Here is our full review of the Pimax 4K VR headset which is available now and offers a budget entry into virtual reality experiences.
Today we’re taking a look at the Pimax 4K VR headset which has been manufactured predominantly for the Chinese market but has seen a western release. You can buy them from places like Amazon and the Pimax official website also ships outside of China. The official Pimax website has the 4K listed at $399 USD but you can purchase them brand new cheaper elsewhere. In the UK for example, you can snag one for £269. Pricing and availability aside let’s get a few things straight before we cast judgement on what is effectively a budget VR device.
First things first, unlike the recently released Oculus GO the 4K needs to be tethered to a reasonably powerful PC or Laptop in the same way the Oculus Rift does. So this could be a costly additional expense should you need to either upgrade an existing PC or dive in and get one new. Secondly, the 4K does not have any external sensors or controllers for tracking which in real terms means using an Xbox One gamepad or similar. Movement is restricted to being able to turn one’s head to look around but no body or hand movements. This immediately puts it at a disadvantage when compared to the Rift, Vive and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, however it’s not all doom and gloom.
The Pimax 4K boasts a resolution of 3840×2160 from its custom LCD screens which translates to 1920×2160 per eye. That puts it above the competition. The 4K runs well with Steam VR but also has its own Piplay software as a hub for tweaking settings, launching games, apps and video experiences. Interestingly, you have to manually swap between two viewing modes when either playing VR apps or movie viewing which is a simple one button press process, but unusual that this isn’t automated.
So, let’s break it down starting with the device itself. Upon setting up which is relatively easy after the software installation and connecting to a HDMI port on the graphics card and a USB slot, you have two options to either attach the included over ear headphones (which are actually quite good) or ignore them and use your own. I will say that putting the 4K on and off ones head is made more cumbersome having the headphones attached, but this is something you learn to work with.
The 4K weight is not bad and feels lighter than the Rift for example thanks to a smaller cable that dangles from the right side of the display and if you have removed the headphones and perhaps opt for ear buds instead. Either way, it’s not heavy and rests reasonably comfortable on the face. The face foam is fairly soft but when pressed against the face can dig in a little depending on your face shape. It’s certainly recommended using a third-party cushioned solution if you suffer from itchy or sweaty face. In general with the straps at the back pulling the weight off you face it can be configured to be quite comfortable. Some people might struggle with pressure on the nose but there is no light bleed from this area which is good. Obviously comfort is subjective but in this case with a bit of adjustment you can get a decent fit.
Moving on and looking at the displays this is where the 4K can run into some serious problems. The Piplay software allows for IPD adjustment but this can be ineffective depending on your eyes. I found that no matter what setting was used I could not focus in the center of the display whereas the edges looked fine and crisp. There is a reason for this based on the Chinese demographic and nearsightedness or Myopia giving it its technical name; something which is apparently common amongst the Chinese demographic. After lots of fiddling and questions asked on the official forums, the solution for me was to purchase some cheap throwaway 1.5x reading glasses which fixed the focus issue to a degree. It wasn’t a perfect solution and having to put on glasses as well as the headset brought other problems into play such as decreased comfort and slight warping of the image. Therefore being mindful of this, for some people the Pimax 4K is unusable out of the box and needs third-party support – in this case some cheap specs for about £6.
Continuing with the displays and there are other issues as well which might grate on some people. The overall brightness is very low and even though the Piplay software allows to dim and raise the levels, at max setting it is still darker than one would expect. The 4K does come with Blue light protection which apparently means a slightly dimmer display as a trade-off. I tested the brightness with games like Project CARS 2 and ELITE Dangerous on the Rift then the Pimax 4K back-to-back and found the differences were quite substantial. There is also a difference in refresh rate which on the 4K is locked to 60hz. When compared to the 90hz of the Rift it makes a lot of difference in terms of smoothness when playing. The field of view of 110 degrees is comparable to the Rift and the sweet spot is reasonable. Another massive negative is the severe ghosting (which appear as repeat images or brief double vision when turning one’s head). To this day since launch is still not properly fixed. A new update is apparently going to address this problem that won’t go away, but at the time of testing the ghosting is apparent and something you learn to live with.
So you might be thinking is there anything positive to say about the Pimax 4K displays and is it worth it for playing VR games? Well yes if you don’t have a rift to compare to and the focusing of the image isn’t an issue then the displays are pretty fantastic to be fair. Very fine details can be seen and things like cockpit text in Elite Dangerous are way more readable and just generally sharper compared to the Rift. In fact due to the dark nature of Elite, the Pimax 4K is well suited to this game as the 60 hz restriction is not an issue either. Playing Skyrim VR also presented some wonderful looking visuals with crisp details when viewing up close NPCs and less blurring of distant objects. There is a far less noticeable screen door effect which is a massive plus point. It’s still there but simply a massive step up from the Oculus VR displays.
Perhaps where the Pimax 4K comes into its own though is media viewing. With gaming you are restricted to experiences which require a regular gamepad which means a lot of games are out of the equation. However, booting up programs like Virtual Desktop, Bigscreen or Deo Player and you have access to movie based content whether that’s 2D, 3D or 180 degree VR. With the source material being of high quality such as 4K or 2K resolutions then the Pimax 4K comes into its own with an excellent movie viewing experience. Whilst not as slick in terms of interface in getting things up and running as the Oculus GO, the overall movie experience on the big screen works very well and is a major selling point. It’s probably fair to suggest that movie viewing is akin to looking at a 1080p display where as the Rift and others are more like 720p but perhaps this should be regarded as anecdotal rather than a technical analysis.
So, let’s conclude here. The Pimax 4K is a cheap entry-level into VR with a fairly easy setup process and access to the Steam VR library of content using a gamepad – which means there is plenty to mess around with. It’s a fairly comfortable device to wear but comfort is subjective so this has to be taken into consideration. There are potential problems with the overall focus depending on your eyesight, but there are easy solutions available if you do have problems although these aren’t perfect. For gaming, the displays offer a crisp but darker image overall with little screen door effect making it well suited to cockpit games like Elite. However, the best use case comes from viewing UHD video content which looks very impressive against its peers. So, can I recommend a Pimax 4K? I would say yes if the price is lowered somewhat, however as it stands, the device is too hit and miss to fully recommend unless Pimax can work some magic and fix the ghosting and focus issues. Gamers looking for a bump in resolution for specific cockpit style games will find more use from the 4K than those looking for a general VR device. Those wanting a high quality media viewer would do well here also.
Pimax are currently working on the Pimax 5K and 8K headsets to be released this year as the next generation of their hardware boasting increased field of view and resolutions. If they can solve the teething problems of the 4K, then these headsets will be an incredible upgrade for people with current VR devices. So as a vision into the future of VR, the Pimax 4K certainly has some positives to take away. If these are translated into future products means VR enthusiasts are all in for a treat, if Pimax can pull it off.