What is Windows Mixed Reality?

Windows VR, otherwise known as Windows Mixed Reality, is just over the horizon, and many people are wondering exactly what it entails. Where did it start, where has it gone, and where is it going? Here's everything you need to know about the emerging platform.

It started with HoloLens

Microsoft's HoloLens, an augmented reality headset, was released for developers back in March 2016. The HoloLens features a headband reminiscent of the one on PlayStation VR but has a transparent visor instead of a dual-lens display. It can also be operated on its own; no PC or cables are required.

The visor on the HoloLens lets you see your surroundings as well as projected holograms. Your eyes are tracked to move the cursor, you use hand gestures in front of the HoloLens, and you use voice commands to get around the UI.

The HoloLens is an impressive piece of hardware, but the $3,000 price tag isn't exactly feasible for most people. Alternative hardware, preferably with a price most people can afford, is needed to really get a platform off the ground.

See at Microsoft

The Windows VR headsets are revealed

In October 2016, Microsoft announced a partnership with a bunch of leading manufacturers, and headsets from Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, Acer, and HP were revealed to the world. A few months later at CES 2017, headsets from these companies, as well as a headset from 3Glasses, were shown off to attendees.

Dell's headset

These headsets sit somewhere between strictly-VR systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and augmented reality headsets like the HoloLens. Best part? They're expected to cost somewhere around $300.

Acer's headset

The Acer headset, the first to ship out as a development kit, is sporting these specs:

  • Dual displays at 1440x1440 each
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 cable combo for PC connectivity
  • 3.5mm audio jack

How does it all work?

The Windows Mixed Reality headsets immediately remind you of a combination of the Vive, Rift and PSVR. The options from Acer, Dell, HP, and Lenovo have the same headband as the PSVR and HoloLens, and the option from 3Glasses seems to have the same elastic solution as the Rift and Vive.

Elastic headband from 3Glasses

All headsets have the same dual-lens and display setup we're used to using, but they also have dual cameras on the front. These cameras will capture elements of the real world around you, mix in virtual elements — like avatars and app tiles — and present it to you on the internal display. It seems like you'll even be able to overlay virtual environments over your real environment. Goodbye messy home office, hello pristine spaceship office.

Windows headsets use inside-out tracking, so unlike the Vive and Rift, you won't be setting up any external sensors to track your movements. This is being touted as a plug-and-play experience; because it takes a separate machine to run these headsets, you will have a cable tethered to your PC.

There is, however, no mention of motion-tracked controllers for the Windows headsets; for now, it seems you'll be stuck using an Xbox controller to navigate. That's not as big of a deal when you consider that Microsoft has stated your Rift and Vive games will not be compatible.

Creators Update brings Windows Mixed Reality app to everyone

Windows Mixed Reality simulator

The release of the Creators Update for Windows 10 has brought us Windows Mixed Reality. This is a re-brand for Windows Holographic and a name that seems like it will now stick for awhile.

If you want to get your hands on Windows Mixed Reality before you get your hands on a headset, there is a simulator available for Windows 10 PCs with the Creators Update.

How to use the Windows Mixed Reality simulator for Windows 10 Creators Update

As far as the PC specs required to run the actual Windows Mixed Reality headsets go, Windows Central reported back in December 2016 these specs:

  • CPU: Intel Mobile Core i5 (e.g. 7200U) Dual-Core with Hyperthreading equivalent
  • GPU: Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 620 (GT2) equivalent or greater DX12 API Capable GPU
  • RAM: 8GB+ Dual Channel required for integrated Graphics
  • HDMI: HDMI 1.4 with 2880x1440 @ 60 Hz
  • HDMI 2.0 or DP 1.3+ with 2880x1440 @ 90 Hz
  • HDD: 100GB+ SSD (Preferred) / HDD
  • USB: USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 for accessories

When can you get a headset?

HP's headset

Acer development kits are already on the move, but for all you non-developers out there, it seems like you can expect an initial consumer version from at least the majority of manufacturers by the end of 2017.

This will likely coincide well with the late-2017 release of Project Scorpio, Microsoft's latest console that promises to be powerful enough to run VR.

More resources

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