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September 17, 2017

Windows Mixed Reality news: here’s everything you need to know

by John_A

Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform is finally starting to take shape. The platform’s software foundation was introduced in Windows 10 Creators Update in April 2017, and the upcoming Fall Creators Update will add some polish. The hardware will start to catch up on October 17, when Microsoft’s OEM partners begin to roll out their low-cost mixed reality headsets alongside the update’s release.

Questions remain as to exactly what Windows Mixed Reality represents, so we took a look at all of the Windows Mixed Reality news to make some sense of Microsoft’s platform.

For now, “Windows Mixed Reality” mostly means affordable VR

Microsoft prefers the term “mixed reality,” or MR, and the company’s short definition of it is this. “Mixed reality is the result of blending the physical world with the digital world.” Rather than just adding artificial elements to a real scene as with augmented reality (AR), or creating a completely artificial environment as with virtual reality (VR), MR takes reality, digitizes it, and then places all or parts of it into a holographic environment that mimics the real world in real time. MR can be wholly immersive, or it can physically blend with a real-world view.

The following Microsoft video helps demonstrate the concept:

When we took a look at one of the upcoming Windows Mixed Reality headsets, however, we found it to provide a more affordable VR experience, but to be lacking in actual MR functionality. We asked Microsoft about this, and a representative responded:

“While the upcoming Windows Mixed Reality headsets are closer to the full digital end of the spectrum, they do begin to incorporate elements of the physical world, such as environmental awareness and full 6DoF hand input via motion controllers. Furthermore, Windows Mixed Reality is a unified platform that spans the entire spectrum, enabling the upcoming headsets to elegantly interface with devices closer to the physical reality end of the spectrum, such as Microsoft HoloLens. Our vision has been clear from the start, and this is why we call all of it Windows Mixed Reality.”

In other words, the term “Windows Mixed Reality” includes everything from HoloLens, to apps like Windows Reality Viewer (previously called View 3D), to the upcoming low-cost Windows Mixed Reality headsets, all built on the Windows Mixed Reality software foundation. For the immediate future, though, Windows Mixed Reality will mostly refer to those headsets and the apps that are written to utilize them.

Windows Mixed Reality hardware

None of this is meaningful without the hardware to access Windows Mixed Reality, and on that front, the wait is almost over. A number of Microsoft OEM partners have announced headsets that will be available starting on October 17, alongside Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. The following are the headsets that have been officially announced, and the general minimum specifications are the same:

Displays:
Two 2.89-inch high-resolution LCDs
Resolution:
1,440 x 1,440 each
Field of view:
95 degrees horizontal
Refresh rate:
Up to 90Hz (native)
Ports:
1x HDMI 2.0
1x USB 3.0 Gen1 Type-A
1x headphone / microphone jack
Other features:
Front hinged display
Detachable HDMI/USB combo cable
Insider-out tracking

Each of the headsets will be available either as standalone devices or with Motion Controllers, which will add around $100 to the price, and they’re close enough in features and functionality that choosing between them will likely come down to their looks and perhaps some additional software provided by each manufacturer.

Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset

Acer

Acer’s headset has been one of the first available to try out via its Developer Edition, and it’s the one we used in giving Windows Mixed Reality a try. It should come as no surprise then that Acer’s version should arrive on October 17.

Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset

Asus

Asus’s Windows Mixed Reality headset isn’t scheduled to arrive until Spring 2018, and it will be differentiated from the other headsets by its unique design incorporating hundreds of 3D polygons and a glossy tone-on-tone effect. The headset will weigh less than 400 grams, and it will utilize a balanced crown design for greater comfort by reducing pressure on the user’s face and nose.

Dell Visor

Dell named its Windows Mixed Reality headset the Visor, and it boasts an adjustable headband and extra cushioning for greater comfort. The Dell Visor is expected to be one of the headsets to arrive on October 17.

Lenovo Explorer

Lenovo

The Lenovo Explorer is due to arrive on October 17, and it will be slightly differentiated by specifically mentioning support for a keyboard and mouse. In addition, Lenovo will be providing its own apps, along with access to more than 100 upscaled VR games, both of which will be accessible through its Lenovo Entertainment Hub. The Lenovo Explorer will weigh 380 grams, and is one of the more conservatively styled of the early Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

HP Windows Mixed Reality headset

HP

HP’s Windows Mixed Reality headset has also been available in a Developer Edition, and it follows the same basic format as the rest of the Windows Mixed Reality stable. HP added in a knob to make adjusting headset size easier, and the design is relatively conservative, but otherwise, you won’t find much that’s different here. We haven’t heard official word on when HP’s headset will be released.

In order to connect a Windows Mixed Reality headset to your PC, you’ll be able to choose from two branded levels of PC that will provide for different levels of performance.

  • Windows Mixed Reality PCs: Desktop and laptops equipped with integrated graphics will be able to drive immersive content at 60 frames per second. Prices will start at $500.
  • Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PCs: Desktops and laptops equipped with discrete graphics will be able to run content at 90 frames per second.

Here are the specifications for each PC level:

Windows Mixed Reality PC

Performance: 
90Hz
CPU:
Intel Core i5 (NB), Intel Core i3 (DT)
GPU:
Discrete Nvidia GTX 965M, AMD RX 460M
Connectivity:
HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2
RAM:
8GB
Storage:
More than 10GB additional free space
USB:
USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort
Bluetooth:
Bluetooth 4.0 for accessories

Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PC:

Performance:
60Hz
CPU:
Intel Core i5 (NB), Intel Core i3 (DT)
GPU:
Integrated Intel HD 620
Connectivity:
HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2
RAM:
8GB
Storage:
More than 10GB additional free space
USB:
USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort
Bluetooth:
Bluetooth 4.0 for accessories

What content is coming for Windows Mixed Reality?

As we noted in our initial hands-on look at Acer’s Windows Mixed Reality headset, the platform will mainly provide a more affordable entry into the VR experience, and it will require less computing horsepower to get there. The overall experience will also be similar to that provided by other VR solutions like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. In fact, Microsoft and Valve announced that SteamVR titles will eventually make their way to the Windows Mixed Reality platform, although that won’t be happening on October 17 or potentially anytime soon.

In the meantime, Microsoft announced at IFA 2017 a host of developers who will be writing apps for the Windows Mixed Reality platform:

With a suitable PC and a Windows Mixed Reality headset, you’ll be able to enjoy VR environments that have good environmental awareness without needing add-on accessories. The headsets can map the environment using cameras and therefore don’t require external sensors, and their Motion Controller accessories provide for six degrees of freedom (6DoF) hand control. And, all of the software needed to create the VR environments is provided by the core Windows Mixed Reality software that’s already built into Windows 10.

The result will likely be the same general emphasis on gaming that’s the focus of existing VR solutions. In addition, Microsoft showed off a virtual house environment that provided a 3D user interface into getting things done in Windows 10, and we expect that developers will create virtual spaces as well for using their apps. Imagine a 3D version of Adobe Photoshop, a 3D screen to watch Hulu or Netflix, or a technical support environment for getting help with your HP notebook. One primary benefit of Windows Mixed Reality is likely to be how easy it is to create VR apps given that Microsoft has already done much of the heavy lifting in the platform’s core software.

Availability and Pricing

As mentioned earlier, Windows Fall Creators Update will arrive on October 17, and a few manufacturers will be shipping their Windows Mixed Reality headsets alongside the update. Here’s an overview of when we can expect new headsets to arrive and how they’ll be priced.

  • Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset: $300 headset only, $400 with Motion Controllers, arriving on October 17
  • Asus Windows Mixed Reality headset: pricing TBD, arriving in Spring 2018
  • Dell Visor: $350 headset only, $450 with Motion Controllers, arriving October 17
  • Lenovo Explorer: $350 headset only, $450 with Motion Controllers, arriving October 17
  • HP Windows Mixed Reality headset: $330 headset only, pricing with Motion Controllers TBD, arriving TBD




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