Pimax 5K+ M2 Pre-Production Headset: Eating GPUs for Breakfast

The first wave of the current generation of virtual reality (VR) hardware hit the market roughly two-and-a-half years ago, and those headsets have served the early adopters well. But their time is running out. The second generation of VR headsets should be just around the corner, and Pimax wants to be at the forefront of that next era of consumer VR with its ultra-wide Pimax 8K and Pimax 5K headsets. Many people are banking on the success of the company, including thousands of Kickstarter backers, but we’re not so sure that Pimax’s headsets are true second generation devices. The Pimax 5K+ feels more like a mid-generation upgrade.

Last September, Pimax gained worldwide attention when it launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the final stages of development of an ambitious ultra-wide, high-resolution VR headset called the Pimax 8K. In two short months, Pimax’s campaign eclipsed Oculus’s Rift DK1 Kickstarter,to become the highest grossing VR project on the crowdfunding platform. Following the fundraiser, Pimax had no fewer than 5,946 fans with money on the line and many people rooting for stronger competition in the headset market.

The Pimax 8K, a 200-degree field of view (FOV) dual 4K display headset was supposed to be the first “next-generation” VR headset, and it was supposed to arrive in January 2018. However, Pimax’s ambition was greater than the company’s ability to realize its vision, and it ran into several setbacks that triggered cascading delays.

We had a chance to test an early prototype of the Pimax 8K before the Kickstarter campaign ended, and while the company clearly had work to do, we were satisfied with the early stage of development. But in January, the company’s progress seemed to have taken a step back. Following harsh criticism from CES attendees, Pimax went back to the drawing board and redesigned its lenses for better image clarity. It took Pimax three more attempts to get to the final design we see today.

Even now, the company has more than lens issues to surmount. The Pimax headsets are nice for enthusiasts who will appreciate the wider FOV, but the company isn't going to put HTC and Oculus out of business any time soon. We don’t yet have a production model of the Pimax 8K, but the company sent a pre-production Pimax 5K+ M2 headset to evaluate. Let’s take a look.

Pimax 5K+ M2 VR Headset 

Our Pimax 5K+ sample is an early, hand-built, pre-production version, so the fit and finish may not represent exactly what customers would receive. But the M2 model is otherwise identical to the production model that backers should receive this fall and customers would receive next year.

The Pimax 5K+ is the largest headset that we’ve ever tested in our VR lab. It measures roughly 11.5 inches wide and 3.75 inches tall. For such a large headset, it has a surprisingly short depth of approximately 4.5 inches on the sides and 3.5 inches in the center. Despite the large stature, the Pimax 5K+ headset tips the scales at just 514g, which is just 15 grams heavier than an Oculus Rift, which is less than half its size.

The Pimax headset features a simplistic exterior design with smooth plastic sides and an angular shape. Most of the headset is black, except for a large blue chevron that stretches across the front panel and lights up when the headset is plugged in.

The device includes a power button, which is located on the upper-right side of the visor, but the button doesn’t disable the chevron light. Instead, it controls power to the screens inside the headset. Next to the power button you’ll find two arrow buttons that control the sound levels. The headset doesn’t include built-in speakers, but you can plug in headphones or a gaming headset via the headphone jack, which is located directly below the left head strap hinge.

The Pimax 5K+ comes with a basic fabric 3-point head strap, which includes three pieces of Velcro to route the tether cable to the back of your head. We prefer mechanical head straps, and Kickstarter backers will eventually get a mechanical strap with built-in headphones as a stretch goal, but the base model will just include the fabric strap.

Pimax’s hinge design is simple and clever. The clips that hold the head strap don’t require any force to attach. But, they can’t slip out unintentionally because they're locked into place by the removable facial interface, which requires a bit of force to remove. 

The facial interface features Velcro mounting points for the foam face cushion. The foam isn’t moisture-proof, but it is of high quality. It’s denser than the HTC Vive’s face cushion and absorbs less sweat. We would still, though, recommend picking up a waterproof cushion when they become available.

The facial interface rubber also acts as a lock to hold the display cable into place. The lock prevents the cable from loosening and slipping out, though the cable fits snugly into its slot, so it's unlikely that the cable would vibrate enough to loosen. The headset end of the cable features a Mini DisplayPort interface, and the PC end of the cable includes a USB 3.0 plug and DisplayPort end. The cable also includes an inline breakout box with an AC plug for power.

Huge Lenses

The Pimax 5K+ (and 8K) have the largest lenses we've ever seen in a VR headset. The lenses are a custom Fresnel design that extends to the outer edges of the headset. They're approximately 3.5 inches across, with the primary focal area being approximately 2.5 inches. You can adjust the interpulpillary distance (IPD) of the lens spacing with a dial on the lower right corner of the headset. The IPD ranges from 55mm to 76mm. The lenses are encased in stretchy fabric, much like the Oculus Rift, which prevents dust from getting between the screen and the lenses.

Accessorize

The Pimax 5K+ headset includes two USB Type-C ports for future accessories. There is one port on the bottom of the headset for the Leap Motion accessory and a smell simulation attachment (yes, the company is working on a scent module). You’ll also find a USB-C port at the top of the visor hidden behind the face cushion, designed to support future eye-tracking modules.

Multiple Tracking Systems

The Pimax 5K+ headset includes the usual gyro and accelerometer sensors, which allow you to use the headset without external tracking equipment. However, the headset also features an array of Triad Semiconductors’ TS4231 sensors, which make it fully compatible with SteamVR and the SteamVR 1.0 and 2.0 tracking technology.

The company will eventually offer Pimax-branded Lighthouse base stations. But for now, Kickstarter backers can use the device with HTC’s existing hardware. The Pimax headsets also include wireless radios that can pair with the HTC Vive wand controllers. We strongly recommend treating the Pimax headset as an upgrade for existing Vive owners, at least until we’ve had a chance to test Pimax’s upcoming base stations and controllers.

Specifications

Display TypeCustom low persistence liquid display (CLPL)
Display SizeUndisclosed
Pixel DensityUndisclosed
Per-Eye Resolution2560x1440
Refresh Rate90Hz (DisplayPort 1.4)
FOV (HxV)170-degrees x unspecified (200-degrees diagonal)
Lens TypeCustom Fresnel
Lens Adjustment60mm to 73mm mechanical
SensorsAccelerometer, Gyro Sensor, Magnetometer, Proximity Sensor
Tracking Technology6 DOF SteamVR 2.0 Room-Scale Tracking
Integrated CameraNone
AudioHeadset Jack, integrated microphone
WirelessAvailable with future upgrade kit
HMD Ports1x Proprietary Cable (DP1.4/USB 3.0), 2x USB Type C
HMD Cable Length11" tether
Dimensions (WxHxD)~292 × ~95 x ~89 mm (visor)
Weight514g
WarrantyNo warranty on pre-production model. Retail warranty undisclosed.

Pimax PiTool Software

The Pimax 5K+ headset requires Pimax’s PiTool software to operate. The PiTool installation includes the driver that allows Windows to communicate with the headset. Without the software, the headset won’t even turn on.

The Pimax PiTool software controls operation of the headset. The primary window is a status page that shows you which devices are detected, such as the controllers and tracking base stations. If the headset is off or disconnected, the software will let you know with an error message. When the headset is operational, you should see a Start SteamVR button and a Room Setup button. And if Lighthouse tracking is enabled, you should see an option to pair your controllers.

Press the Start SteamVR button to get started. Once steam is running, press the Pair Controller button and follow the on-screen prompts which will guide you through the process. The pairing process is the same as pairing controllers to a Vive headset. First power on the controller, then when the instructions prompt you to, press and hold the power and menu buttons until the power light flashes. If the pairing process times out, try again. I had to try twice to pair one Vive controller.

Once you have your controllers paired, you’ll want to calibrate your room setup. The Pimax 5K+ headset technically supports room-scale configurations, but the software calibration process doesn’t include a room scale calibration. The current iteration of the PiTool software enables you to configure a standing-only play area that doesn’t include chaperone boundaries. If you want to use the chaperone, you must later configure it with SteamVR Room setup.

Once you have SteamVR calibrated and your controllers paired, you can begin to use the headset. However, there are a handful of software options that you should be aware of first.

Under the PiTool Settings tab, you'll find a firmware update button. It’s a good idea to update your headset with the latest firmware, especially if you are an early Kickstarter backer. Pimax is still actively improving the software, and it releases updates frequently.

The General tab on the Settings page includes a handful of general options, such as setting PiTool to launch when Windows starts, where the software minimizes to and whether Pimax VR Home should launch when you turn on the headset. Pimax Home doesn’t appear to do anything right now except eat up GPU and CPU cycles, so we disabled the option.

The HMD Settings tab also includes several options. From here you can disable the Lighthouse tracking system, which enables the headset to operate without spatial tracking and allows you to use it even if you don’t have SteamVR base stations.

The HMD Settings tab also includes an option called Hidden Area Mask, which is supposed to help with some games. But we didn't find any need to use it. It also lets you toggle an option called Compatible with Parallel Projections. During the early stages of testing the Pimax 8K M1, we toggled that setting often for game compatibility, but we haven’t found a reason to disable it recently. The option is likely there for obscure titles that may not be compatible with Pimax’s wide FOV.

When Pimax launched its Kickstarter campaign, the company announced that a GTX 1070 would be powerful enough to drive the company’s flagship 5K and 8K  headsets. Pimax had shown the prototypes operating on a gaming laptop with a GTX 1070 but in only a handful of experiences.

To truly sign off on a GPU’s ability to power a headset, it must provide acceptable performance across all titles, not just a select few games. In July, Pimax conceded that Nvidia’s GTX 1070 falls short of the Pimax 8K performance requirements. Pimax introduced new display modes that would reduce the FOV to lower the performance needs, and the company suggested that backers switch to the Pimax 5K if they don’t plan to upgrade their GPU because the 5K headset would be less demanding.

The Pimax PiTool software offers three different FOV options to enable lower-end graphics cards to work with the headset. The options include Large FOV for the full 200-degree experience, Normal FOV, which is closer to 170 degrees, and Small FOV, which is roughly 120 degrees.

The Pimax 5K+ is capable of displaying a 200-degree diagonal view, but that doesn’t mean your computer can drive that kind of experience. In early tests, Pimax discovered that it might have bitten off more than it could chew with its ultra-wide VR headset. Even the most powerful graphics cards on the market have trouble delivering smooth frame rates and consistent frame timing with two side-by-side 1440p displays at 90Hz.

The Pimax PiTool software also includes an option to adjust the rendering quality to help you dial in the performance. The default setting is 1.0x, which sends a full resolution signal to the render pipeline and into SteamVR. You can also dial it down to 0.75x and .05x, which lowers the output resolution for higher frame rates. The Rendering Quality setting plays a critical role in the clarity of your image, however. If you go lower than 1x, you will notice the visuals get blurry.

The Rendering Quality setting enables you to crank the image quality up to a maximum of 2x, which effectively doubles your output resolution. That said, don’t expect to use the supersampling options unless you have an RTX 2080 Ti in your system, unless you're willing to sacrifice frame rate for image clarity.

Playing Oculus Games in Ultra-Wide

Pimax also created a software layer that works somewhat like ReVive (software that lets you play Oculus-exclusive games on the Vive) and enables you to play Oculus exclusive content on the Pimax 5K+ or 8K headset. Pimax has not disclosed how the emulation works, but we've tested it and can confirm that it's true: You can play Oculus-exclusive titles on the Pimax headsets without using the ReVive software. The My Games tab features a list of all the VR games that you have installed on your computer and makes them accessible with a single click.

Pimax's Oculus game emulation software enables you to play Oculus games, but it's not a perfect solution. We found a handful of games that require adjustments to the controller orientation, but that shouldn't be hard for Pimax to correct with a future update.

MORE: Best Virtual Reality Headsets

MORE: All Virtual Reality Content

MORE: Virtual Reality Basics

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject
41 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • lojzemahnic
    Great preview… Thanks a lot. So RTX 2080 TI is enough to power this beast?
  • cdaked
    And what about all the distorsions?
  • computerguy72
    Carbotte waaay underestimates the visual impact of wide FOV. He seems to just be one of those people who are so used to the binocular effect that it's just an accepted drawback.

    I *tried the StarVR and the Pimax and the wide FOV effect is just dramatic. How this guy thinks that only constitutes VR 1.5 is just beyond me. Immersion is literally what VR is all about.

    Another item he really under describes is the huge sweet spot these new HMD's have. The sweet spot on these things I saw is literally bigger than the *entire view on my vive. On my Vive the sweet spot is just a small circle in my central vision.
  • lepermessiah
    Is the IPD 55mm to 76mm or 60mm to 73mm?

    Zero mention of distortion, which itself is a bizarre omission given how much concern there is around the issue.

    Very little description of image clarity and optics in general.
  • vilivili
    This reviewer hardly said anything positive.
    Wide fow and way better clarity make Pimax the number one VR equipment.
    More positive reviews are on Youtube.
  • fredrik.sjoborg
    Super strange review, did he run benchmarks and review the outside of the headset never actually trying it?
  • reptilexcq8
    Terrible review. Obviously have no idea about Pimax...saying it's gen 1.5 because it doesn't have headphone or strap shows the lack of understand of what is to come. Should never test on 1070....only a fool would do that.
  • adeel_fastian
    Great review. Its not a 2nd gen stuff like Oculus or Vive etc. Just some chinese garbage.
  • vrmaniac
    This is Gen 2 VR. Also 8k is Gen 2 because it has the same rendering 2560 x 1440 for eye. 5K+ is better. No distorsion, clarity. I think 8K+ takes the place of 8K with a new panel with the same pattern of 5K+ . And then there is 8K X with native rendering at 3840 x 2160 for eye. It will be in 2019 three years before Oculus
  • Specter0420
    Please do a test round for simulators too. I am most interested in DCS World and you will need to use the best platform with the fastest CPU, RAM, and SSD available. Even then it will require reduced, possibly minimum, graphics settings. Other flight sims to check would be IL2, X-Plane 11, P3D, and MSFSX. I am sure there are some racing sims guys out there that can chime in with some titles. Simulators, especially DCS, provide unique challenges.
  • brentjohnson
    You're last comments about supersampling on the 8k to reach max potential are incorrect. If you watch the youtube previewers you can see that even supersampling doesn't help the blur of the 8k model due to the upscaler. Also you made it sound like the Vive pro is better, which it is not.
  • lepermessiah
    Quote:
    After seeing the results of our FCAT VR analysis, we immediately wished we had an RTX 2080 Ti on our test bench.


    "Remember that GPU we told you to 'just buy?' We don't even have one!"
  • reptilexcq8
    This person shouldn't do review of VR EVER! Doesn't know what he's talking about.
  • brentjohnson
    No talk of how the Lack of an Asyncronous Spacewarp equivalent from Valve would resolve any of these problems. Please get on this Valve, we need it more than ever.
  • Heliosurge
    Folks really? This is a decent preliminary review. One if reviewing anything should check out the minimal spec.

    Testing on the 1070 vs a 2080 gives a decent range for results from low to med-hi. This is the only review using an establish recognized tool to test with. It's not clouded with zoomed confusing lense shots.

    The only detail missing is the Nvidia VR Control Panel settings. Which some of these can help with performance.

    Comparing what came in the package as it might be the basic headset sku (no earphones or deluxe head mount) as I said in regards to Oscar's review was not wrong to include.

    Wide FoV is the future of VR. But it doesn't necessarily fit completely with everyone's opinion of what makes something completely gen2 VR.

    Instead of mainly impressions we now have Hard Data that a publication like Tom's Hardware & other sites like Eurogamer & Real'o'Virtual can give vs our good Youtube testers.

    This is a good fair review Kevin!
  • hadar.milner
    Aaaah, so 3/5 for being too powerful for current GPUs? Wide FOV and high resolution not next gen enough, you demand foveated rendering now?

    So compared to the competition, can you say anything but benchmarks? What the hell is the point of this piece? Comfort? Visuals? Distortion? Colors?
    Nope, a 1080 would need to drop settings to med-low. Guess all your reviews of 4k up to this point were colors and brightness amazing, price unbelievable but you have to set 970gtx gpu on low-med settings. Two stars! Doesn't even have integrated coffee machine!
  • darrelldal
    Did you see the performance tests from the the Pimax testers? they are getting way better performance on the Pimax VR systems with a 1080ti than you guys was with a 2080......why was that?
  • prahmm
    What misleading headline!
    Of course the Pimax 5k + is hungry for performance, but even without 100% SS on Steam it delivers a better SDE than the extremely expensive Vive Pro.
  • wescotte
    Kevin, I think your benchmarks are misleading.... The 100% render target in SteamVR is not accurate for Pimax and is actually supersampling by a pretty insane amount.

    See: https://youtu.be/bcZ0CXP0qgU?t=6417

    100% is actually choosing a render target of 4814x2557 per eye (varies slightly depending on which version of PiTools you use) which is about 180% larger (on each axis) over the native input of the displays.

    So while your figures are accurate I think they might be terribly misleading to users who assume 100% is the suggested default target resolution (the real resolution has not been finalized yet) determined by Pimax. Your benchmarks at drastically lower % indicate you are doing significant subsampling/quality reduction which is not really true.... In fact those values are probably much closer to the intended default render target than 100%. Performance is not so much a lost cause as some users might initially think based on your "100%" benchmarks.

    Also, while it's true Pimax is not currently shipping with the better ergonomic strap and integrated audio those features are coming soon. As is an eye tracking module which all Kickstarter backers are receiving free.... I think you really should include that detail as without it in seems to imply Pimax has no desire to provide a polished VR experience like it's competitors.
  • Lucky_SLS
    I expected to see skyrim VR in this review. Welp...