Samsung may be more well-known for smartphones and monitors, but the brand's efforts in the world of virtual reality shouldn't be ignored. With the Samsung HMD Odyssey+, the Korean company offers the best argument for using the Windows Mixed Reality platform over Oculus and Vive.
- Anti screen door effect
- High resolution
- Good built-in headphones with 3D sound
- Easy setup
- Heavy on the forehead
- Limited by Windows Mixed Reality
Samsung HMD Odyssey+ release date and price
The Odyssey+ is the successor to the original Odyssey, with the main added benefit being the improved display. Unfortunately, it doesn't follow its predecessor into every market, and remains a US-exclusive at the time of writing. Of course, it's possible to import it, which, as a European resident, was my only option.
It can be purchased from both from Samsung's own online store and Microsoft for $499. At the time of launch, this was a particularly attractive price, especially on sale. Now, thanks to post-Christmas price cuts, the main competitors Oculus Rift ($399) and HTC Vive ($499) are cheaper and the choice is tougher. But the Odyssey+ has enough virtues to punch in this price range, and trumps the competition for reasons I'll describe below.
Premium, but not perfect, design
Samsung improved on the original Odyssey by lightening the load a little, down to 590g, and making a few ergonomic tweaks for comfort . Dual AMOLED lenses up front, and built in over-ear headphones on each side. It's still not the most lightweight HMD, but ample padding around the visor, crown and rear cushions your head.
The circlet of the headset, the lens distance and the height of the headphones are all adjustable but within limits - your mileage may vary depending on your particular head shape.
Another comfort issue I discovered is a common one in VR headsets I've tried - it's still front-heavy, so after prolonged use (about 3 hrs) the pressure on the forehead becomes too much for me to bear. Having said that, this became apparent to me after deliberately keeping it on for as long as possible - as a test of endurance. In normal use, I would rarely spend more than an hour and a half without taking a break.
In terms of comfort, I'd say that it beats the HTC Vive and other WMR headsets, but isn't quite as nice as the Oculus Rift, or the king of VR comfort so far (in my experience), the PlayStation VR. Something else to note for our bespectaled readers...I sometimes wear glasses and was relieved to find out that they could be worn in the headset without any issues. Friends with glasses who tried the headset were also able to use it easily, but of course, these were spectacles with relatively thin frames.
Unlike other Windows Mixed Reality headsets, the Odyssey+ (just like the original Odyssey) doesn't have a flip-up visor. Instead, you can hit a 'flashlight' feature that allows you to quickly glimpse the real world through the headset to check on your surroundings. It's atill not quite as convenient as being able to flip the visor, so if you're a developer who needs to switch quickly and often between using the headset and traditional mouse/keyboard/monitor setup, you might want to consider this factor.
On the outside, we find an attractive headset along classic Samsung design lines: black, sleek and glossy. A 4m cable extends from the left side and forks into USB 3 and HDMI connections.
The two controllers are Samsung's take on the Windows Mixed Reality standard, with thumbstick/trackpad/trigger/grip/menu button array, and a loop of fabric to go around your wrist for extra safety. Each is powered by two AA batteries, included in the packaging. The plastic shell doesn't feel very sturdy, but they've taken a few trips and had a couple of drops without any issue. Overall, I found the controllers to be more comfortable and ergonomic than the Vive controllers, but they do fall short of the Oculus Touch controllers.
A display that leads the way
Displays are Samsung's forte, and the display is also touted as the main selling point of the Odyssey+. The dual AMOLED display keeps the same 1440×1600 resolution found in the original Odyssey, which matches even the $1,000+ HTC Vive Pro. But what's special about the Odyssey+ display is what Samsung calls the anti-screen door effect (SDE).
Screen door effect is when the space between the pixels (or LEDS) on a display are visible as fine black lines, giving your the impression of viewing the picture through a kind of wire mesh. This has been an annoying, immersion-breaking issue on other VR headsets, but Samsung's solution completely eliminates this, resulting in a clear and crisp visual experience.
Samsung's site notes that the display "applies a grid pattern structure" to the headsets "top-player panels" that reduces the distance between pixels by nearly 50%. This is supposed to more than double the effective pixels per inch (PPI) count of the display resolution from 616 to 1,233. It doesn't exactly feel double quality, but it does make a big difference.
Numbers aside, the result in practical terms is the best picture quality on any VR headset I've tried so far. Granted, I haven't used the HTC Vive Pro, but in terms of this price range, I can confidently say that Samsung is leading on visuals. I never thought I'd recommend a WMR headset over Vive or Rift for high-end gaming, but thanks to the display, the Odyssey+ has the edge over the big names.
The FoV (field of view) is 110 degrees, same as the Oculus Rift. In fact, I can't help but get the feeling it's a little more, but only an in-depth comparison could confirm this.
Dizziness or nausea hasn't been a factor for me at all, using the Odyssey+ in a variety of games (DOOM VFR, Skyrim VR, Subnautica, Superhot VR, Talos Principle VR) and navigating around virtual rooms. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, but I've previously been afflicted when using other headsets such as the PSVR and Oculus Go, so I was dreading the possible onset of nausea when I first used the Odyssey+. After a couple of weeks of use, it has yet to rear its ugly head.
No need for extra sensors
The good news? No extra sensors! The bad news? No extra sensors! Inside-out tracking cameras on the headset means 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) for your head, and the headset has built-in Bluetooth module which makes for smooth connections. The controllers are pre-paired and I very rarely had tracking errors with them in room-scale gaming, except when trying to provoke them (for example, hiding the controllers behind my head).
There are limitations to this, however. Valve's Lighthouse sensor tracking is still more accurate and allows for a larger tracking area. If you can afford a dedicated room with space to place external sensors, this is nice to have, but I never found myself missing it.
Windows Mixed Reality, for better or worse
Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality platform, or WMR, has come a long way , and thanks to integration with SteamVR, gamers don't need to feel like they're missing out. Setup is easy - just plug in the headset and follow on-screen instructions. To set up your tracking area, just walk around the room holding the headset. You're basically limited only by the tethering cables and the objects/furniture in your rooms.
To run Windows Mixed Reality and thus make use of the headset, you'll need a decent PC with a dedicated graphics card. You can test your PC to see if it makes the cut on Microsoft's website and check the guidelines for the hardware you need for good performance.
The downside of a WMR setup compared to Oculus or Vive is that it's still a minority platform in the VR space, and as such often comes last in the minds of developers. Some games are Oculus Rift exclusives, some are exclusive to HTC Vive, but there are still many great titles that work with WMR, or at least, have a beta version for WMR. On Steam, you can easily check compatibility for your desired title.
The Oculus Rift often comes pre-packaged with several games, and the HTC Vive with a trial to the company's Viveport subscription service. No such luck here.
The Samsung Odyssey+ has standout audio thanks to the built-in headphones, which deliver high-quality, 3D-feeling sound . When gaming, I was able to instinctively locate the source of a noise in the virtual space with impressive accuracy. The Oculus Rift also had built-in headphones but they don't really reach the same level. Thanks to Samsung's subsidiaries Harman Kardon and AKG, the Odyssey+ is also leading the pack when it comes to audio. There's a built-in microphone for voice chats, as well, or using Cortana with your Windows PC.
Top of the class, for now
Samsung is a well-known global brand, but still a dark horse in the VR world, with Windows Mixed Reality users being a tiny minority of a minority, according to Valve. Nonetheless, the Odyssey+ offers a fantastic visual and audio experience that makes it my preferred choice out of all the current generation PC-connected headsets. It doesn't quite beat the Rift ergonomically, or the Vive for wide-area tracking, but in my mind, the smoother immersion from the Odyssey+ is more important for the VR experience.
If you're looking to get a new PC-connected VR headset right now, then Samsung's latest is a solid recommendation, especially if you can grab it on sale. If you already have a Rift, Vive, or original Odyssey, the advantages aren't worth a $500 upgrade. 2019 will bring more product launches, such as the Oculus Quest standalone headset with controllers, or the Vive Cosmos that will shake up the current stagnation of the VR market and potentially bring more attractive options. But as it stands, the Samsung Odyssey+ is one of the best high-end VR headsets you can buy, especially for picture quality.
Do you use a VR headset? Which company do you think is doing it best right now?