Aside from that joke, it truely is coming along especially if it was at a lower price. PS4 has VR, PCs, Xbone probably will have a version soon enough, and I know tons of people including my own grandparents and parents that find this interesting even though they have no idea what a "PC", "GPU", "CPU" or any other name for anything electronic is. My point, VR will grow, and exponentially.
  • edzieba
    "Of course, the device will have an IMU of some kind, but Lenovo wouldn’t even cop to its existence, let alone offer any details on it. (The only way it wouldn’t have one is if Lenovo used sensor fusion, which seems less than ideal on such a pricey item.) "

    You have a fundamental misunderstanding on the purpose of Sensor Fusion. ALL current viable VR HMDs utilise Sensor Fusion between an IMU and a supplementary absolute positioning system (most use nIR optical, but there are RF and magnetic systems available). The LACK of Sensor Fusion would be an indication of a substandard system. This is because an IMU alone is not sufficient for accurate position tracking due to extreme drift from error accumulation (a limitation of Dead Reckoning navigation), and a commodity optical/RF/magnetic system alone is not sufficiently performant (low sample latency, high sample rate, high instantaneous sample precision).
    Quite simply: Sensor Fusion is the method of combining data from multiple sources to produce one output. If you are not using Sensor Fusion, then you are not using multiple sensors. Multiple sensors are a fundamental necessity for VR tracking today, ergo any VR HMD will either be using Sensor Fusion, or be a failure.