After missing out on the mobile revolution, Microsoft is determined to play a role in whatever comes next. One of the most common guesses holds that what comes next is augmented reality, or virtual reality, or some combination. So Microsoft is covering all its reality bases, developing a system it calls “Mixed Reality” to power headsets of all shapes, sizes, and types.
You’ll be able to buy Microsoft’s new controller this holiday season.
This week at its Build developer conference, Microsoft showed off new headsets from Acer and HP emblematic of the company’s plans. Both have a flip-up visor so you can quickly check on the real world, and use outward-facing cameras to constantly map their position in your environment. That means no crazy room-mapping, no setting up external sensors—just put on the headset and get to gaming. Both are coming later this year, at $300 for Acer’s model and $330 for HP’s, but dev kits are available now.
With that headset comes a new controller, made by Microsoft, that uses the headsets’ inside-out tracking to let you move freely in VR. The so-called Windows Mixed Reality Motion Controllers will work with any Microsoft-supported headset, pairing with the cameras so you can see your hands in VR without needing any external hardware. You’ll be able to buy the new controller this holiday season, and a bundle including Acer’s headset and the motion controller will cost $399.
The controller looks like a mix between the Oculus Touch controllers and the large wands that come with the HTC Vive. Each one has a joystick and a trackpad above a small menu button, plus buttons on the side underneath your index finger. Large halos at the top, filled with small visible lights, help the headset track their movement.
Acer, HP, and Microsoft’s many other hardware partners are working on VR headsets for launch later this year. They’re on what side of what Microsoft sees as a spectrum of mixed reality devices. On the other side? Holograms, augmented reality of all sorts. Microsoft’s hardware and software requirements are meant to stay consistent across the entire spectrum, so that apps and services built for what’s possible now—VR—will continue to work when the really exciting stuff comes later.
Microsoft’s big pitch at Build this year was that it is the only place you need to go to build the cool things you want to build. You can make Windows apps that work on Android and iOS, or on whatever flavor of Linux you want. The mixed-reality world is the most unformed of them all, and Microsoft is eager to claim this field the way it claimed the personal computer market decades ago. No one knows where this world is going, but Microsoft promises that it will help you find the way.