The cheaper alternative to Microsoft HoloLens is coming
“Powerful and affordable VR is coming to you.”
That’s what we heard from Microsoft’s Megan Saunders at a Microsoft Surface event last year before the company announced VR hardware ‘accessories’ for the upcoming Windows 10 Creator’s Edition software update.
While many questions still swirl regarding what’s in store, we do know Microsoft has now renamed its Windows Holographic ecosystem to Windows Mixed Reality, and that the first development kits will begin shipping this month.
But if you want to know the details on who’s involved, as well as the latest on price points, release date, specs, design and just what exactly the thing is, read on for everything we know so far.
Microsoft Mixed Reality: What is it?
Yeah, what exactly is the thing? Well, Microsoft and its smorgasbord of partners are essentially bringing a half-way point between VR and HoloLens, giving the headsets a different angle to the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This, thankfully, also means they’ll be more affordable and require a bit less grunt power from your PC.
Each third-party headset has a pair of depth-sensing cameras on the front, which is designed to let us have room-scale tracking without having to fill the house with sensors.
Microsoft is keen to use the phrase mixed reality for this project, rather than describing the headset as AR or VR. But in the original Windows 10 headset announcements last year, the VR label was used.
This would point to Microsoft attempting to differentiate its headsets from the likes of PS VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – i.e. flat-out VR devices – and instead incorporate elements from its HoloLens project to make it a more rounded virtual experience.
Microsoft Mixed Reality: Who’s on board?
A whole bunch of Windows VR headsets went live at CES back in January, with Lenovo, HP, Dell Acer and 3Glasses showing off the fresh headgear.
Lenovo recently noted its headset won’t be compatible with existing Oculus or Vive VR apps and games, but it may work with some HoloLens apps, i.e. scanning real world items to bring them into virtual worlds.
And at GDC 2017, Microsoft also showed off the Acer Windows Mixed Reality developer edition headset that’s set to ship to a select few developers starting this March.
Microsoft Mixed Reality: What about Xbox?
The company is targeting Windows 10 initially, but has also confirmed that it’s going to bring mixed reality to the Xbox One and Project Scorpio – the latter being the next Xbox console set to launch at the end of 2017.
It’s currently unclear what this will actually look like, or if this will be a dedicated headset, but it’s certainly implied in the recent statement below.
“We’re excited to share that Windows Mixed Reality experiences will light up on other devices over time, beyond desktop and Microsoft HoloLens. Our plan is to bring mixed reality content to the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio, in 2018.”
This also means it’ll essentially be going head to head against PS VR, despite the mixed reality element helping Microsoft to bring something different to the party.
For more on this, take a look at what we know so far on Xbox Project Scorpio.
Microsoft Mixed Reality: Design and specs
During demos we’ve seen, the device appears untethered while running Windows 10. However, from the video released by the company, shown above, the headset appears to be latched, with the person is using a large controller to navigate the interface.
Specs for every variant of the software giant’s aren’t yet known, but we do know the Acer developer edition unveiled recently has two high-resolution displays at 1440 x 1440, a display refresh rate of up to 90 hertz, a 3.5mm jack for built-in audio support, plus HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 for connecting to the computer.
Aside from that, we also know the minimum PC requirements, thanks to The Verge. Your computer will apparently need 4GB of RAM, USB 3.0 port, a graphics card with DirectX 12 support and four CPU cores, including dual-core processors with hyperthreading.
This is great for people who don’t want to spend a ton of money on a beastly machine – which is what’s needed for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
But there’s no telling what you’ll be getting in terms of VR experiences. With this power, you could be looking at apps and games on the same level as mobile VR, or slightly better depending on the headset’s own specs.
Microsoft Mixed Reality: Price and release date
Since the developer’s kit for HoloLens sits at a ridiculously high $3,000, Microsoft’s push into this field is a bid to make the tech more accessible. As we’ve already noted, Acer’s developer kit is rolling out in March 2017, with the rest likely to arrive in time for, or just after, the Windows 10 Creators Update in April.
It’s also unknown where exactly this will be available, but we do know that the US and Canada were the first to receive the goods when Microsoft first made its augmented reality Hololens headset available to buy, with the UK seeing a release several months later.
The prices range from $300 at the lowest to around $400 – the Lenovo headset – with official names expected to drop soon.