What is Windows Mixed Reality?

Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) 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 Mixed Reality 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

Finally, at Build 2017, it was announced that developer kits from Acer and HP could be pre-ordered in the U.S. and Canada and would be expected to ship later this summer. The kits cost $299 and $329 respectively.

The Acer and HP developer edition headsets are sporting these specs:

  • Dual LCD displays at 1440 x 1440 each
  • 95-degree horizontal field of view
  • 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 WMR 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 sensors on the front. These sensors work in tandem with the motion controllers, removing the necessity of setting up external sensors around your VR space.

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.

Windows 10 Creators Update brings Windows Mixed Reality app to everyone

Windows Mixed Reality simulator

The release of the Creators Update for Windows 10 brought us Windows Mixed Reality. This is a re-brand for Windows Holographic and a name that is going to stick.

If you want to get your hands on WMR 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

Here are the PC specs required to run the actual WMR headsets:

  • 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

Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers

Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers

Revealed at Build 2017, the WMR motion controllers look a lot like both the Vive wands and the Rift Touch controllers. Just like the headset, the motion controllers will not require you to set up any external sensors.

The sensors used to track the controllers are actually built into the front of the headset. You get the same six degrees of freedom as you do with Vive, Rift, and PSVR motion controllers, and the end result is a great time using virtual hands in a virtual world.

It's unclear how well the controllers will work when they're out of view of the sensors — you might not be able to pull an arrow from a quiver on your back — but they should work well enough to deliver an experience almost on par with the other systems.

As with the headsets, individual manufacturers are building the motion controllers. It's unclear whether or not there will be a standard set as far as design, but they will all work the same way. Acer is so far the only manufacturer that has announced controllers, which it will include in a $399 bundle coming later this year.

Here's how the new Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers work

Will Windows Mixed Reality work with Project Scorpio?

Xbox Mixed Reality

There's nothing confirmed yet, but all signs are pointing to yes. Project Scorpio has been touted as a "high-fidelity VR experience," and the strategy Microsoft is employing is becoming clearer as we receive more details about WMR.

VRHeads Managing Editor Russell Holly already wrote extensively about how Project Scorpio and Windows Mixed Reality are going to be a killer combo, outlining the success of PlayStation VR despite its flaws. Its motion controllers aren't as good as those from Oculus and HTC, tracking can be sub-par if your room has a lot of sunlight, and the cables are confusing.

The WMR headsets we've so far seen have a single cable, no external sensors, and motion controllers that are set to rival the best available now. If indeed Project Scorpio turns out to be plug-and-play compatible with WMR, you'd essentially be getting a VR headset that works with both a PC and a console. Pretty awesome.

Will Windows Mixed Reality play nice with HTC Vive and Oculus Rift?

At the moment, it doesn't appear that you'll be able to officially use an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift with WMR. This doesn't rule out the growing VR fan-base that often takes the initiative in getting things that aren't supposed to work together working together.

Nothing has been ruled out yet, however, and it seems like HTC and Oculus could technically work with Microsoft. Whether or not that will ever happen remains to be seen. For way more information, check out Russell Holly's explanation of why the Vive and Rift probably won't be a part of WMR.

HTC Vive, Oculus Rift probably won't be a part of Windows Mixed Reality

When can you get a headset?

HP's headset

Acer and HP development kits are already being pre-ordered, 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.

More resources

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