The HP Reverb G2 is an incremental upgrade over 2019’s Reverb G1 VR headset. It improves the VR experience in some important ways, but doesn’t do much to address others. If this was 2018, we’d be having a very different conversation right now. But the G2 originally arrived a few months after the Oculus Quest 2, and comparisons to the far cheaper headset are often not flattering. The question we need to untangle: Does the Reverb G2 make sense for anyone, and if so, for whom?
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HP Reverb G2 – Design and Features
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: The Reverb G2 delivers a massive resolution of 2160×2160 pixels per eye with a maximum refresh rate of 90Hz and a field of view of 114 degrees. That’s the main reason, I’d guess, that VR gamers would be interested in this headset to begin with. But if it’s possible to be both impressed and underwhelmed at the same time, well, here we are. Objectively, these are formidable specs. The Oculus Quest 2, for comparison, puts 1832×1920 pixels in front of each eye, though now also at 90Hz. Still, the Reverb G2 wins on overall performance.
But let’s not forget that these are the same specs as you’ll find in the Reverb G1. It’s no slouch, but HP has recycled its existing hardware without improving resolution.
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The HP Reverb G2 is a tethered headset that uses inside-out tracking; in other words, you need to connect it to your gaming PC via the included 20-foot cable – the headset is a dumb terminal that relies on your PC for processing – and instead of wall-mounted sensors, the headset is peppered with cameras to understand its position in space and to keep tables on the controllers.
First and foremost, the G2 has improved both of these design elements over the original G1. HP has slimmed down the cable so it’s less cumbersome to trail behind you when you’re playing, and it has doubled the number of cameras, adding a pair of side-mounted cameras to the two forward-facing lenses to improve tracking coverage and accuracy.
The headset is the most comfortable one I have ever had the pleasure to wear. There’s no comparison to either version of the Oculus Quest, for example, both of which I consider to be so aggressively uncomfortable I can only assume it must be intentional. Even compared to the Valve Index, which I thought was reasonably comfortable, this headset is noticeably better.
The face padding features a soft cushion around every surface that comes in contact with your head, and it sits comfortably on your head with only moderate tension – it weighs just 1.2 pounds so light tension is enough to keep it in place. And it’s not housing a computer or battery, so it’s not unbalanced or front-heavy. You adjust it with three Velcro straps, which might seem like a step backward from a tension dial, but it’s easy to find the right fit so you can wear it for extended sessions without fatigue.
And the G2 has a genius feature that quickly becomes indispensable: You can flip up the headset up to see the outside world, so you don’t need to completely remove it to have a conversation or make sure you’re not about to trip over the dog.
A small speaker hangs down from each strap and can pivot up and out of the way if you need to hear something in the real world. The same design as the Valve Index, these speakers deliver adequate audio, but don’t cover your ears the way headphones would.
The only other feature on the outside of the headset is the IPD slider. Unlike the Quest 2, which limits you to three fixed presets, the G2 uses a continuous slider so you can dial in the precise interpupillary distance that’s most comfortable for you.
The controllers are substantially the same as the ones that accompany most other headsets. They feel a little weird – they’re heavy, with ludicrously oversized tracking rings – but are easy enough to use, equipped with four buttons (two action buttons as well as a menu and Windows button) trigger, grip button, and thumbstick). They run on a pair of AA batteries and seem to offer long battery life.
HP Reverb G2 – Setup
Setting up your Reverb G2 is far easier than a first-generation outside-in headset, but still more cumbersome than getting started with something like the Quest 2. Because this is a tethered headset, you need to plug the headset into your PC, and your PC needs to be running no less than an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060. I wouldn’t recommend that, though; I had good performance during testing, but even my GeForce RTX 2060 Super and Intel Core i7 combo stuttered on rare occasions.
A DisplayPort and USB cable split off from a small breakout box, and since the USB port can’t deliver enough power to the headset, you need to plug that box into an AC adapter. The resulting rat’s nest of wires looks like a prop from a 90s sci-fi movie.
On the other hand, the single cable that runs from the breakout to the headset is quite thin and light, and is so easy to insert and remove that you might find it easier to unplug the headset and coil the cable near your PC, storing the headset elsewhere. It inserts behind the face padding, which slips into place magnetically. It’s pretty elegant, actually.
Getting started is a simple matter of connecting the headset to your PC. Since the G2 relies on Windows 10’s Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) feature, your PC should recognize it immediately and automatically install the necessary software to get you up and running.
Before you can enter VR though, you need to define your play space. That’s not too difficult unless, like me, you’re doing it alone and your space is behind the PC. Here’s the problem: WMR, like all tethered headsets I’ve used, assumes the play space is in front of your PC and makes no allowances for any other configuration. I had to employ the skills of a gymnast to dangle the headset in the air in the middle of the play space while simultaneously leaning across my desk and around my monitor to complete the PC-based setup using my keyboard. The process didn’t endear me to the Reverb G2, especially since the Quest 2’s painless setup was still fresh in my mind.
If you want to play Steam VR games (and you will), you’ll need to install the SteamVR app. Once you’re configured, you can enter VR through WMR or by launching Steam, though the two experiences are separate and distinct.
HP Reverb G2 – Gaming
For all intents and purposes, the screen door effect is gone – whether I was in the WMR portal, playing a SteamVR game like Half Life: Alyx, or in the mixed reality universe with a title like Racket: Nx, I was simply unable to discern any tell-tale grid structure differentiating individual pixels.
In fact, I found myself going back to games I haven’t played in a while to see them again through new, sharper eyes. Remember Beat Saber precursor Audioshield? The backgrounds are gorgeous. Did you ever play the superb RTS game Final Assault, or solve puzzles in the charming Rooms: A Toymaker’s Mansion? Everything is so crisp that it takes on an all-new hyper-realistic texture. And then there’s Alyx – I could marvel endlessly at the dystopian cityscape at the start of the game. Then, down in the underground, the graphics were intense enough that I had serious trouble playing the game. (I do not like jump scares in VR. Sue me.)
Unfortunately, once inside action titles it becomes clear that HP’s inside-out design isn’t flawless. There are only four cameras on board, and they can’t see behind you or directly in front if you hug your body too closely, and that means there are situations in which the headset’s controller tracking goes off the rails badly enough that it affects gameplay. It wasn’t unusual for Beat Saber to occasionally lose track of a controller. And the aforementioned Audioshield often missed when I clearly blocked a beat off to the far side.
If that were the whole story, I could still forgive the Reverb G2; after all, it wins on resolution and comfort. But the G2’s fatal flaw isn’t controller tracking – it is the underlying design. It’s the fact that it’s a tethered headset. I can’t count how many times I got tripped up by the cable, for example. And the reliance on WMR complicates everything without actually giving you anything in return. Redrawing your boundary lines is an ordeal, for example. You can do it on a Quest in seconds.
And where are the new features that might make me want to choose a Reverb 2? The Quest offers full on, sci-fi-caliber hand tracking, not to mention an integrated health and fitness dashboard. Meanwhile, the G2’s WMR portal is a house that looks like abandonware from 2016.
One could argue that the Reverb gives you access to richer, deeper games than you can get with a standalone headset like the Quest, but Oculus Link lets you optionally tap into anything you can do on the Reverb.
That said, I think I understand why HP is okay with originally releasing the Reverb G2 in 2020. This headset really isn’t for you or me. Sure, it’s an option, especially for gamers who simply can’t bring themselves to sign into a Facebook account to use the Quest. But more importantly, HP is making a corporate play with the Reverb G2. An enhanced version of this headset, the Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition, is packed with internal sensors – eye tracking, pupillometry, a face cam and heart rate sensor. Leveraging these tools, HP’s Omnicept software lets developers create VR applications that can respond in real time to the user. In training scenarios, for example, evaluators can monitor the reactions of users in real time and vary the complexity of simulations in response. It’s a genuinely brilliant application for VR, and HP is using the Reverb G2 to trailblaze this exciting new market.
Selling the consumer version of the Reverb G2 is gravy, which may be why, compared to some of the competition, the G2 feels like a product that’s been trapped in amber since 2017.
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The HP Reverb G2 retails for $774 on Amazon and $599 direct from HP.
Read more: ign.com