HP's latest virtual reality headset relies on IQ and stays away from external cameras.
It has taken a little patience over the last few months for pre-ordering users to be able to enjoy the HP Reverb G2, the VR headset that combines the expertise of a pure hardware manufacturer with the support by both Valve and Microsoft. With these partners, the new model is trying to convey a more gaming-oriented attitude, as its previous iteration carried the label of being designed for professional use, even though it was pretty capable for games. And now that the pro segment is covered by the impressive G2 Omnicept, we've spent a couple of weeks with the base Reverb G2 to see what it has to captivate a player and if it delivers on the promising picture resolution.
Design and ergonomics
Black is the colour chosen by a design and sales team that has put a lot of effort into making this eye catching. The very tight and tidy packaging unveils a VR helmet that convinces at first sight. The building materials, including plastic, fabric, and foam, are resistant and convey a sense of quality, which is the least you'd demand from a 700-euro device. They've avoided manual buttons and ports as much as possible so that the presentation remains clean, and only the rail to adjust the interpupillary distance (IPD) is shown underneath.
There's a neat touch in how protective foam sticks to the lenses by means of magnets. In between there's a tiny space to connect the cable so it stays integrated, but the ability to remove it after every playing session keeps everything tidied up. This is useful as, unfortunately, the wiring keeps posing a minor problem: not only does the headset ask for two PC connections (DisplayPort and USB C); from its tiny commutator a third, A/C cable plugs to an outlet to power everything up, which tangles everything up a tad more. On the brighter side - I can't tell if it's thanks to that space in between or to the materials - it doesn't expel as much heat on your face compared to other units.
And it really, really is light and comfortable. The HP Reverb G2 is the VR headset that I felt best with while playing from all the many models I've tried out so far. The three straps might look like the ones found on other units, but the weight balance is multiple times better, and doesn't push that much against your skull, as there's no lever effect. At ear height you'll find the somewhat-retro-looking earphones, which can rotate 90 degrees to fit most needs and which function extraordinarily well.
Vision and sound
The biggest selling point here lies in the two LCD panels, which sport a resolution of 2160 x 2160 per eye and 90 Hz refresh rate, as with those specs, together with the raw power of a competent PC, you'd expect it to output the very best virtual reality picture possible. And it actually does, no doubt about it, to a level that virtual walks through natural environments feel quite credible and that videogame' presentation seems comparable to that on an HD TV. The reduction of the screen-door effect is rather noticeable and welcomed, while glaring didn't pose major problems - even if it's still there.
The issue here is that it struggles a bit to keep that IQ. The sweet spot - that space at the centre of the screen displaying the crisper picture - is relatively small; and as the contrast to the lower-res surrounding is so pronounced, it creates a "tunnel" effect that makes you want to look straight at all times, instead of using the full width and height. That being said, the field of view isn't excessively wide either, perhaps due to the aforementioned space between eye and lens, which adds other benefits.
On the audio offering, we traditionally tiptoe through it when talking about VR headsets as it's taken for granted that you'll get a much better surround immersion with some better headphones plugged to the unit. However, we have to make an exception with the Reverb G2. The volume, clarity, and bass in the integrated Spatial Audio earphones more than do the job to play and enjoy a game. They won't isolate you from external noise - which is obvious given the design - but the directional audio is so good that it won't bother other people in the room, say if they're watching TV two meters from you.
Controllers and tracking
As explained so far, the headset HP has put in the market means a leap compared to other devices in recent years in terms of comfort, weight and audio & video quality. The pity is, then, that the remaining components haven't evolved together in this generational shift.
The movement is tracked by the inside-out cameras and the sensors integrated within the headset itself and into the controllers (so forget about external cameras or additional wiring). The behaviour of the former is good enough, as it stays with you swiftly when you change position, both turning and movement wise. Hitting the dirt on Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, for example, is quickly replicated. Perhaps it's a little bit too enthusiastic, though, which is transformed into an awkward "camera shake," which you can perfectly notice in our soon-to-be-published gameplay clips.
However, the Reverb G2 controllers are just a mess. Other than looking pretty bad, which is the norm in the VR field, both the face buttons layout and the position of the ring are troublesome, and the worse part is the tracking itself. I dislike pretty much everything about those buttons: they're too tiny, too uncomfortable to press, and too weirdly placed; the finger that should have A and X at hand actually lands closer to the menu button, which causes more than one unwitting press when you hold it tightly for motion controls. Playing Beat Saber has been a complete odyssey for the wrong reasons, and I consider myself a good player who scores high on expert. Besides, the rings are far too big and lean to the central area, so you'll see your hands collide quite often.
The tracking issue is more serious as it actually impacts the gaming appeal of the device all in all. The response when hands are placed before your chest or face is good enough, but as soon as you open them it loses track and when it gets back, it's kind of abrupt, which is visually annoying. In genres such as shooters, sports, dancing... moving your arms towards your hips or back is more and more common in VR, so this is just unacceptable. HP just needs to release a new iteration or to fix it sooner rather than later.
Software and games
In regards to the device's capability, though, there are no complaints, as it's more than ready to run any game or application at maximum resolution and in such as smooth way that it actually dwindles the chance of motion sickness. The visual quality in games such as the aforementioned Medal of Honor, or when you watch a series episode or a movie at HD-like resolution, is just really enjoyable. It's also demanding in terms of your rig's specs, though with the HP Zbook i9 - which sported an RTX 2080 Max-Q and 32 GB of RAM - that the manufacturer lent Gamereactor for the purposes of this review, it ran amazingly well. I've heard about compatibility issues, so you better take a good look at the requirements.
What HP doesn't offer, and it's not its area of expertise either, is an accompanying infrastructure, which makes the experience more manageable for the inexperienced user. Windows Mixed Reality is still far from being a comfortable, rich, or compelling interface. It's an array of badly-adjustable windows lacking support for all sorts of native apps, as not even Netflix nor YouTube are on it. Neither is its own browser adapted, and it's presented as a floating window in a room, forcing you to somehow face it. And, I did miss a security solution such as the Guardian System...
Yes, it supports Steam VR, and whoever buys this device must jump straight into it. It's limited as it is, but at least you feel safer. And a tip or trick for those using Oculus: thanks to the Revive app, you can launch all your Rift S catalogue on Reverb G2 without paying twice for the same apps, and you're up in running in like five minutes. It's by these two means that you get to squeeze more gaming value out of this headset.
HP has placed a big bet on achieving a combination that, for now, feels stranded: a PC VR headset offering both maximum quality and inside-out tracking without external sensors. The experiment came out quite unbalanced. The Reverb G2 manages to output some excellent image quality when everything works flawlessly, with TV-like sharpness and a smoothness that makes it bearable above average. Besides, it's comfortable and stays safe when you wear it. However, the field of view is somewhat reduced and there's a problem with those subpar controllers. If they improve them, it'll be an outstanding package, but so far only the headset is.
8 / 10
Maximum IQ is brutal. Very comfortable, soft, and tight. Best integrated earphones in VR.
Controllers are a mess in both design and tracking. Reduced sweet FOV.