Microsoft takes a middle ground in the “Virtual” race

Virtual reality has been doing rounds in the real world for long but since 2016, it seems to be the only thing on everybody’s mind. Even after the technological giants stepping in the virtual race, the technology has not been widely adopted and the reason for the same can be the considerably high costs of the available headsets. Microsoft is one of several tech companies hoping to address those issues, and the culmination of its efforts will debut later this year. It’s been a long time since Microsoft first announced native support for VR headsets – made by partners like Dell, Asus, and HP – in Windows. Nearly a year later, those headsets are finally ready to ship, along with the fancy new VR controllers revealed in May.

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As Microsoft puts it, their aim is to make virtual reality more accessible while reducing the cost and efforts for the consumer. These headsets run a new version of Microsoft’s software called Windows Mixed Reality, a version of Windows devoted to augmented and virtual reality experiences. While the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive must be tethered to high-end PCs to work, Windows Mixed Reality headsets will be able to run on laptops that don’t include dedicated graphics card, while the goggles themselves will start at $299. And because these devices are running on the same software platform, multiplayer games will work across different types of Windows headsets. The first of these devices, which include VR viewers made by HP and Acer, will launch in time for the holiday season.

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Microsoft recently gave demos of Windows Mixed Reality headset along with the VR motion controllers. The most noticeable difference is the launch screen of the headset as compared to the headsets made by HTC and Facebook. Instead of scrolling through a menu to select things, the Windows Mixed Reality launcher requires the user to virtually explore a luxurious virtual home in order to discover and launch apps. These apps are scattered throughout the environment: one appeared in the living room, for example, while another was situated on the roof. It’s Microsoft’s attempt to create a virtual reality interface analogous to a computer’s desktop. Although these headsets will work with computers containing either integrated or dedicated graphics, the experience will differ depending on the type of laptop you own. These Windows Mixed Reality headsets feel like a middle ground between smartphone-based virtual reality (Samsung’s Gear VR) and premium headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive). But there’s a crucial element that differentiates them from either tier: Windows Mixed Reality headsets include extra sensors built into the headset, making it possible to track your position in virtual space without external hardware.

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To start with, Microsoft is announcing that Steam VR titles will run on Windows Mixed Reality headsets, which basically opens them up to a wealth of existing titles. But while Microsoft is starting off with games the end-goal is making mixed reality headsets as integral to the computing experience as a monitor. Making high-quality VR cheaper and easier to use is a good start but if it is the right technology at the right time, is hard to say. You can check Windows Mixed Reality experience here.

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