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Pimax surprises with a crazy handheld / VR / set-top / portable PC combo at Frontier 2022

Pimax is shooting for the stars, at least according to their Pimax Frontier 2022 event earlier this afternoon. During this event they revealed a new product that they’ve dubbed “VR 3.0” — the Pimax Portal. Let’s get into it.

1. This new VR 3.0 product is designed for a wide audience As we all know another name for the metaverse in China is full-service Internet. In order to bring the VR 3.0 experience to the mainstream Pimax created the Pimax Portal. The Portal is a revolutionary metaverse product that leverages seven years of Pimax VR innovations. This device includes breakthroughs in four areas – it’s an innovative handheld gaming device, it’s a VR 3.0 headset for mainstream audiences, it’s a portable PC gaming system, and it’s the ultimate living room entertainment center. This is a 4-in-1 product introduces more people into the world of virtual reality, allowing technology to provide people new freedom.

2. Hardcore technology that revolutionizes console gaming
This amazing high performance handheld gaming device brings the gaming experience to a higher level. Pimax Portal brings dramatic technical improvements to the visual experience, latency and hardware design. We have all experienced these main weaknesses of handheld devices and Pimax has worked a long time to address all of them. This is the world’s first handheld device with 4K resolution; a smooth 144Hz refresh rate that is much higher than 90% of devices on the market and makes use of VR technology to provide ASW that lowers latency to less than 20ms.

Obviously a direct competitor to things like the Meta Quest 2, but with specs like the ones they revealed at the event, it’s also a cut above the rest.   Let’s look at the spec sheet:

 

It’s worth diving into this a bit as there’s a lot to unpack. First off, if you’ve not picked it up, we are looking at four separate devices here — a powerful handheld, a “VR 3.0” headset, a “Portable PC Gaming System”, and an “Entertainment hub” for your living room, but all rolled into a single device. Let’s break down each:

The Console:
The team clearly recognizes that we don’t need another phone offshoot, nor do we need another walled garden ecosystem. To that end, team Pimax has built a brand new handheld that aims to break out of those conventions. As Pimax tends to push the power and technology envelope, they are taking what teams like Nintendo and Apple have done, and adding their own twist to the mix. That means 4K display on a handheld — a first for any platform. It also means 807 PPI instead of the 210 something like the Switch offers. The screen itself will be a 2nd Gen QLED panel, impoted directly from tech they’ve integrated into their highest-end headsets. Naturally, they are also pushing the envelope on refresh rates as this display will have 4K resolution with 144Hz output. Given that the best systems out there right now are sporting 60 at the very most, that’s a huge uplift in visual clarity. They’ll also be integrating Asynchronous Reprojection Technology, again ported directly from VR, to ensure that framerate remains silky smooth and consistent. This is the first and only handheld to have this tech, so it’ll be interesting to see it in motion. Better still, it’ll do it all at a purported 25ms latency.

Like the Steamdeck, it’ll support active cooling venting out of the rear of the system, but it’ll remain unlocked so you can overclock it to maximize performance.

In a break from tradition from every other console, Pimax isn’t simply emulating the button layout of a controller on their handheld. instead, they are offering six face buttons on both sides, as well as three function buttons on each. This is in addition to the bumpers and triggers you’d expect, offering a greater degree of flexibility across its 32 physical buttons. You’ll have options. You’ll be able to download new button mappings on a per-game basis directly from the Portal ecosystem.

The triggers on the back and analog, and also have force feedback. They also have linear motors to best approximate real-world kick of things like a rifle or racing wheel.

All of this hardware is powered by a partnership with Qualcomm. Their newest Snapdragon GPU, the XR2, will power the Portal. It’ll bring some new features like high-speed dock transfers, and Wifi-6E as standard, with an optional 5G upgrade if you want to take your online gaming on the go.

If this handheld sounds completely insane, you aren’t even ready for what’s next. The Pimax portal will also support 6doF (six degrees of freedom) courtesy of four body cameras and a large center camera on the back of the device. This brings millimeter-level augmented reality capabilities to the device in a way we’ve not seen in any device to date.

For those wondering, the device does run on a custom version of Android, melded with the Pimax ecosystem the team released earlier this year. This means you’ll be able to play anyting in the Android catalog, but I see emulation written all of this beast.

Returning to the spec sheet, we see that the Portal is sporting 8GB of RAM, and has either 128 or 256GB of internal storage, with microSD expansion of up to 1TB.  It also has a 5000 mAh battery to keep you gaming on the go longer.  When you are just wanting to use the device as a screen, the sidecar controllers can be removed with a tug as they are attached magnetically.   Here’s where it gets very, very different.

The Headset:
Popping the controllers off the device, you’ll then slide those controllers into the left and right controllers, converting them to something akin to the Crystal controller.  The screen then slides directly into the headset device, transforming this immediately into full on-face VR  Those four cameras on the rear of the device now provide inside-out tracking for the controllers, meaning you can set up without the need for towers or other tracking devices.  The use of QLED and mini-LED technology means you’ll have a nice wide 4K/120 Hz screen ready to handle VR in a matter of moments.  Better still, it conveys with it a 24 PPD, or pixels per degree — roughly double that of other standalone VR headsets.

If you groaned when you heard this device plays Android games, I understand, but I have good news.  The device also supports direct connection to a PC, either with a standard HDMI cable, or with the included WiGig connection to play any of the games you own on Steam.  Something well also be seeing on the Pimax Crystal 12K when it ships to market.

Last week we got a closer look at the Crystal, and one of the big features was the ability to swap out the lenses for higher PPD ones.  Well, that same tech is coming to the Portal.  The standard lens, the aforementioned 24PPD ones, will bring with them a 100 degree field of view.   The second set drops the field of view to 60 degrees, but bumps the PPD all the way up to 40. This is called “Movie mode” and I can imagine at that resolution it’d be like sitting in an IMAX. Speaking of IMAX, if you want maximum field of view, there is a third lens — a 20PPD set that delivers a whopping 140 degree wide field of view, and a 110 degree vertical that Pimax is calling “Portal Horizon”.

The second set drops the field of view to 60 degrees, but bumps the PPD all the way up to 40. This is called “Movie mode” and I can imagine at that resolution it’d be like sitting in an IMAX. Speaking of IMAX, if you want maximum field of view, there is a third lens — a 20PPD set that delivers a whopping 140 degree wide field of view, and a 110 degree vertical that Pimax is calling “Portal Horizon”.

To help with battery life, the headset itself is a battery pack. Using a counter-weight design in the rear, this battery adds 6000 mAh, which combined with the 4000 mAh in the headset, provides 10,00 mAH of power to keep you gaming longer.

The Portable PC:
The Pimax team believes if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, and wow have they done that here. If the 5.5″ screen isn’t big enough, well, then you’ll want to take a look at the Portable PC Gaming System.  Sliding into a new body and locking in, the Pimax Portal instantly converts to a larger device — one with 8.8″ of screen real estate and 120Hz refresh rate at 2560×1600 resolution.   Utilizing the native WiGig connection, you now have a larger form factor handheld that will allow you to enjoy a larger viewing slate without compromising quality.

If your intention is to take this little monster on the go, then you’ll also want to take a look at the Mini Station.   It’s effectively a repeater for your home, allowing you to stream from anywhere, utilizing tech from companies like NVIDIA and AMD.  It offloads the more intensive workloads to this standalone puck, allowing the Steamdeck to enjoy faster framerates and high resolutions by effectively splitting the workload.

We got a brief look at the portable PC during their last presentation, and now we finally have some detail.  Utilizing the same split architectural design mentioned above, this PC will allow the device to split the workload between local power and the cloud before sending the output to the Portal.  The Pimax team claims a doubling of framerate, so that’s a gamechanger — can’t wait to test that out.

The Entertainment Hub:
The final leg on this journey is the Pimax Portal as an entertainment hub.  Connecting with the cameras facing towards the people in the room, and plugged into a dock, the device now has 6doF tracking in your play space.  Combined with the controllers, which can magnetically connect together.  This space tracking will enable tracking not unlike what we see with the PlayStation Camera or the Kinect, but with the controllers to assist with tracking.  It’s a nod towards augmented reality gaming.  Fitness gaming can be a way for people to engage with VR platforms, but without the headset on your head.   Again, it’s another game changer as it’ll allow folks to engage without wires and without headbands holding them back.

Beyond the AR functionality, the team is also allowing the Portal to be used as a set top box.  Supporting streaming services like Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, it can be the central hub for your next binge watch, but it does so at 8K resolution.  This dock will also charge the controllers, act as a central hub with Ethernet and USB-C and A ports for interconnection, and HDMI out.

Pricing:
Naturally you are going to ask how much this costs, and frankly I’m surprised to report that it’s going to retail for $299.   The rest of the device’s capabilities are very much a la carte, as the larger storage model will run you $399, the QLED version is $549, the Portal View headset is $449, and the QLED upgraded version is $599.  Naturally you don’t have to purchase all of these things up front to use the Portal.   Rather than just charging forward to release, the team is taking this to Kickstarter.  The reasons for doing so are sound — it’ll allow the team to solicit feedback from their would-be customers directly, ensuring that this device does precisely what we want it to do.

There’s a great deal of work ahead for Pimax, but it’s clear that they are working hard to create products that extend well past VR at this stage.  It’s great to see more affordable hardware from Pimax, and I’m eager to see how the Kickstarter campaign turns out.  I suspect this is one folks will jump on rather quickly.  It has the hardware to knock out some of the most powerful systems for things like emulation, but it does so, so much more.

Look for our continued coverage, and eventually some hands-on time with the Portal and other devices from Pimax during their roadshow in November and December.   If you’d like to follow the Kickstarter, it’ll launch on November 15th at 8am EST, and you can jump in right here.

 

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