If you followed Microsoft's Windows 10 Creators Update event yesterday, you may have seen that the company put a big emphasis on 3D: the company demoed a 3D scanning app on a mobile device, introduced a new Paint 3D app and support for 3D models in Powerpoint, but the most important announcement was the upcoming availability of mixed reality headsets from third-party OEMs. A working prototype was even used on stage during a live demo where a Microsoft employee used the mixed reality headset to put a couple of holographs around his virtual room on stage.
While we did not expect to see a first wave of third-party VR headsets being announced so early after the launch of Microsoft's HoloLens, the announcement wasn’t a complete surprise considering that the company announced earlier this year that Windows Holographic, the platform underlying their popular HoloLens augmented reality solution would be open to third-party OEMs. Later on, the company shared that it would bring a Windows Holographic shell to all Windows 10 PCs next year, and now we know that it will be a part of the upcoming Creators Update.
Still, it was quite surprising to learn that Microsoft has already convinced HP, Lenovo, ASUS, Dell, and Acer to develop a new portfolio of mixed reality headsets that are much cheaper (Microsoft mentioned a $299 starting price) than popular options such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and Microsoft’s own HoloLens headset.
If you watched the keynote, you may have seen though that Microsoft did not do a really good job explaining the differences between these upcoming third-party headsets and other VR solutions already available on the market. However, Polygon published today an interview with Alex Kipman, the man behind the development of the HoloLens and the exec did share more details about Microsoft's big VR push.
According to Kipman, Microsoft is currently all-in on mixed reality as he considers that full VR experiences are more isolating to users. "It doesn't bring the humans and objects into the environment," he explained. He’s also quite critical about "super expensive" existing VR headsets, adding that "you need a $1,500 PC to get started and then something like a $500 Oculus device."
If Microsoft's partners will soon bring more affordable VR solutions to the market, Microsoft didn't share a lot of technical details about this first wave of headsets yesterday. So far, we only knew that they would need to be tethered to a Windows 10 PC running the Windows 10 Creators Update to work. Additionally, the company explained in a blog post that despite the fact that they’re not standalone devices, these "accessories" would pack more sensors than existing VR headsets who need to be tethered with external sensors:
These accessories will contain built-in sensors to enable inside-out, six-degrees of freedom for simplified set-up and to more easily move around your home as you experience virtual worlds — no markers required.
Furthermore, Kipman also revealed that the first devices will actually be opaque but provide a "high field of view." He also emphasized that a $500 PC will be powerful enough to use the accessories, even though he added that "Just like gaming and gaming on a PC, there is a difference if you want to play Halo or you want to play solitaire. The entry to play anything was a $1,500 PC; that's what we lowered."
One thing remains clear though. Microsoft’s HoloLens headset will still remain a more advanced solution in many ways. "HoloLens remains the highest watermark by a margin, it's still the first and only self-contained holographic computer. But over time all devices will start looking more and more like HoloLens," explained Kipman. According to the exec, Microsoft will share more details about this first wave of third-party VR headsets at an upcoming event in December and we can't wait to learn more about them.