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Pimax 5K+ VR Review

By Poorna Shankar on July 03, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Pimax 5K+ VR Review

I admit, although I was aware of Pimax prior to this review, I had never really bothered to look outside Oculus and HTC for a VR headset and ecosystem. But this was before I purchased a Vive for myself in March and didn’t know much about the VR space. However, after having now used the Pimax 5K+, it is clear that the VR market is still in its infancy with plenty of room for other players. Just how does the Pimax 5K+ perform? And how does it compare to my Vive? This is our review of the Pimax 5K+ VR headset.


Specifications

  • Price: $699 (headset only)
  • Audio: 2x3.5mm audio jack, integrated microphone
  • Body Weight: 470g
  • Body Size: 28.1 x 10.8 x 13.6cm
  • Body Material: Ultra-lightweight rigid plastic
  • Extendable module: Support
  • FOV: 200°
  • Lens Structure: Dual aspheric lens
  • MTP: < 15ms
  • Refresh Rate: 90Hz
  • Ports: USB 2.0/3.0, DP 1.4
  • Platform: PC with Windows OS
  • Physical IPD Adjustment: Yes
  • Resolution: 2560 x 1400 per eye
  • Screen: Dual CLPL (Customized Low Persistence Liquid) panel
  • Sensor: SteamVR tracking, G-sensor, Gyroscope, Hand motion (option)

The first thing I noticed was the price. $699 is quite expensive, especially when you consider that price is for the headset only. There are no controllers included. Instead, controllers and base stations can be purchased separately as a preorder for $300. Either way you look at it, the Pimax 5K+ is not an inexpensive piece of kit when compared to less expensive offerings like the $500 Vive and $399 Oculus Rift S -- both of which include controllers and necessary base stations in their price.

The Pimax 5K+ is compatible with SteamVR, so all of my existing Vive controllers and base stations worked. Well, almost. The Pimax requires a proprietary tool, PiTool, to be running in order for the headset to function. More on this in a bit.

Design

Compared to my Vive, the Pimax 5K+ is physically larger and wider. Even though the Pimax features straps which wrap around the sides and top of your head, like the Rift and Vive, it actually feels a bit imbalanced when mounted on your head when compared to the Vive. I suspect this is because of the physically larger dimensions. In extended gameplay, I could feel the headset pressing down on my nose -- something I never feel with the Vive.

The Pimax 5K+ features a headphone jack which works well enough. However, I primarily played with my USB headset plugged into my PC, which made for some interesting cable management between the headphones cable and the headset cables running off the Pimax. Fortunately, the cable length afforded by the Pimax 5K+ is plenty for even larger spaces.

Like other VR headsets, the Pimax 5K+ includes software and physical IPD, or inter pupillary distance, adjustment. This physically moves the lenses left and right to line up with the center of your pupils. However, unlike the Vive, you cannot physically move the lenses towards and away from you. I found this to be a problem because the lenses could fog up after extended use, something that never happened with the Vive, and because it’s just one more adjustment which I find useful to find that “sweet spot” clear VR image. Additionally, this lack of adjustment may prove uncomfortable for people with glasses.

Overall, I found the Pimax 5K+ to be less comfortable than the Vive over extended gameplay sessions. The Vive simply sits on my head more securely, offers more fine adjustments of the lenses, and has better weight distribution.

Setup

Setting up the Pimax 5K+ was troublesome. The instructions aren’t as clear as they could be, especially for users setting up the Pimax for use with SteamVR. I suspect this is largely a language barrier, given Pimax is a Chinese company. Not knowing this, I followed the PiTool room calibration instructions, which resulted in serious issues.

The first thing I noticed was my virtual body appeared through the floor. I thought this was a glitch, so I restarted setup and then noticed my controller (which I was holding in my hand) was across the room from me in VR. I re-ran setup a few more times before giving up in frustration.

The next day, however, I reinstalled PiTool, but this time, did not run the PiTool room calibration. And this time, it worked. After extended testing, no more glitches, no more orphaned controllers. Everything worked.

This, then, is my consumer advice: if you’re thinking about buying this headset and you already have Vive hardware, do not run the PiTool room calibration. Just install the tool, pair the controllers, launch SteamVR, and go.

PiTool is required to run in order for the headset to function. Within PiTool are several options which aren’t necessarily explained too well. Smart Smoothing essentially interpolates frames, similar to Smooth Motion on your TV. Enabling this was useful, as the higher display resolution of the Pimax 5K+ may prove difficult for PCs to maintain the 90fps. This means you can essentially run games at 45fps, but the headset and software will interpolate those frames to give you a 90fps effective presentation.

Fixed Foveated Rendering is also useful because it essentially lowers the resolution of the image at the edges of your FOV (field of view). Because your attention is focused on what is directly in front of you, using processing power to sharpen the edges of your vision is a bit of a waste.

Finally, Parallel Projections should be enabled as well. I’m not entirely sure the tech behind this, however, the effect of disabling it is clear. For some games like Elite Dangerous and Project CARS, disabling Parallel Projections resulted in a cross-eyed presentation. Thus, I kept Parallel Projections enabled at all times.

Finally, the FOV does not default to its highest value. This must be manually enabled in PiTool by selecting the “Large” option. Considering this is one of the biggest selling points of the Pimax 5K+, I enabled the highest FOV value of 200°.

I cannot begin to stress just how much of a game changer this is. 200° is much closer to your natural FOV, so the virtual world felt much more immersive to me compared to the Vive. You can just see that much more which sells the illusion that the virtual world is physically around you.

To aid this sense of presence, the Pimax 5K+’s FOV is complemented with the boosted resolution over the Vive. With a resolution of 2560 x 1400 per eye, I found games and text to be much clearer. The screen door effect to me was greatly lessened, and when paired with the insane FOV, pretty much indiscernible.

Games

Gaming with the Pimax 5K+ is generally great overall, with a few exceptions. Valve’s The Lab was buttery smooth, with the increased FOV really proving useful when playing the archery mini-game. I could just see so much more and had increased awareness of the enemies.

Elite Dangerous and Project CARS were legitimately transformed with the Pimax 5K+ compared to my Vive. After resolving the parallel projections issue, the immersion added by the FOV and resolution of the Pimax was immediately noticeable.

In Elite Dangerous, I could see so much more of my ship so I didn’t have to turn my head as much to view my side panels. In space, the scale of the planets and stars legitimately left me dumbstruck at times. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it was genuinely magical.

While Elite Dangerous conveyed a tremendous sense of scale, Project CARS provided me a hitherto unmatched experience in sheer speed. Racing around the Nürburgring in VR was the closest I’ll ever get to actually doing it. The speed, adrenaline, and visuals all combined to really sell the experience.

I’ve saved the best for last. Rec Room is, without question, VR’s killer app. I cannot believe this game is free. There is so much to do in this game, it beggars belief. I played this with my friend and fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, across a variety of mini games. Whether we were playing Capture The Flag paintball, or shooting robots in a TRON-like setting, the Pimax 5K+ truly flexed its muscles here.

Across all games, the wide FOV paired with the increased resolution made each game measurably more fun and immersive for me. However, as alluded to earlier, extended gameplay sessions would sometimes result in fogged up lenses and discomfort on my nose where the headset rests -- both of which are non-issues with my Vive.

Verdict

The Pimax 5K+ is not without its faults. The ergonomics are inferior to the Vive. The setup process is unclear, most likely due to a language barrier, given that this is a Chinese company. There are fewer fine adjustments you can make to the lenses in order to create a truly comfortable experience. And most of all, at $699 at the time of writing, it is extremely expensive, especially when that price excludes controllers and base stations. This will immediately turn away many people, and for good reason.

However, the Pimax 5K+ does work with the SteamVR ecosystem and existing Vive hardware, despite the unintuitive setup. Additionally, the FOV offered by the Pimax 5K+ is unmatched in any other VR headset I’ve used. And when paired with the increased resolution, the gaming experience is far more immersive than my Vive.

Despite these flaws and my initial frustrations, I simply cannot go back to using my Vive now that I’ve experienced the Pimax 5K+. The increased FOV and resolution are personally worth it to me. The Pimax 5K+ is a truly impressive piece of kit and shows just how open the VR market still is.

Pros

  • Wide FOV and increased resolution tangibly improved my gaming experience
  • Works with existing SteamVR ecosystem and Vive hardware, but…

Cons

  • ...setup is unintuitive
  • Expen$ive, even without the controllers
  • Not as ergonomic nor adjustable as the Vive

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

Poorna Shankar / A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.