here is the written version of my 8K X preview, for all of you who are not into watching long videos. This even has a bit more detail since I could not put everything into the video. Enjoy!
Pimax 8K X Preview (MRTV)
The Pimax 8K X is the new Pimax flagship model, the most advanced headset that the company is offering. Its unique selling proposition clearly are the dual 4k displays that can be run at their native resolution, something that no other consumer VR headset can match.
Coming in at $1299 for the headset only or $1828 for the complete bundle including base stations and controllers the 8K X is around double the price of the Valve Index and therefore clearly targeted at the VR enthusiast that is looking for the very cutting edge of the technology and that is willing to pay up for it.
In this preview you will find out how it fares against the Valve Index and why for some of you this might be the headset you have been waiting for but for most of us the additional $1000 on top of the Valve Index complete package won’t be worth the additional expense.
Disclaimer: For this preview I was able to check out a preproduction version of the 8K X that did not come with the final audio solution and therefore I cannot give a final judgement on audio. The optics are final though and therefore this preview is as close to a review as it can get.
At $1299 (or $1399 for the version with a more advanced audio solution) the headset offers two 4k displays that can either be driven at their native resolution of 38402160 per eye or upscaled from 25601440p per eye if the GPU is not quite up to speed rendering the dual native 4k resolution. The LC-Displays offer a maximum refresh rate of 75hz in native mode and 90hz when upscaled.
Just as we come to expect from a Pimax headset the FOV is way bigger than that of the competition and offers 200° as compared to the standard 110° or the 135° of the Valve Index. More is not always better though and the higher the FOV, the more distortions will be visible in the peripheral area that some consumers might find distracting. Anyways, the customer can always lower visible FOV in the headset’s settings and therefore also reduce the visible distortions.
Just as all the other Pimax headsets the 8K X uses the SteamVR Lighthouse tracking technology. Therefore, to be able to use the headset, customers will need the Lighthouse base stations and compatible controllers like the Vive Wands or the Valve Index Controllers.
Should customers still own base stations from their previous Lighthouse headsets those can be used. Otherwise customers can opt for a full bundle including two base stations (v2.0) and the Valve Index controllers. Such a bundle is priced at $1828 (* all prices excluding tax and custom duties!) for the version with the standard headphone solution and $1928 for the so called Deluxe Headphone Version.
Build Quality, Comfort and Features
The Pimax 8K X is part of the new Vision Series of Pimax headsets. These come with a way superior housing quality as compared to the previous Pimax models. The shape of the Vision Series headsets is still the same as before but the material used has been upgraded. According to the Pimax website the new material comes with a “special damage resistant coating”. This coating has a rubbery feel to it and from my first impressions does deliver a quality standard that is definitely better than what we have seen from Pimax before. In direct comparison to the build quality of Valve Index the 8K X can still hardly compete though and it is quite interesting to see how Valve was able to manufacture such a quality product at a $499 asking price.
The Pimax 8K X finally comes with a rigid head strap that the company calls “Modular Audio Strap” (MAS). The long awaited upgrade to the elastic strap makes all the difference when it comes to comfort. It closely resembles the rigid head strap of the Vive Pro and it is safe to say that the head strap of the competitor inspired Pimax for its own offering. That is not a bad thing though because the design simply works. It offers a counter weight for the headset and therefore manages to balance the headset really well. The 8K X therefore can be worn for hours without it feeling front heavy. Getting into the headset and adjusting it to the right size is also very straight forward and so much more convenient as compared to the elastic strap solution. Just like on most other competing headsets the user simply can turn an adjustment wheel at the back of the headstrap.
The Modular Audio Strap even has some advantages as compared to its competitors. Each of the soft textile paddings are velcroed onto the device and can be exchanged. So once the paddings are worn out they can simply be replaced by new ones. That is an advantage that even the Valve Index cannot offer.
The 8K X also comes in with the upgraded “Comfort Kit”, an improved facial interface that features a much broader area for the forehead to rest on. The material used here is a soft fabric that feels very comfortable and that is definitely also an upgrade as compared to previous face pads. These face pads are also interchangeable and Pimax also offers PU leather versions that some consumers might prefer for hygiene reasons.
The Modular Audio Strap comes in two versions. The Standard version and the Deluxe version. The difference here is the “Audio” part of the strap. The Standard version adopts an “open ear” approach similar to Oculus Rift S / Quest where small speakers simply emit sound in proximity to the ear. The $100 more expensive Deluxe version comes with on ear headphones. The preproduction model that this preview is based on came with the Standard MAS. Unfortunately though the speakers of that model are not the final ones and Pimax told me that they will replace them with much better ones for the final production units. Therefore I will need to wait for final judgement on this audio solution. The ones built into this preproduction model sounded “sub-par” at best and absolutely need replacement.
The headset itself comes with all the same features that we know from the previous headsets. There is an IPD adjustment wheel, on/off button, volume rockers and 2 USB-C connectors for future upgrades like the eye tracking or the hand tracking module. The headset now sports two 3.5mm audio jacks on both sides, an upgrade from the single jack of previous models.
There are also some changes with the cable. Instead of having to power the device with an external power adapter, it now simply uses an additional USB plug to do so. Overall the cable now has 3 plugs: 1 Display Port and 2 USB plugs.
The cable length is 5m which makes it long enough to use in most play spaces.
Display, Lenses & FOV
For many of you this section of the preview might as well be the most exciting one, let’s discuss the picture quality. Is the picture quality truly as amazing as you might expect from dual native 4k displays? The answer is a resounding YES. Beyond any doubt the picture quality here is truly amazing and better than that of the Valve Index. Also when directly compared to the HP Reverb I would prefer the 8K X display. If you really want to run the 8K X at its native resolution though you will need a high-end computer and we will find out more about that in the “Benchmark” section of this preview.
The displays both feature a resolution of 3840*2160p per eye (4k). The LCD panels that are being used here offer a full RGB stripe matrix, meaning each pixel is being represented by 3 subpixels and therefore we have an extremely high fill factor. Screen Door Effect (SDE) is truly a problem of the past here.
Unfortunately, in order to achieve this kind of resolution over a single Display Port connection, sacrifices had to be made. When using the 8K X in its native 4k mode, the maximum refresh rate is only 75hz. Not many applications will be optimized enough to be able to render dual native 4k in 75fps on current machines anyways but some, like for example Half-Life: Alyx actually can do so. Therefore the 75hz maximum refresh rate of the native 4k mode is indeed a limitation that does matter now and will even matter more once GPUs are on the market that could easily provide rendering of dual 4k frames at a faster render rate than 75 per second.
For me personally, for the longest time I thought I could not tell the difference between different refresh rates. If I played a game in 90hz or 120hz, I did not really see a big difference. But now, when A/B comparing a game that will truly give me 120 fps like Half-Life: Alyx and then playing the same game with 75 fps on the Pimax 8K X in 4k native mode, the difference is painfully obvious. I feel way more immersion on headsets like the Index or the Artisan that run at 120hz, even though the resolution is not as high as with the 8K X. That also has to do with more visible distortions on the 8K X that are especially obvious in games with lots of head movements like Half-Life: Alyx and we will get to that in a moment.
For games that are not as highly optimized as HL: Alyx, you must be extremely aware of the fact that the amount of frames per second that your GPU can render might not make for an enjoyable experience. Again, more about that in the “Benchmark” section.
If the device is used in upscale mode, meaning a lower input resolution of 25601440p is upscaled to 4k, a higher refresh rate of 90hz can be achieved(). Once in that mode, it closely resembles the Pimax 8K Plus model that is $300 cheaper than the 8K X.
The 8K X uses exactly the same Fresnel lenses that had been used in all the other recent Pimax wide FOV headsets. They do a fairly good job at projecting the wide FOV picture into the user’s eyes. Like all Fresnel lenses there is still some glare in high contrast scenes. These “god rays” are not as bad though as in the Valve Index and I do not think that they would actually cause problems for anyone.
Pimax headsets are known for their wide Field Of View (FOV). The 8K X is no exception here and it offers 4 different options: Large, Normal, Small and Potato. The “Large” FOV boasts a 200° (diagonal) FOV which is quite a big difference to the 135° of the Valve Index and the the 110° of the other competing consumer VR headsets at the moment. The higher FOV does make a big difference and will simply allow for a deeper immersion into Virtual Worlds. If you are not affected by the added distortions that are introduced by the larger FOVs and that is quite a big “if”.
Distortions and warping around the edges of the visible area had been a big topic and reason of concern since the introduction of the wide FOV headsets. Offering such a huge FOV does come with some drawbacks and compromises that the customer has to live with. Some might not be affected at all and barely see them, for others they might be a show stopper.
It is quite interesting to see how different people may have totally different perceptions of the distortions introduced by Pimax headsets. I had shown the device to quite a number of people at the MRTV Headquarter and for some the distortions were not a problem at all while others dismissed the headsets after just a few moments. Therefore, each individual needs to try out the wide FOV headsets for themselves to really be able to make an educated decision. And that is probably why companies like Valve went for the smaller 135° FOV instead of trying to introduce an ultrawide FOV headset. For the Valve Index and those headsets with smaller FOV, you can be sure there is absolutely no distortion at all and you do not need to worry about that problem. Wearing these headsets for hours is possible without eye strain.
To be able to get an idea about the distortion of the 8K X, I will give you my personal assessment now. First of all, the larger the FOV, the bigger the distortions. So that’s why I always had been using the “Normal” option on prior Pimax headsets. And comparing the distortion on “Normal” of the 8K X to the distortions of the Pimax 5K Plus that I had been using before as my go to Pimax headset, I can say that I perceive a bit less of distortions with the new model but they are still noticeable for me. I have reached out to Pimax to find out why I would see less distortions as compared to the 5K Plus and the answer was that the new Comfort Kit facial padding would put the user’s eyes at just the right distance and angle to the lenses which would minimize distortions.
Unfortunately the distortions are still very visible when using the “Large” option and even at “Normal” you might first need some hours to have your brain get used to them.
It also depends on the type of game you play. If there are lots of head movements like for example in a game like HL: Alyx those distortions would become more apparent and might be distracting. If you play a cockpit game though, where you have very few head movements, you might not be distracted by the distortions at all.
In direct comparison to the entry level “Artisan” headset, I perceived more distortions when using the 8K X, even when comparing the displays at similar FOV settings. Also, I had less eye strain after using the entry level Pimax headset for longer periods of time. The reason for that most probably is the higher 120hz refresh rate of the Artisan in conjunction with the more eye friendly distortion profile. I had already argued in my Artisan preview that Pimax might have found a great compromise between FOV and comfort by not trying to maximize the FOV as they do with their other headsets. I had reached out to Pimax to find out why I would see less distortions on the Artisan and the company replied they had already finalized the distortion profile on the Artisan while they are still tuning it for the 8K X.
Colours and black levels of the 8K X are on a similar level as the LCD panels of the previous Pimax headsets. They don’t stand out as either positive or negative and you can still adjust contrast and brightness in the Pitool yourself. However, in direct comparison to the colors and black levels of the Valve Index, the 8K X is clearly inferior.
Overall the picture quality is what you expect from a true native 4k headset and if distortions of prior Pimax devices were not a problem for you, you also won’t have problems here and you will without a doubt love the picture quality that the 8K X delivers.
(*) On the Pimax website 90hz are mentioned, the company told me that they have also achieved 120hz already but that they still need more testing.
Pimax offers their Modular Audio Strap in two different versions. The standard one, that adopts an “open ear” approach like Oculus Quest and Rift S and the Deluxe version, that comes with on ear headphones. The preproduction model that this preview is based on came with a standard version, however it was not the final one yet and that is why I cannot give a final judgement as far as audio is concerned. What I can say though is that the speaker is quite far away from the ear for the standard MAS and should there be any kind of other noises around the play area, that surely could affect immersion. But since there are two audio jacks the user could always just use their own headphones. Once I get to try out the final versions of the Modular Audio Straps, I will surely review them.
According to Pimax the recommended GPU for running the 8K X in native mode is an RTX 2080 (or better) and for upscale mode customers should at least own an RTX 2060 (or better). I was surprised that I could actually use the native mode at all with my GTX 1080ti. In really well optimized games I would even get the full 75fps in native mode.
For very demanding games like DCS or XPlane 11 I would absolutely recommend the fastest and best GPU available though to truly be able to enjoy the ultra-high resolution at acceptable frame rates. Running the 8K X with the top of the line GPU of the next generation should be pretty amazing and I am looking forward to that.
Anyone with an RTX 2080ti should be able to enjoy the headset also for these more demanding titles now already but for sure the investment into the 8K X will really pay off once the 3080ti arrives.
Just for being able to compare the 8K X with the Artisan and the Index in terms of performance, I am using the OpenVR Benchmark test again. On the same system that the Index reached 44fps and the Artisan could render 33 fps, the 8K X could do 20fps at an already scaled down 3188 * 2732px resolution. In upscaled mode at 90hz the Benchmark could produce 25 fps at 3852*1824p.
Again, for all those who are not familiar with the Open VR Benchmark, it is an app that would render exactly the same extremely demanding scene on the headset, so that headset/GPU combinations could be compared to each other in terms of fps. For this test, values below 90 fps are the norm and not the exception.
Tracking & Controllers
For my tests I used the Valve Index controllers and they performed as good as expected. Valve Lighthouse tracking simply is the best and most reliable tracking solution available to consumers. The company offers full bundles that include Valve Lighthouse base stations and Valve Index controllers and customers will be well advised to choose these controller bundles if they not already own the Index controllers and base stations.
Software Compatibility / Ease Of Setup
Just like all the Pimax headsets the 8K X is compatible with all StreamVR applications out of the box. Setting up the device is way easier than people may have heard and just as I mentioned in my Artisan preview, the “Pitool” software that is being used for set up and configuration has come a long way since its inception. Setting up the device is a matter of minutes.
Oculus Rift games can also be played and they simply have to be imported into Pitool and work well without the need to install any additional software.
Users can also configure brightness, colors and switch between native 4k or upscaled mode within the software and could get more involved into the nitty gritty if they choose to do so. For all others, the standard settings mostly work fine.
In my time with the 8K X I did run into some problems though. More than with other Pimax headsets, I experienced games crashing at startup and during the game. Especially the demanding titles like XPlane 11 and DCS, needed quite a few attempts before I could get them running on my system (i7 8700k, GTX1080ti, 32GB RAM). I have reached out to Pimax to find out why that would be the case and the company responded that CPU heavy games like XPlane need very stable CPU/RAM configurations and minor misconfigurations may easily cause these kind of crashes, especially on high resolutions. Now that could very well be the case, just I do not experience such crashes on the other headsets, probably because of the lower resolutions involved. Therefore again, this headset will absolutely boost hardware sales and especially those who like to invest in the latest and greatest will enjoy having a headset that truly makes use of the hardware like no other headset.
The Pimax 8K X is an impressive VR headset. The picture quality in native 4k mode is truly outstanding and better than any other consumer VR headset at this moment in time. Also the ultrawide FOV is something that only the Pimax headsets can offer.
Unfortunately this does come with quite a few compromises and caveats though, most notably the low 75hz maximum refresh rate that is especially perceivable when A/B comparing games running at 120hz in headsets like the Pimax Artisan or the Valve Index. Moreover, the distortion problem is still not perfectly solved here and for people who are very susceptible to even the slightest optical flaws, these distortions will be a problem.
Taking into consideration that the 8K X is more than double as expensive as the Valve Index, which offers a way higher refresh rate, a completely undistorted picture that everyone will be able to enjoy, better colors, better build-quality, more intricate optical settings (eye relieve) and a better sound (as compared to the Standard MAS**), the 8K X is a tough sell for the big majority of consumers. Those who simply want an amazing headset to play the latest games at a great audiovisual quality and high refresh rates on their current generation machines should better go for the Valve Index.
Those who are looking for a better value proposition than the 8K X but still want a bigger FOV than the above average Index FOV and that do not like the glare of the Index lenses should take a closer look at the Pimax Artisan.
Who should buy the 8K X then?
That said, the 8K X will be a fantastic headset for all those VR enthusiasts that are simply looking for the VR headset that can offer the best picture quality on the market right now. The 8K X will be just the right headset for simmers, those who need that extra clarity to perfectly read all the gauges in flight sims and those who need that extra resolution to see competing cars in racing sims further down the track. If you are the kind of enthusiast that will buy the upcoming RTX3080ti on day one, no matter the cost, and if you already owned a Pimax headset without being bothered by distortions, you belong to the group of people that will love and truly enjoy what the Pimax 8K X has to offer.
** Benchmark sound quality of Standard MAS is Oculus Quest, according to Pimax.
Sincerely, Sebastian (MRTV)