Following a preliminary announcement last October regarding its plans to release Windows- based virtual reality (VR) headsets, Microsoft finally confirmed the launch of its first product. The headset will be available beginning at the end of March and manufactured by Microsoft’s Taiwanese partner Acer.
Acer will initially ship a Mixed Reality Development Edition to game and app developers. While full specs have not yet been released, Acer unveiled the headset at CES 2017, albeit without providing hands-on time. Initial reports hint at an LCD screen with a resolution of 1,440 x 1,440, an impressive 706 ppi, and a screen refresh rate of 90Hz.
Out of the box, the device will be compatible with Windows 10 PCs via HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 cable. The device will employ Microsoft’s HoloLens inside-out tracking system to provide state-of-the-art motion tracking.
The new headset will be priced competitively. Whereas HTC’s Vive sells for around $799 and the Oculus Rift for approximately $599, Acer and Microsoft’s offering will cost as little as $299.
Introducing Mixed Reality
The announcement also introduced a new naming convention for Microsoft, as the company replaces VR with “Mixed Reality” (MR) on future products.
According to Microsoft, the term combines virtual reality and augmented reality, signaling the tech giant’s ambition to create a more immersive experience for users.
At the heart of MR is Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, which the company launched in 2014. A first development edition featuring the technology was released in March 2016, with a list price of S$3,000. Unlike current VR headsets from HTC or Oculus, Acer’s offering does thus not require external cameras or laser sensors for motion tracking thanks to its HoloLens hardware.
Manufacturers like Samsung have already expressed interest in cooperating with Microsoft to work on MR headsets. Other companies including Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo also plan to release Windows 10 compatible MR products. Microsoft aims to sell consumer editions by the end of the year.
Great compatibility thanks to Universal Apps
Microsoft has designed its operating system Windows 10 to be compatible across different devices, including PCs, mobile devices, gaming stations, as well as VR and AR headsets. A central part of this are what the company calls Universal Apps.
Applications under this moniker will run on all Windows 10 compatible devices, greatly enhancing the scope and applicability of Microsoft’s software environment.
Currently, there are already over 20,000 Universal Apps on the platform. According to Microsoft, by the time MR products are available to the public, they will directly support Universal Apps.
The company’s gaming devices, Xbox One and the next version of Xbox One, codenamed Project Scorpio, will support Windows-based MR headsets beginning in 2018.