Many tech experts think that Microsoft's plans to expand its augmented and virtual reality projects will lead to a new era of computing.
Microsoft's AR/VR Projects
In June, Microsoft announced that it will made available for third-party hardware, both AR and VR, the variant used on the HoloLens augmented reality headset, Windows Holographic. The company went a step further in August, announcing that its 2017 Windows 10 update would make available all these 3D features into the standard desktop system.
Microsoft will release for free next year the Creators Update to Windows 10. The upcoming update will include support for virtual reality. Users will be able to plug a cheap virtual reality (VR) headset into their PCs. The headset prices are starting at $299, the gadgets coming from all the top PC brands like Asus, Lenovo and Dell.
According to Business Insider, the next generation of headsets will be more than just affordable. They will also come with features that are still not available in high-end virtual reality headsets like the $599 Oculus Rift from Facebook. Without any external camera tracking the user, the upcoming VR gadgets will provide free range of motion. It is expected that the new portfolio of VR headsets, while coming at the most affordable price, will be the most powerful and immersive.
While the new headsets from Lenovo, Dell, Asus and the rest may not match the display quality of Facebook's Oculus Rift, they will be in some ways more capable and definitely more accessible. And for virtual reality to become mainstream, affordability is of major importance.
Microsoft's VR Advantage
Microsoft's Windows 10 Creators Update is pushing 3D creation to the foreground. At its presentation on Thursday, Oct. 27, Microsoft demonstrated creating 3D scenes in a new Paint 3D application, scanning physical objects on a phone, 3D printing them, and projecting them on AR and VR headsets.
At the moment, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift require very powerful PCs that can cost over $1,000. But the upcoming Windows 10 headsets will require machines that cost only around $500. In most of the cases, to have a computer able to run Windows 10 will be equivalent to have a VR-ready computer.
Nowadays, VR is still not accessible to many people, being in its very early stages. But Microsoft's plan to update its Windows OS ecosystem with VR support will provide a huge advantage. The next generation of affordable headsets could give VR a major boost.
Another major advantage for the new headsets will be their tracking capabilities. Microsoft will allow VR headset makers to implement similar built-in tracking technology found in the HoloLens. This is completely independent from a PC's processing power and can "scan" user surroundings to allow free movement in VR.
In order to achieve a similar feature, the Oculus Rift and Vive require installing a camera or laser emitters in user's room. The Windows headsets will be several hundred dollars cheaper and will allow the feature without any external accessories. It is expected that Microsoft will have its "inside out" tracking ready by next spring.
Microsoft will immediately take lead over much of its VR competition with just one update to Windows. Its platform is going to provide the most affordable and the easiest way to experience high-end VR. This will certainly position Microsoft in a position to dominate the niche.
According to Ars Technica, at the moment Microsoft already owns the PC platform used by the high-end VR headsets such as HTC's Vice and Facebook's Oculus Rift. Microsoft's Xbox One is a major gaming platform as well. This positions Microsoft in the right spot for claiming bigger ambitions in the VR space. The company will offer a way by which VR might become much simpler to boot and more widespread.
Performance, visual quality, and GPU requirements, visual quality and performance are still major unknowns about Microsoft's plans. But it looks like the company could become being a major VR platform owner with this combination of software and third-party hardware.