Apparently Microsoft is not done with hardware introductions. The company plans to bring new low-cost mixed-reality headsets to market through its Windows Holographic platform for as little as $299.
The details came out at the big Surface launch event in New York earlier this week, but the news site Polygon got more details from Microsoft Technical Fellow and head of the HoloLens program Alex Kipman.
Microsoft originally announced its plans to open up the Windows Holographic platform to its partners in June and said there would be new headsets besides its HoloLens "in months, not years." In August, it revealed the Windows Holographic shell, which makes Windows 10 apps appear as either 2D or 3D, would be made available in a future version of Windows. That version is now known as the Creators Update.
The problem Microsoft wanted to address is cost.
"The stuff is super expensive," Kipman told Polygon. "You need a $1,500 PC to get started and then something like a $500 Oculus device."
The second problem Microsoft wanted to address is that virtual reality (VR) is very constraining.
"It doesn't bring the humans and objects into the environment," Kipman told Polygon, noting that virtual reality typically obscures a person's real-world setting. With the real world obscured, you're liable to trip over something while walking around with the headset on.
That's one of the pluses of augmented reality (AR), since it just puts an image over the real world. And it's probably why Microsoft's $299 headsets will be mixed reality and not just virtual reality.
The devices were co-engineered with Microsoft and its OEM partners, using the technology and software initially created for the HoloLens. They will be opaque, so you can't see through them, and will need to be connected to a computer by a long wire. They will have a "high field of view" with six degrees of freedom and inside-out tracking.
Inside-out tracking uses cameras built into a headset to track a user's movements without the need for any cameras mounted on walls or in front of desks. The HTC Vive, for example, needs cameras set up on opposite ends of the room to do tracking. Microsoft seems to be ahead of the game when it comes to this feature.
Kipman wouldn't give the exact specs needed to run the new headset only that Microsoft lowered the specs you need for a PC from a $1,500 system to a $500 one.
The first of these new headsets will arrive alongside the Creators Update in spring 2017, with more devices being released throughout the rest of the year.