I’ve already given some preliminary thoughts on the Mirage Solo, but now that I’ve had a chance to work with one, I wanted to provide a verdict.
I previously criticized the Mirage Solo for being uncomfortable compared to the Oculus Go. This turns out to be a fairly personal thing. The difference is in the facial interface. My nose protrudes far enough that the Mirage Solo’s nose cutout digs into the top of my nose about midway down. This prevents me from tightening the headset sufficiently against my face to prevent it wobbling. Said wobbling creates the same motion sickness side effects as high latency or poor tracking would.
My wife on the other hand found the headset extremely comfortable. She has a wider face and a flatter nose than I do. This is going to be a difficult problem for industrial designers going forward. My wife often has trouble with the fit of eyeglasses and snorkel masks. Companies will need to start offering multiple facial interfaces for their devices to cater to the widest possible audience. Even the dreamed-of “sunglasses” form factor might not work for everyone.
Overall the design of the device is just OK. The lack of built-in headphones is a severe oversight, especially given the comparison to Oculus Go’s magical hidden speakers. Having to fiddle with wired headphones adds just a bit of friction to what should be a seamless user experience.
In my previous article, I noted that I was not able to experience the headset’s position tracking capability at VRLA because it was completely defeated by the reflective concrete floor of the convention center.
At home, it worked stunningly well.
By default, you are limited to a tiny tracking area. Move outside of the zone, and your world turns into a gray fog. This is frankly terrible, and I think a far too conservative choice on Google’s part. It is a defensible decision though, given the limitations of the system. Google WorldSense tracking doesn’t do any kind of environment mapping, so its tracking is relative to the last starting or “reset” position, or the last point in space at which tracking was lost. As a result, there is no facility for setting up “chaperone” boundaries the way you can on Oculus Rift, SteamVR, or Windows Mixed Reality.
It is easy to turn off the safety system though and unlock unlimited tracking. The process for activating developer mode is the same as for any Android device. Once developer mode is active, there will be an option to turn it off. That makes the Mirage Solo into a really amazing device, because you can track yourself walking over an essentially unlimited area. Having that kind of freedom in VR is absolutely intoxicating.
It quickly became clear that some sort of boundary is needed however. As the tracking isn’t perfectly reliable there is a tendency for drift or skip steps due to lost tracking. The result is that twice I took off the headset to find myself unexpectedly near a set of stairs. I was being careful too, checking my position periodically, watching my feet through the gap in the bottom of the mask, and not wearing headphones. For full immersion, you’ll need a safe area and a physical human chaperone to keep you from hurting yourself.
The Great Outdoors
Of course, just wandering around a small room is not going to demonstrate the full capability here. So I took the Unity Survival Shooter demo and VR-ified it (VRCade used Survival Shooter as the basis for an early demo, so I knew it would be pretty fun in VR). Here’s what happened:
It was really fun, and a great workout as I was breaking into a full run to escape at some points.
There were some interesting observations to be made about the tracking. The Mirage Solo (and the Vive Focus) have the tracking cameras mounted directly in front and in line with your eyes. This could perhaps in the future enable some pass-through augmented reality, but the downside is that outdoors, tracking becomes fairly unreliable. In order to get decent tracking I had to angle the headset down slightly so that the cameras could see the grass in front of me. If they were pointed more than a few degrees above the horizon WorldSense would immediately stop tracking.
I also found that while a wide grass field worked OK, dirt didn’t work at all. I tried a baseball diamond and a smaller field surrounded by trees, but tracking barely worked in either case. Apparently foliage and chain link fences do not make good tracking targets. Lighting was important too; it worked best at high noon.
If you look at images of Oculus Santa Cruz, you’ll see that two of the tracking cameras are angled 45 degrees downward, which I suspect will lead to much more reliable tracking when users start craning their neck to look above them.
It turns out to be straightforward run standard 2D Android apps. To install them you need to visit the Google Play store in a browser. A drop-down allows you to send an app to one of your signed in devices. Select the Mirage Solo from the list, and the Solo will automatically download the app. It won’t show up in the 3D Launcher, but you can select it from the Applications list in the settings app.
This is nice because it allows for running any app in theater mode. I was able to run Steam Link and play Civilization VI with the Daydream controller, and it worked surprisingly well. Unfortunately, “surprisingly well” is not the same as “good enough”. I would not recommend buying the headset for that feature. It might make more sense for a video app like HBO Go, but the hoops you have to jump through to launch the app will hold it back a bit.
I like the Mirage Solo a lot. With tracking fully enabled, it’s a ton of fun to play with it. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s really ready for consumers yet, and at $400 it doesn’t make sense next to the $200 Oculus Go, which feels like a more fully fleshed out product thanks to its better content library and slick onboarding experience.
If you’re a developer and you have $400 of play money, then go ahead and get it. Releasing apps for it won’t earn you enough money to justify the effort, and you’ll abandon it for greener pastures the moment that Oculus makes Santa Cruz available. Yet the taste of unbounded virtual reality is sweet and you may be inspired to think outside the room-scale box we’ve been living in for a couple of years now.