As promised, here is a deeper review of my experience with Nolo VR for the past weeks. For reference purpose, here is the specification of my setup.
10GB RAM DDR3
Galaxy S8 – GearVR – Vridge for GearVR
Galaxy Note 5 – Android BOBO VR Z4 – Vridge for Android
When I received my Nolo VR, I was surprised by the quality of the product. To be honest, I was expecting some cheap and light plastic devices, but instead, it’s a solid piece of hardware. The weight of the base station, coupled with the non-skid base feels safe wherever you place it. Both remote feel heavy enough to be comfortable and fits well in my hand. They also look sturdy enough to survive a hard fall on the floor. The head tracker is light enough to virtually add no weight to your headset. It comes with two different clips to fit different headset types. One that is flat and can be stuck on the top of the headset, and one in an L shape to stick on the front of headsets.
Nolo VR comes with a few cables. A USB to 3 MicroUSB cable is used for charging the base station and both remotes together. The head-tracker does not need charging as it is always hooked up to work and gets its power from the USB. There is also a 4m dual USB (2 USB to 2 MicroUSB) cable used for connecting the head-tracker to the PC to be able to send tracking info to SteamVR, and the phone to the PC if you wish to stream using USB mode instead of 5GHz WiFi. You read that right, you will stream the video to your phone as a mobile phone does not have support for an HDMI feed like PC VR headsets like the Rift or Vive. Finally, it comes with a smaller 4-inch cable to connect the head tracker directly to the phone for those Native Nolo VR mobile apps like Nolo Tetris. At the moment of this review, Riftcat updated their BETA software to allow NoloVR to work wirelessly, requiring only the head-tracker to be connected to the phone USB port. It is a major feat, allowing much more freedom of movement.
NOTE: I personally have issues with the provided 4M cable, it took me a few hours to figure out it was the cable, not the whole NoloVR that was defective. I had to switch to a smaller 3M cable. It seems to be a known issue for many NoloVR customers.
After unpacking everything comes the not so fun part. You need to install everything, but it’ll take time to fully get the perfect setup. First, charge everything until their lights turn green. The setup process can now start. You must be aware of a few thing before choosing your setup. The base station has a field of view of about 110 degrees. It is important because placing the base station too close, too low or too high may result in tracking issues. I’ve included a few images to understand the issues you might have to help reduce blind spots. I personally have my setup 4 meters away from my playing area, the tracker at shoulder height.
The whole process took me about 4 hours, including finding the spot, installing the software and set the parameters for the best result. Add an additional 3 hours to fix the issues caused by the provided 4m cable. I suggest using Nolo Tetris first to calibrate everything. Because it’s an Android app, you can do everything without being tethered to the computer and install everything. This way you are going to be sure your setup works and gives you the freedom to quickly make changes as you are completely wireless, except for the small cable from the tracker to your phone.
Once the tracker is set, time to install everything. You need the NoloVR driver, it’s a quick .msi install. Once it is done, it’ll add the Nolo app on your desktop. Run it on every reboot to make sure it is running and ready to receive NoloVR tracking data. The app lets you see what’s connected and offers a few tools I never use. One of them is the visualizer that helps seeing if everything is tracked, but when it does not see the headset, it generates a dark object and I hear my graphic card squeal, so I don’t suggest using it at all. Instead, you’ll see later that I use the Mirror View from SteamVR app to set it up properly.
NOTE: I currently only used the front facing tracking, but there is a driver for ceiling tracking, giving you more freedom of movement IF your ceiling is high enough (remember, 110 degree of view is small if your head tracker is less than 1m from the ceiling.)
Once you are done with Nolo, you need Riftcat/Vridge (Riftcat is the PC client, and Vridge is the phone app) or Trinus VR. I personally use Riftcat as I already paid for the license, but some user experienced issues with it while Trinus VR works great too. Riftcat is easy to set up as well, just install. Now the tricky part is when choosing to stream via USB (I don’t) because you need to make sure your phone is hooked up, and in the settings, you must enable USB tethering. This may cause your computer to use your phone DATA to go on the Internet, so you might want to disable DATA on the phone as well. Using 5Ghz WiFi for me has no issues and delivered the same quality as the USB. You will take an hour or two fiddling with Riftcat settings to get the best result for a seamless, high-quality stream. There is a guide on Nolo’s or Riftcat’s website on how to set up the tracker option and SteamVR options. The last thing you will probably fiddle with is Nolo streaming settings to get the best result in term of image quality and latency.
Once those done, you are now ready to go. Launch NoloVR, launch Riftcat and choose SteamVR, you will be launched into SteamVR Home (if Steam and SteamVR is already installed).
That is when the magic happens. If you never tried room scale VR, you should be pleasantly surprised by the result. If you did had the experience before on devices like the HTC Vive, you’ll notice the experience is not on par, but it is still quite acceptable.
After the novelty wears off :
Of course, the first few hours were pure goodness. Being able to play most SteamVR games is quite satisfying, but what happens when the novelty wears off? The many issues start to bother a bit.
NoloVR is compatible with most games and apps on Steam VR, but somehow, some apps just won’t work. Here are a few of the issues I discovered.
Google Earth: Nolo is detected as an Oculus Rift headset, and that is a major issue on controls. The thumbsticks remain on the bottom left when the pads are untouched, making the app unusable.
RecRoom: It often finds me as Inactive, although I am well active. Throwing stuff is also a pain with Nolo VR.
Many games have throwing issues. I don’t know if it’s in the way they are programmed, but while I can handle throwing in SuperHoyt, many games can’t do it properly.
NoloVR tracking is shaky. In most case, it won’t be an issue, but in games like Pavlov, it is impossible to snipe. Subtle movements just won’t make it. I’ve tried different setups and distance and it’s still an issue.
Room Setup and Recalibration :
You’ll get used to it because you are going to do it a lot. Every time you launch SteamVR from Riftcat, there’s a 50/50 chance you have to run room setup again.
Tracking errors :
You’ll get those too. Even in a closed room without any reflection, sometimes my controller or my head will jump to a distant location and come back within a second or two.
Inverted tracking :
It also happens often where tracking is inverted. When I step forward, the image moves backward. It’s usually easy to fix, with a mix of recalibration and 180 degrees turn, it often replaces itself for the session.
Drifting with Cardboard:
Nolo and Riftcat uses the headtracker only for positional tracking. Rotation is calculated by the phone sensors. In this case, I often get drifting from the Note 5 when in Cardboard mode. While my BoboVR offered a better quality in term of image, the whole experience was painful compared to the Gear VR version.
Nolo Vr has its many flaws, but it’s still enjoyable, most of the time. If there is no way for you to get your hand on an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, it is a good alternative that will please most of it’s users, if you are willing to cope with the setup as well as all the issues above. The truth is, it will probably convince you to get a better VR headset within a few weeks of trying it out. The technology is quite amazing, but you will still feel in better hands from Hardware makers like HTC of Oculus. The software is still in Beta and many issues could be fixed in the future. The good thing is that the software is open source on Github, so even if Nolo VR ends up closing its door, the software can still be developed by the community. In fact, alternative software is starting to pop up here and there.
- Low Price for Sturdy Hardware
- Opensource Software
- 95+% Steam VR compatibility
- Endless calibration
- Shaky tracking
- Overall tracking hiccups