The VR market continues to chug along steadily. It may not be “the future of gaming”, as we were told in the 2010s with the advent of Oculus Rift and PSVR 1. But it’s certainly a valid optional way to play, and for those with money to spare on their hobby, getting immersed in a virtual reality world can be an incredible experience. Enter the Pimax Crystal, a VR headset from a company you’ve probably never heard of, offering up the highest visual clarity of any headset currently on the market. But to claim that you’re the best at anything comes with a hefty price tag.
The Pimax Crystal starts at an eye-watering $1,600, putting this far out of reach of casual VR enthusiasts. This is only for serious virtual reality fans, with seriously stretchy wallets. And while there are some things we absolutely love about the Crystal, it is absolutely not worth dropping such a substantial amount of money on.
Pimax Crystal review: Specifications
- 2880 x 2880 pixels per eye, QLED + Mini LED display
- Refresh rate: 90Hz/120Hz
- 125° horizontal field of view
- 6,000 mAh replaceable battery
- Built-in Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor
Setting up the Pimax Crystal
Setting up the Pimax Crystal was, in no uncertain terms, an absolute nightmare. This mess of cables was almost enough to make us throw the towel in, compounded by the fact that the supplied instructions are incredibly basic, and the full user manual found online isn’t all that helpful either.
It’s no exaggeration to say it took us a good hour or so to get everything set up for the first time – although a significant amount of that time was spent simply staring at the contents of the box, thinking “what on Earth“. Obviously, once you’re familiar with everything, it’ll only take a few minutes.
What’s in the box?
- 2x controllers
- DP cable (triple-ended)
- 2x USC Type-C cable
- 2x batteries
- 1x charging dock
- Screwdriver, screw and lens cloth
- Connection hub kit
Written down, it doesn’t sound like a lot. But taking everything out of the box, it’s initially difficult to wrap your head around where everything goes – especially when you’re used to the one-cable simplicity of something like PSVR 2 (or the zero-cable ease of Meta Quest).
Essentially, the Display Port cable provides all the power you need: the single display port connector goes into the headset, while the USBs at the other end go into the connection hub and the Display Port goes into your PC. Also from the connection hub is a mains power cable, and of course the USB which connects it to your computer. It’s quite the mess of cables when you’re done.
There are a few other things to consider, too. The Pimax Crystal also has a battery pack, and while we assumed this would only be used when you’re using the headset’s standalone mode – more on that later – our headset initially would not turn on when connected to the PC. We assume that it’s because the battery had no charge. And, when it comes to updating your headset, you need to throw another cable into the mix: a USB-C running from the headset to your PC.
In truth, once everything was connected and our PC finally picked up the headset, the Pimax software was easy enough to use. From there we could seamlessly connect the controllers and update the headset to the latest firmware, which went without a hitch. Finally – finally – we were ready to use the headset.
Pimax Crystal VR headset review: PC mode
It’s safe to say that most people are going to be using the Pimax Crystal in PC mode. It supports dual functionality, but it’s when it’s connected to your PC that you’re going to get the most out of the headset. Loading up Steam VR was easy, and within seconds we were within Steam’s gorgeous VR environment.
Instantly, we could see just how beautifully clear the Pimax Crystal’s screens are. Crystal clear for sure. This is what you’re paying for, and the stress of setting everything up is almost worth it for the sheer level of clarity on display here. There’s not a pixel in sight. Of course, the resolution and visual quality is going to be impacted by your PC’s capabilities and dependent on the game you’re playing. Pimax recommends a minimum GPU of RTX2070. We used a 3060, which performed valiantly. But if you want to push the most demanding VR games to 4K resolutions and above, you’ll need a more powerful graphics card. Something to keep in mind.
The controllers used by Pimax Crystal are practically identical to Meta Quest 2 controllers: in fact, Steam picks them up as such. We had a problem when trying to play Tetris Effect in that it would not pick up our thumbstick inputs (but buttons worked fine). We’ve not had a problem with the game before, so we’re putting it down to the controller’s firmware. Every other game we tried was fine. It could have just been “one of those things”.
With built-in cameras, the Crystal had no problem detecting our movements and worked flawlessly in that regard. It also utilises Tobii eye-tracking technology within the headset, focusing on what you’re looking at in-game. It’s a feature we’re already familiar with thanks to PSVR 2, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
Outside of Steam VR, Pimax also has its own storefront. Currently, there are only 30 applications to buy on there, however, and none of them were games we’d heard of. Don’t expect to see the latest releases on Pimax’s own store – and we can’t imagine that’s going to change any time soon.
We should also note that you’ll need a desktop PC to use Pimax Crystal: it connects to your machine via a display port cable, which most laptops don’t have. We can’t confirm if using a display port to HDMI adapter will work, but Pimax’s official documentation states that laptops are “incompatible”.
Pimax Crystal: Standalone use
It’s the lack of games on the Pimax store that means we can’t really recommend the Crystal as a valid standalone option. There are even less applications for sale within the standalone interface: just 12. Sure, one or two of the games might offer a bit of fun, but you’ll soon get fed up with the selection.
It’s a shame, too, because Pimax has put some work into making the Crystal one of the best standalone headsets out there, from a technical point of view. The box comes with two high capacity batteries, allowing you to hotswap between them when one’s running low. A tiny battery within the headset allows you to switch it out without losing power, too. With an external battery pack included, which allows you to charge up your second battery independently of the headset, it means you can essentially have constant power – which could genuinely be a gamechanger. But when there’s not much on offer within Pimax’s store, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Pimax Crystal build quality
This is a solid headset. It’s also huge, and feels rather cumbersome on your head. It’s fairly comfortable thanks to plenty of padding, and it’s easy to adjust. BUt there’s no denying it’s much heavier to wear than a Quest or PSVR 2 headset.
Still, everything feels well-built. The headset is tightened to your head with a dial found on the back, which is sturdy and easy to use. You’ll also find built-in speakers on each side of the headset, which offer decent sound quality and volume.
The size of the headset means it’s very easy to use as a glasses-wearer: we had absolutely no problems fitting the Crystal over our glasses and it didn’t push them into our face at all.
Pimax Crystal review: Should you buy one?
There’s no denying that the visual quality of the Pimax Crystal VR headset is absolutely outstanding. Our games felt more immersive than ever, giving us that “wow” moment that we’ve rarely had since the first time we used VR. The added clarity goes a long way to make you really feel like you’re there, and that’s the feeling you want when playing a virtual reality game.
Unfortunately, the clunkiness of the Pimax Crystal’s set up, the lack of support on its own storefronts and the questionable firmware in the controllers mean this isn’t a great choice for most VR gamers. As much as its dual-functionality is a selling point, there’s little point in a standalone headset that has next-to-no games available.
There’s also the price point to consider. $1,600 is a lot of money. This is the high-high end price point for VR, and while the impressive pixel count of the headset goes some way to justify the cost, everything else lets it down. Especially when you consider that the new Meta Quest 3 has a per eye resolution of 2,064 x 2,208 – not worlds away – but costs literally a third of the price. Not to mention has a library of hundreds of games.
Yes, the Pimax Crystal is a nice headset. And if you’ve got money to burn, absolutely go for it: you’ll get a huge kick out of how nice your games look on this thing, particularly if you’ve got a powerful PC to pair it with. But if you’re considering a VR headset for the first time or are wanting something that’s easy to use with lots of games available, this isn’t it.
Thank you to Pimax for providing us with a headset for review purposes.