Pimax introduces a handheld console that is supposed to combine virtual reality and mobile gaming. Is smartphone VR making a comeback?
At yesterday’s Pimax Frontier 2022 launch event, Pimax presented a “Metaverse Entertainment System”, or MES for short. With Pimax Portal, the Chinese VR headset manufacturer aims to bring together mobile gaming, PC gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality. The handheld console is WLAN streaming-capable and can be connected to the TV via a docking station or to the computer via an HDMI cable. The display can also be inserted into a VR headset case.
Android, Snapdragon XR2 and WiFi-6E
Pimax Portal is funded by a Kickstarter campaign. The pre-sale will start on November 15. In the cheapest option, Pimax Portal costs $299, while in the most expensive it is listed at $599. The device uses an unspecified ARM-based chip and a Snapdragon XR2.
The latter is also used in current mobile VR headsets like the Meta Quest Pro. In addition, there is 8 GB of RAM and storage space and between 128 and 256 GB. The storage can be expanded up to 1 TB via micro-SD card.
The Pimax Portal’s OS is based on Android, which is supposed to make “millions of mobile games” playable. All Portal consoles feature WiFi-6E, and there is supposed to be an optional 5G mobile module for this. The Pimax WiGig module for more stable WLAN streaming is also compatible.
Pimax Portal: The best of Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck?
The layout and design of the Pimax Portal are strongly reminiscent of Nintendo’s competition. Joystick and button arrangement are almost identical. In contrast to the Nintendo Switch, the MES has slightly more option buttons on the upper and lower edges. Furthermore, the shoulder buttons are analog and their resistance is supposed to be continuously adjustable.
The controllers are supposed to be detachable like on the Switch, but via a magnetic mount. Like the JoyCons, the Pimax’s controllers can be used for motion control or divided among several players for multiplayer games. Up to six controllers can be connected to one console.
Another feature that strongly reminds of the Nintendo Switch is the optional docking station. This allows the Pimax Portal to be connected directly to a TV and used on the big screen.
In terms of display, Pimax Portal clearly trumps the Switch: QLED display with mini-LED, HDR, 4K resolution and a refresh rate of 144 Hz. The Switch OLED in comparison only manages 1,280 x 720 pixels at a maximum of 60 Hz. In return, the screen of Nintendo’s handheld is larger than the 5.5-inch display of the standard Portal with 7 inches (ca. 18 cm).
Pimax Portal XL: Expansion for mobile PC gaming
With the Pimax Portal XL, Pimax also offers a case expansion that is more aimed at PC gamers. Here, Pimax installs an 8.8-inch screen with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels and a refresh rate of 120 Hz. Pimax Portal and the controllers are plugged into the Pimax Portal XL case. The WiGig module can stream PC games to the handheld.
Pimax Portal also supports the cloud gaming services of Xbox Game Pass and Nvidia’s GeForce Now. To allow PC games to be played on the go, Pimax offers the Mini Station, a kind of mobile mini-PC with an AMD 6800U processor and 32 GB of RAM. Games can be installed on a 1 TB SSD hard drive on it and streamed to the handheld.
Pimax Portal: Back to smartphone VR?
The Pimax Portal has a long-forgotten feature: the display can be inserted into a VR headset case, the “Portal View”, just like in smartphone VR times. For the detachable controllers, Pimax offers cases to use them as VR controllers. Five cameras on the back of the console casing are supposed to enable augmented reality applications and inside-out tracking in VR mode.
As with the Pimax Crystal, the VR headset housing for Pimax Portal is said to feature two different types of aspherical interchangeable lenses. The standard pair with 27 PPD and a 100-degree field of view is primarily intended for VR applications.
In addition, there is a 40 PPD lens pair with a 60-degree field of view for movies. Pimax also states that a “Portal Social Edition” with eye and face tracking is in the works. Portal View can also be used for PC VR gaming. A mini HDMI port allows the VR headset to be connected directly to a computer.