Microsoft, Partners Gear Up for Mixed-Reality Holiday

HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented-reality headset, is one way to experience the company’s mixed-reality technologies, which can convincingly blend situationally-aware computing and 3D graphics with real-world environments to produce engrossing new experiences. The downside is that the device costs $3,000, meaning that it is largely out of reach for all but the most devoted enthusiasts and businesses that can pay the cost of entry.

This holiday season, Microsoft and its hardware partners are joining forces to deliver mixed-reality hardware with prices that are a little more down to earth.

“A variety of Windows Mixed Reality headsets and motion controllers will be available this holiday from HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Acer,” said Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman in a company blog post. “Headset and motion controller bundles will start as low as $399 and will be compatible with existing and new PC models starting at $499. Along with our partners, we are committed to making mixed reality affordable.”

This spring’s release of the Windows 10 Creators Update set the stage for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (AR) experiences that can be delivered by off-the-shelf Windows PCs and comparatively affordable VR headsets. Previously, convincing AR and VR experiences required PC hardware with beefy graphical subsystems and expensive visors.

When the Oculus Rift VR headset first went on sale in March 2016, the base unit sold for $599. Add the companion Touch hand controllers, and its price ballooned to nearly $800. This summer, a promotion brought the price down to $399, including the hand controllers.

Furthermore, HTC cut the price of its Vive VR system by $200 last week to $599 and yesterday, Sony announced lower-priced PlayStation VR bundles starting at $399.

To help ensure buyers have some content to enjoy when they purchase their Windows-compatible mixed-reality gear, the company has enlisted a roster of partners that includes Hulu and Sony Pictures. In addition, 343 Industries, Microsoft’s own game studio, is working on bringing the Halo video game series to Windows mixed reality and Steam, the popular downloadable PC game marketplace, will also be compatible with the technology, said Kipman.

Besides the visors and motion controllers from HP, Dell and others, the holiday push will include Windows Mixed Reality PCs. Two configurations will be available from OEMs, Kipman revealed.

Stock Windows Mixed Reality PCs will feature integrated graphics components that are capable of powering VR experiences at 60 frames per second when connected to a compatible headset. Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PCs, on the other hand, will contain discrete graphics—a separate graphical subsystem, typically in the form of a GPU (graphics processing unit) card—that can pump visuals at a rate of 90 frames per second.

Microsoft isn’t the only IT heavyweight that’s banking on the growing popularity of AR and VR technologies.

Intel recently announced it Core X-Series desktop chips, which promise a 20 percent performance boost in terms of VR content creation. This spring, Hewlett Packard (HP) rolled out high-performance, VR-ready ZBook mobile workstations that the company says are capable silky-smooth VR experiences at 90 frames per second.

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