Microsoft is launching its own answer to virtual reality today, taking on HTC and Oculus in the process. Windows Mixed Reality will be available in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, and headsets are now available to buy. Here’s everything you need to know about Windows Mixed Reality.
WHAT IS WINDOWS MIXED REALITY?
While Microsoft has picked the “Mixed Reality” naming for its initial headsets, they’re only capable of virtual reality experiences right now. Microsoft’s range of headsets are similar to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and many manufacturers are selling bundles that include touch controllers. The main difference between the Vive / Rift and Windows Mixed Reality is that the headsets do not require separate sensors.
Microsoft is offering movement tracking (six degrees of freedom) without the need for traditional external sensors placed throughout a room. Windows Mixed Reality headsets have cameras and sensors to track the motion controllers. This is great for plugging headsets into a laptop for taking VR to a friend’s house, but the lack of external sensors means Mixed Reality doesn’t do a good job of picking up movements in games where you place your hands behind your back.
Microsoft has picked the Windows Mixed Reality name because it believes the experiences of virtual reality and augmented reality (HoloLens) will eventually blend together. While the existing Windows Mixed Reality headsets don’t offer any augmented reality experiences or a passthrough mode like the Gear VR, more headsets will arrive in the future that are more capable.
HOW MUCH ARE WINDOWS MIXED REALITY HEADSETS?
Most of the main PC makers are creating Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and a number of them are available to purchase today. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung are all creating headsets, and the cheapest will be priced at $299. Not all will come bundled with wireless motion controllers, and not all are created equal with the same comfort and specs. We’ll have a guide to the best in the coming weeks, but here’s an overview of all the headsets available to purchase.
ACER WINDOWS MIXED REALITY HMD - $299, OR $399 WITH MOTION CONTROLLERS
Acer was the original developer headset for Windows Mixed Reality, and it’s also one of the more basic of the bunch at just $299. You get a resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye, an LCD display, and a 95-degree field of view. It’s a combination of blue and black on the outside, and compact enough to place in a backpack. You can buy Acer’s headset here.
DELL VISOR - $349, OR $449 WITH MOTION CONTROLLERS
Dell’s Mixed Reality headset improves on Acer’s with more comfortable padding, and an improved 110-degree field of view. You still get the same resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye and an LCD display, but you’re paying a little extra for a better design and more adjustability and comfort. You can buy Dell’s Visor here.
HP WINDOWS MIXED REALITY HEADSET - $449 WITH MOTION CONTROLLERS
HP’s headset is similar to Acer’s in terms of specs, but with a Tron-like design. HP is selling the headset as a bundle with the motion controllers for $449, although you can technically buy the development edition separately for $329. Just like Acer, it’s a resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye, an LCD display, and 95-degree field of view. You can buy HP’s Mixed Reality headset here.
LENOVO EXPLORER - $399 WITH MOTION CONTROLLERS
Lenovo’s Explorer headset is one of the lightest Windows Mixed Reality headsets available. While it has a resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye, Lenovo has pushed the field of view to 105 degrees on the LCD displays. It’s one of the more affordable and comfortable Windows Mixed Reality headsets available. You can buy Lenovo’s Explorer headset here.
SAMSUNG HMD ODYSSEY - $499 WITH MOTION CONTROLLERS
Samsung’s Windows Mixed Reality headset is one of the best ones available. While it’s not arriving until November 10th, it includes a better resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye, 110-degree field of view, and an OMOLED display. Samsung has also built AKG headphones into the headset, making it a true Oculus Rift competitor. Samsung’s pricing does place it $100 above Oculus’ recently discounted Rift and Touch bundle, though. You can preorder Samsung’s HMD Odyssey here.
ASUS WINDOWS MIXED REALITY HEADSET - APPROXIMATELY $530
Asus unveiled its Windows Mixed Reality headset at IFA this year with European pricing set at 449 euros. We’re still waiting to hear about US pricing and motion controller bundle options. Asus has opted for a resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye, 95-degree field of view, and LCD displays. Asus does have one of the most unique designs, with a 3D polygonal shell on the front. Asus won’t be releasing its headset until early next year, and you can find more information here.
WHAT PC DO I NEED FOR WINDOWS MIXED REALITY?
You won’t need a high-end gaming PC to use Windows Mixed Reality. Microsoft has kept the minimum specs low for basic apps and VR experiences, but for the top games you’ll need a more powerful PC. For the basics, you’ll need a PC with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update installed, an Intel Core i5-7200U processor or better, 8GB of DDR3 RAM or better, 10GB of free disk space, an Intel HD Graphics 620 or DX12-capable GPU, and HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2, as well as a USB 3 port and Bluetooth for the controllers. This basic spec will provide 60 frames per second performance, and for 90 fps you’ll need a PC capable of the Windows Mixed Reality Ultra spec.
Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PCs will need an Intel Core i5 4590 (fourth generation), quad core or better, 8GB of DDR3 RAM or better, 10GB of free disk space, and an Nvidia GTX 960/965M/1050 or AMD RX 460 or greater graphics card. You can check to see if your PC is compatible by installing the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and running the Mixed Reality Portal app or by downloading Microsoft’s separate PC check app.
WHAT APPS AND GAMES CAN I USE IN WINDOWS MIXED REALITY?
Microsoft is using a virtual Cliffhouse as its portal for games, apps, and holograms in Windows Mixed Reality. The Cliffhouse will let you launch content, watch movies, and pin holograms in a virtual environment. Think of it as your virtual home. Microsoft is supporting apps and games from its Microsoft Store initially, which means you’ll be limited to what’s available for Windows 10. You can also run your desktop PC in the virtual environment, and access Microsoft Edge for web browsing.
VR Games like Arizona Sunshine and Superhot VR are available today, alongside a Halo Recruit VR experience. Apps like Littlstar and Sliver.TV are also part of Microsoft’s Mixed Reality launch. Most of the games will come with SteamVR support. Microsoft is working with Valve to support this in Windows Mixed Reality, but this won’t be available in beta until the end of the year. If you’re opting for Windows Mixed Reality right now, you’ll be limited to the Microsoft Store and Microsoft’s built-in Windows 10 apps for now.