All you need to know about Pimax 8K… should you buy it?

Hello all! I’ve just spent the last hours digging all the web sources about the Pimax 8K so that I can give you an exhaustive review about it… as far as it is possible with current information. I would have preferred to try it by myself, but I hadn’t had the chance to do that… that’s why all this searching effort.

So, let’s begin…What is Pimax 8K?

Pimax is a Chinese Virtual Reality HMD manufacturing company. Some months ago it has produced one of the first 4K headsets and now it is creating the first 8K headset on the market. The first headset has shipped more than 30.000 units, so this company knows how to produce headsets.

After a long preparation starting with CES 2017, they launched a Kickstarter campaign for this marvelous headset offering 8K resolution, 200° FOV, SteamVR compatibility and modular accessories. Kickstarter goal was $200K and it has been reached in few hours. At the time of writing, they’ve gone far beyond $900K… and only 4 days have passed since the campaign started! So it’s a huge success for the Chinese company and the VR ecosystem in general.

About Kickstarter

In my opinion, Pimax is making this Kickstarter campaign just to have visibility and create a community, not because it needs money. There are two reasons why I have this idea:

  • $200K to design and produce hardware is a little amount of money;
  • They already have a working prototype very close to the final version and they’ve showcased it in various exhibitions. So they already have their product.

Thanks to Kickstarter they’ve had visibility and a lot of feedback from the community.

Specifications

So, why the Pimax 8K has astonished us all? Well, it has:

  • 8K resolution at 90Hz, while most famous headsets like the Rift have not even full HD per eye. This means very very crisp images. Texts become readable, images appear vivid;
  • 200° FOV, when the others have 110°. This means having almost all the field of view of human eyes. Human field of view is around 220°, with 140° of good resolution in the direction we’re looking at. So 200 is a value very close to the optimal one;

    Pimax 8k VR review
    Comparison of Pimax headsets with Rift and Vive. As you can see, the visual difference is enormous (Image by Pimax)
  • SteamVR compatibility, so it works with all SteamVR games and accessories. This headset doesn’t come with a content problem, since it just uses Valve’s platform. It is also possible to use a dedicated Pi platform. Since it is compatible with all the OpenVR ecosystem, the headset can hence be used together with current Vive controllers;
  • Modular accessories, that are pluggable into the headset. These accessories will be made by Pimax’s partners and will extend a lot the HMD functionalities, creating a complete VR ecosystem. These little modules will add interesting functionalities like:
    • smells
    • outside-in tracking
    • wireless tracking (thanks to Simplex that has made me notice that I forgot this!)
    • hands tracking
    • eye tracking
    • cooling
    • etc… .

These are INCREDIBLE features. It seems one of the reachest VR product out there.

Pimax 8k VR review
Pimax features. They’re incredible. (Image from Pimax)

I was in doubt that it could even exist, but then I saw the reviews and saw that the product was already there. So… wow!

No Motion Sickness?

One of the first sentences of the Kickstarter campaign is “[…] we have eliminated motion sickness […]”

My opinion while reading this sentence

Gabe Newell was used to saying similar sentences while launching the Vive and everyone loves to say that he/she’s defeated motion sickness. Let me just say that you CAN NOT. Unless you operate directly on the vestibular system (as this system showcased at SIGGRAPH), you can’t complete defeat motion sickness.

Furthermore, this headset has a huge FOV and bigger FOV means bigger motion sickness. Get your facts straight.

8K?

Actually, the display is not 8K. It is 8K*2K, it means that is just 4K per eye, or 2 * 4K. 8K is 4 * 4K. Approximately, this headset is just 6K.

It’s an enormous density anyway, but the problem is that starting a campaign with a misleading name is not a smart move… in fact all community members got a bit upset about this point. The CEO defended the choice saying that there is still no standard on naming… but actually, math seems a solid standard to me.

So, it is not 8K but 2 * 4K… keep that in mind.

8K??

The headset comes in two flavors: 8K and 8K X.

8K takes as input from the graphics card 2*2560×1440 and then upscales it to 2x4K. This means that actually while the display is 2 * 4K, the original input is not 4K per eye, but much less. The reason is obvious: rendering such a big image would require an enormous computational power and transferring an original 2 * 4K image from the graphics card to the headset requires a very capable cable. This means that the original resolution is not 8K, so you’re rendering a stretched image. This can be one of the reasons why a guy on Pimax forums said that he “didn’t see improvement on the already great resolution that the Pimax 4k has”.

To have the true experience of 8K you have to buy the Pimax 8K X, that takes a 2 * 4K input from the graphics card and renders it in front of your eyes. Of course, to obtain this, you have to buy a monster PC featuring at least a NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti (Yikes!) and then attach 2 display ports to the headset! You need two cables because there is currently no cable able to transmit 2 x 4K at 90Hz out there.

Pimax 8k VR review
A nice girl playing with the Pimax 8K. Room-scale tracking is included. (Image by Pimax)
Pimax 8K X

The Pimax 8K X is a mysterious object at the moment: there are too many unsolved questions on it. It is not clear if it will feature a scaler as well, to let the user choose the input resolution (so that to stress less the graphics card). It is not clear the release date (they say May 2018). It is not clear how many of them will be shipped (Pimax say it is in a limited edition). It has not been completely tested. No one has been able to try it.

Furthermore, as Pimax itself has answered on Kickstarter “Based on our comparison test, there is no obvious difference in terms of gaming experience between 8K and X, but X demands much more powerful GPU”. So I don’t know why people should buy the X version :D.

Anyway, backers that will want to try this futuristic model will have two options:

  • Wait for the 8K X version to ship;
  • Get an 8K version and then have it replaced with an 8K X version when it will come out, with all shipping expenses paid by Pimax (seems a great deal to me).

A last note: while theoretically the Pimax 8K could run on a PC that is currently connected to a Rift, there is not this possibility for the 8K X model… for obvious reasons.

PC Requirements

Pimax 8K requires a good VR-ready PC (or laptop) to run:

  • GPU: GTX980/1070
  • CPU: i5
  • RAM: 8GB

While the 8K X version requires a monster PC:

  • GPU: GTX1080 Ti (still in test stage, it may need 1080Ti SLI, or the next generation graphics card e.g. Nvidia Volta)
  • CPU: i7
  • RAM: 16GB

The fact that it may not work even with the latest NVIDIA graphics card is a bit scary!

NVIDIA Volta Pimax VR headset
NVIDIA Volta GPU. It will be a super powerful graphical unit (image by PC Games N)
Visuals

You may expect this screen to be OLED, but actually it is an LCD screen with a new special technology they’ve developed with a partner of theirs, and it is called “customized low persistence liquid (CLPL)”. This technology doesn’t offer the same graphical contrast and brightness of visuals of OLED screen, but it is close enough. And there’s no smearing if you rotate your head. So it’s a bit worse, but it costs less, so that’s ok.

This headset is particular because it has 2 screens. So, while most headsets out there have one big screen that is split in half to show left and right view, this headset is composed of two different 4K screens.

Lenses resemble a little the Vive ones and have far fewer god rays than the Rift, so they’re good. One of the two TESTED guys saw some distortion ring around the lenses border, but the other one didn’t notice. Other feedbacks do not report this bad side-effect either.

(If you don’t know what god rays are, just look the above video… they are those halos around highlighted zones in a VR frame)

About FOV and resolution, everyone that has tried the device has remained astonished by the sharpness of images and texts and by the enormous field of view. Returning to a standard headset like the Rift after having tried the Pimax is like seeing the world through a scuba mask. The big FOV and resolutions are really a game changer.

Screen door effect is still a present, but is little. This device has not the Oculus optimization to reduce SDE, so SDE is still a bit visible. Even in this, Pimax is closer to the Vive.

Audio

The headset comes with an integrated microphone, but not with integrated headphones. You have to buy a separate accessory to have integrated audio as in the Rift (this module is like the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap).

Brainwarp

Pimax offers a mechanism to reduce burden on the GPU, called Brainwarp. Brainwarp starts automatically when the system detects it can’t render the program at 90Hz for each eye and what does is rendering at 45Hz for each eye. So the images get rendered in an interleaved fashion: left eye – right eye – left eye – etc… This way the compound rendering is still at 90Hz, but at every instant only one eye gets the newly rendered frame.

Pimax 8k VR review
Pimax standard functioning mode (left) and Brainwarp mode (right). Notice how at each moment only one new image is rendered. (Image by Pimax)

It could be disabled by software, but it is still unclear if this will be possible.

SteamVR Tracking compatibility

There has been a lot of confusion on this point and I want to clarify it. The headset will be sold as a SteamVR Tracking 2.0 device. So it has the new Triad Semiconductor sensors and can work with Lighthouse stations v1 and v2. If you don’t know the difference between the two tracking technologies, refer to this post of mine. (I’ve been flattered in seeing that on Kickstarter forums many people pointed to my article to show the difference between the two tracking versions!)

If someone wants to obtain the headset faster, he/she can request some v1 editions that Pimax has in its warehouses. Be careful that when SteamVR tracking v2 will be widespread, you wouldn’t be able to use this kind of v1 HMD with all newer OpenVR accessories.

Pimax 8k VR stretch FOV review
Pimax running into SteamVR environment (Image by TESTED)

One final note on a featured that surprised me: Pimax claims that its tracking can work even with only one base station! That’s really interesting… and I don’t know if it is a native feature of SteamVR tracking 2.0 or something that Chinese engineers have created.

Visuals on existing games

Current SteamVR games are made for 110° FOV devices, so how can you play them on the Pimax? The runtime rewarps the game output so that to convert it from a 110° FOV to a 200° FOV experience. According to TESTED, this results in serious distortions near to the image borders. They said that it is like watching a 4:3 movie on a 16:9 TV: the center is fantastic, but the visuals in the periphery are distorted. They insisted a lot in telling this. They remarked that obtaining such big FOV in a single render pass is very difficult and this may lead to distortions.

Pimax replied that actually this happens only in few games and that most of the time the results are good (“there are few games fixed their standard parameter so they can’t support higher FOV headset”). They showed some screenshots of the same game tried by TESTED to prove this, but actually is hard to understand the visuals inside a headset from a flat distorted screenshot.

Pimax 8k VR stretch FOV review
Fruit Ninja inside Pimax 4K (Image by Pimax)
Pimax 8k VR stretch FOV review
Fruit Ninja inside a Pimax 8K (Image by Pimax)

What is interesting from these screenshots is that it is not true that the runtime takes a 110° FOV image and stretches it to obtain 200°: the 200° image shows a lot more of the environment. So the process of displaying the game is not based only on warping, but includes also rendering the game with a wider FOV. But probably the SteamVR runtime can’t render the game with such a huge FOV, so it renders at the best it can and then Pimax runtime apply the warping to arrive at 200°.

Honestly, I don’t know what to believe: usually TESTED guys are very honest in their reviews, so I guess that this kind of problem actually shows up in existing SteamVR games, especially if you move your eyes from the center. If future headsets will show up with a bigger FOV, the games of the future will be more compatible with this kind of big-FOV devices, so the issue may vanish.

Anyway, Pimax has just announced that it is considering the idea of adding a parameter to the runtime to let the user choose the rendering FOV, so games that are currently optimal at 110° FOV can be rendered with a similar field of view and get less distortion.

Pimax 8k VR review
Big FOV is awesome, but it doesn’t come without issues (Image by Pimax)

UPDATE: A redditor that has tried the Pimax 8K has said that, in his opinion, the stretching issue has been solved in the latest Pimax update.

Controllers

Pimax 8K headset comes with controllers that are like cut and paste of Vive ones. They include also haptic feedback. Since Valve has announced Knuckles controllers, Pimax has said that they’ll actually produce a new kind of controllers that will track the hand better… and will be inspired by Knuckles. These Knuckles will be the one shipped to Kickstarter backers.

About controllers’ quality: according to TESTED, it is bad. So it’s better to use the headset with original Vive controllers.

Comfort

The headset is comfortable and super-light.

For people wearing glasses, there is the possibility to keep glasses on while wearing the headset and this is just fantastic. Even big glasses are ok and this is a rare feature for a VR headset, so kudos to Pimax for this!

Furthermore, people will be able to order prescription lenses on Pimax website (similar to WidmoVR ones) and attach a magnetic lenses adapter inside the headset, to have a better level of comfort. The fact that the adapter is magnetic makes its setup really easy and this is wonderful.

IPD adjustment

IPD adjustment should be possible in the shipped version, but currently it is not implemented, so no one has been able to test it.

Accessories

The Pimax is an open ecosystem and third parties can develop accessories for it. The company has already announced a long list of compatible accessories, allowing features like:

  • integrated audio
  • smells
  • outside-in tracking
  • wireless tracking
  • hands tracking
  • eye tracking
  • cooling
  • etc…

Some of these modules are already existing, like the integrated audio and hands tracking ones. Others are a bit more mysterious: smell emitting is being developed by a 3rd party (VAQSO?) but is currently not available; the same holds for eye tracking, that, according to Pimax CEO will enable automatically foveated rendering on the Pimax. Inside-out tracking may make the headset work free of the Lighthouse stations, but it is mysterious as well.

Hands tracking instead has been made in collaboration with Leap Motion and works awesomely. From the reports, the tracking is super stable and the range of tracking is very wide, so I guess that they’ve implemented Leap Motion v2.

Leap Motion v2 device virtual reality
Leap Motion v2 embeddable device. Looking at hand module shape, it seems they used this one (Image by Leap Motion)

I like a lot the idea of pluggable accessories and I think that a similar open ecosystem is beneficial for the Pimax headset. And if the announced mysterious devices will come out shipping what they promise, they can add an enormous value to the Pimax HMD.

Kickstarter version and timing

Currently, you can preorder on Kickstarter the Pimax headset that you wish (5K, 8K or 8K X) alone or in a bundle with Pimax lighthouse stations and controllers. The first wave of headsets should ship in December 2017 and the other ones in Q1 2018. About the X, maybe it will ship in Q2.

Pimax 8k VR review
Pimax timing. It has been a long road for them (Image by Pimax)

It is unclear neither when the consumer version of this headset will come out, nor its features. The only statement is that “the consumer version will be better packaged and crafted, and the price would be different”. Backers are afraid that they’ll just get a prototype while consumers will have the final product, but Pimax has said that it is not the truth. In my opinion, for sure they’ll make some adjustments to the headset from the crowdfunding to the consumer version using the backers’ feedbacks, but I don’t expect to see a revolution.

After the Kickstarter campaign, you will be able to buy the different Pimax devices (including lighthouse stations and controllers) on Pimax website and Amazon.

Price

Pimax 8K costs $499, while 8K X costs $699. Add +$300 if you want the full package bundle, that includes Lighthouse stations and controllers. After the Rift and Vive prices slashes, this doesn’t seem a cheap price, but I think that due to its performances, you’re paying the right amount for a good innovative product.

Pimax 5K

On Kickstarter, there’s actually also a 5K device. I haven’t given it much attention, because feedbacks on it aren’t much enthusiastic… they say that it doesn’t appear much better than the 4K version. It has 2*2560×1440 resolution and 200FOV. For all the rest, it is identical to the 8K device.

Stretch goals

Given the big success, we are all waiting for Kickstarter stretch goals. Pimax has hinted that maybe everyone will get the deluxe strap featuring integrated headphones as a gift. That would be cool. I’ll keep you updated: stretch goals should be announced on September, 25th.

UPDATE: Pimax has announced the Stretch goals. The more the campaign will be funded, the more the backers will receive headset addons for free!

Pimax 8k VR review
Pimax is gifting amazing stuff to its backers… (Image by Pimax)
Should you buy it?

TESTED’s feedback on this device has been good but not fantastic. They remarked how the distortion ruined the games they played and that Oculus and Vive offer a much more refined experience. (Watch the video for their complete feedback)

Other feedback comments I’ve read here and there are much more positive: especially the resolution and FOV are two features that have made everyone (included TESTED guys) drop his jaw.

In the end, I think that it is an interesting innovation over current headsets. It may not be perfect, but it is surely interesting… and what I like about it is that it will force the other VR players to increment their resolutions to keep pace with this new standard. And then I also appreciate their kindness, their courage in trying to propose an innovative device and their attention towards openness.

And the other players represent an important unknown of the market: when the Vive v2 will be out… what features will it have? Because if it will offer similar performances to the Pimax, this can be a great issue for the Chinese company.

So, in my opinion… should you buy it?

  • If you have little money, no. This is not a disruptive innovation in VR, something you have to absolutely own. It is an incremental innovation;
  • If you use VR only for gaming, maybe no. Most VR games are not optimized for this large field of view, so you may not need that and it could also ruin your experience;
  • If you use VR mainly to watch movies (even porn ones) or virtual desktop programs, yes. Increased resolution will make the experience more immersive and will let you read texts… and this last feature is fundamental if you use Bigscreen VR or similar applications;
  • If you are a VR innovator or a developer, yes. This is an innovative headset, so toying around with it can be cool. Furthermore, it is great to support a new VR company;
  • If you are an arcade owner, yes. Big FOV and resolution, with all those accessories and an open ecosystem, can make you offer a new kind of premium experience.

If you’re interested, back them on their dedicated Kickstarter page and enter the future of VR!


And that’s all! Hope you liked my article since I put a lot of effort into it. If you want to make me happy, please share it on the social media and subscribe to my newsletter using the form on the right. Cheers!

(Header image by Pimax)

Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I've still not waken up...