Bigscreen Beyond review: Gunning for the VR throne

The Bigscreen Beyond is miraculous. I expected the first hardware from Bigscreen, a company known mainly for its VR movie-watching app, to be merely a noble effort. You know, a brave attempt by a newcomer to make a splash in the niche world of VR – something that deserves golf claps and little more. They say hardware is hard for a reason; how can a small software company take on titans like Valve and Meta?

Despite everything stacked against it (and it’s not without some freshman stumbles), the Bigscreen Beyond stands out. It’s less a headset like the original Oculus Rift, and more akin to an oversized pair of glasses that can still immerse you. Consequently, it’s the most comfortable VR solution I’ve ever tested. It also has some of the sharpest displays I’ve ever seen, thanks to cutting-edge Micro-OLED panels (Meta, meanwhile, has fallen back on cheaper LCD displays for the Quest 3).

Somehow, a small VR app company built a truly compelling upgrade from the Valve Index, which is still one of the best VR headsets around. That deserves more than just golf claps.

Gallery: Bigscreen Beyond | 12 Photos

With all that being said, the Bigscreen Beyond also isn’t something I can recommend to most people. The average gamer doesn’t need a Ferrari, after all. While Meta is aiming for the masses with the $299 Quest 2 and $499 Quest 3, the $999 Bigscreen Beyond is squarely targeted at Valve Index owners and VR enthusiasts who demand more comfort and better screens. It’s meant for a niche of the niche. The Beyond is even harder to justify if you’re stepping into high-end VR for the first time, since it requires two SteamVR base stations ($300 for a pair) and Valve Index controllers ($279). A $1,578 setup isn’t exactly the best introduction to VR.

Nothing about the Beyond is easy. That makes it best suited for people who are already used to the inconveniences and indignities of PC VR. Upon ordering it, you’ll need to create a 3D scan of your face via a mobile website. That process took around five minutes for me, but it requires an iPhone – Android users will need to borrow one or sneakily scan their faces at an Apple Store.

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Once your face is scanned, Bigscreen 3D prints an eyepiece cushion that’s built specifically for you. That process also determines the interpupillary distance, or IPD for the headset’s lenses. Instead of being adjustable like some competitors, Bigscreen has 18 (!) different models of the Beyond to fit IPDs between 55 millimeters and 72mm. The company says being so rigid about IPD sizes allows it to reduce weight – I can only imagine the logistical nightmare that creates. (That extreme customization also means it’ll be tough to share the Beyond with others.)

I’ll admit, I was shocked how well it fit the first time I tried the Beyond. It barely felt like I was wearing anything at all, since the weight was evenly distributed across my face. There was no pressure around my eyes, or on the bridge of my nose, issues I’ve come to expect from heavy VR headsets. There was also no light leakage either, something that can easily kill immersion, and the cushions easily clamp onto the headset using magnets.

Side profile of the Bigscreen Beyond

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

According to Bigscreen founder and CEO Darshan Shankar, the company developed a unique skin-safe foam material for the face cushion. It can be washed with soap and water, making it potentially more sanitary than the sweat-absorbing pads on other headsets. Shankar says he’s been using one foam pad for several years, and, surprisingly enough, he doesn’t try to protect it while traveling. If you do need a replacement, though, you can order one from Bigscreen for $49.

Given how small it is, the Beyond also doesn’t have room to fit glasses like the Quest 3. Instead, prescription glasses wearers will have to order custom lenses from the company. I can’t speak about that ordering process much — Bigscreen just shipped me prescription lenses alongside my review unit — but it’ll involve plugging in your prescription alongside your order. (Snagging lenses for the Quest 3 from Zenni Optical is no different than ordering a normal pair of glasses.) The Beyond’s lenses magnetically snap onto its displays without any effort, and they’re also easy to remove for cleaning.

You can tell that the Bigscreen Beyond isn’t like any other VR headset on the market with one glance. Imagine chopping off the top and bottom of the Valve Index, leaving only the displays behind. It looks suitably futuristic, with transparent plastic alongside the front and a few LEDs to let you know when it’s powered up. It also weighs just 127 grams (0.28 pounds), slightly more than a deck of playing cards. In comparison, the Valve Index comes in at 1.8 pounds, while the Quest 3 weighs 1.1 pounds. The Beyond ships with a rear head strap, which was tight enough to stay secured on my head, but there’s also a top strap in the box for those who need it.

Bigscreen Beyond VR headset from the front

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If you look closely at Bigscreen’s promotional photos for the Beyond, you may notice something that’s missing: Headphones. It doesn’t include any built-in speakers of its own, so you’ll have to come up with your own solution. I was able to fit Arctis’s Nova Pro headphones on top of the Beyond, but that defeats the purpose of having such a light headset. I eventually paired my AirPod Pros to my Windows PC — something I never do otherwise — and that worked just fine. Bigscreen plans to release later this year but, for now, Beyond buyers should plan to have wireless earbuds handy.

So clearly Bigscreen managed to create a unique headset, but how well does it handle VR? Simply put, it’s far better than I expected from the company’s first stab at hardware. Its Micro-OLED displays are bright and feature far more contrast than the Quest 3’s LCD panels. They’re also noticeably sharper than the Index’s. The Beyond offers 2,560 by 2,560 pixels per eye, while the Valve headset delivers 1,440 by 1,600 pixels per eye.

That difference was particularly stark while replaying Half-LIfe: Alyx, a game I’ve already spent dozens of hours immersed in while testing the Index years ago. On the Bigscreen Beyond, it felt more like I was stepping into Alyx’s dystopian world. I could barely feel the headset on my face, and everything just looked more realistic. I had a far easier time reading small text on newspapers strewn about the game—something that took a lot of squinting on the Index.


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