Microsoft’s big plan to conquer the next big battlefields in tech, namely virtual reality and augmented reality, is beginning to come collectively. And it looks like the Microsoft Xbox has a shocking position to play.
In a presentation at this week’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Microsoft unveiled a brand new VR headset, made by Acer and designed particularly for creating apps in virtual reality.
It begins delivery later in March. And in a transfer designed to get builders excited, everybody within the viewers at Microsoft’s GDC session can be getting the headset without spending a dime. The aim is to drive individuals towards constructing VR apps for Windows 10.
Better nonetheless, the brand new headset can also be the primary and greatest showcase for Microsoft’s killer edge within the battle for VR supremacy with Facebook, Google, Sony, and HTC — it makes use of know-how pioneered within the Microsoft HoloLens “holographic” headset to present free vary of movement with out exterior cameras or sensors monitoring you. Microsoft calls it “inside-out” monitoring.
I acquired to attempt a prototype headset with the inside-out monitoring enabled, and admittedly, it was tremendous nifty. In a demo that positioned me in a scorching air balloon over Maachu Pichu, I used to be capable of poke my head over the aspect of the basket and look down. I might even lean over and look right into a telescope’s eyepiece. It sounds small, nevertheless it’s liberating.
Future Microsoft-approved headsets from companies like Dell and Asus could have the identical inside-out monitoring enabled. Microsoft is now referring to this massive push for AR and VR in Windows 10 as “Windows Mixed Reality,” and help for it is going to be arriving with the Windows 10 Creators Update this spring.
Most high-end virtual reality headsets, just like the PlayStation VR, depend on a digital camera by your TV or monitor so the system can “see” once you flip your head and transfer your virtual vantage level accordingly. It works properly, however it’s not precisely moveable, and it limits the locations the place you should use it. Alternatively, phone-based headsets like the Samsung Gear VR are extra moveable, however typically lack horsepower, positional monitoring, and a straightforward technique of management.
But when Microsoft constructed the HoloLens, the corporate labored arduous to make it each highly effective and self-contained, so that you need not hook it to a PC to perform. These new Windows Mixed Reality headsets aren’t fairly there but. Inside-out monitoring makes them extra self-contained than HoloLens, however you will nonetheless have to have the brand new headsets hooked as much as a PC.
And talking of the PC, these headsets require a barely much less beefy pc to run, which means extra present machines will be capable of use them, and other people shopping for in will not should spend as a lot. That, too, could possibly be an enormous win over Facebook and different rivals.
The Xbox connection
Buried in Microsoft’s official announcement of that Acer developer kit is an fascinating tidbit about its Xbox One online game console and Windows Mixed Reality:
We’re additionally excited to share that Windows Mixed Reality experiences will mild up on different units over time, past desktop and HoloLens. Our plan is to convey combined reality content material to the Xbox One household of units, together with Project Scorpio, in 2018.
This is especially fascinating, and this is why. We’ve recognized for some time now that Microsoft is engaged on Project Scorpio, a souped-up model of the Xbox One online game console that the traditional business knowledge holds will host powerful enough hardware to support high-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift.
But Microsoft’s phrase selection right here is telling — the corporate is saying that the plan is to deliver combined reality, as in virtual reality, to the “Xbox One family of devices.” That would appear to incorporate the unique Xbox One console, and/or the newer Xbox One S mannequin.
So whereas Microsoft has nothing else to share (I requested, repeatedly), it positive seems like within the subsequent yr or two, the Xbox One you may already personal might be getting some sort of VR help. If Microsoft is making an attempt to take over virtual reality, weaponizing the prevailing Xbox set up base would make plenty of sense.