Microsoft Finally Explains Its VR Strategy

Posted on October 26, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 31 Comments

Microsoft Finally Explains Its VR Strategy

Microsoft is the clear leader in augmented reality but it sat on the sidelines as virtual reality started taking off. No more: This week, Microsoft finally unveiled a formal VR strategy. And get this: It actually makes sense.

I’ve been meaning to write an overview of available VR solutions, but the short version goes like this: There are now numbers VR options out there that range in both price and capabilities, with Google Cardboard at the low-end, DayDream VR and Samsung Gear VR as more capable phone-based solutions, PlayStation VR at the sweet spot, and high-end products like Oculus Rift—which require expensive gaming PCs and an assortment of hardware clutter—at the top.

Microsoft’s new VR strategy appears to put the coming VR headsets—which will come from PC maker partners like Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, and ASUS—in the same basic sweet spot as the PSVR. That is, they will be capable devices with immersive experiences, though they will be tethered to, and require, a PC. The good news? That PC could cost as little as $500, a far cry from the $1500 or more for an Oculus PC. And the headsets will cost as little as $300.

For Microsoft’s part, it is doing what it always does: Supplying the platform bits needed in Windows to drive these solutions. These will apparently come as part of Windows Holographic, from what I can tell. But they will arrive with the Windows 10 Creators Update, regardless. So we’re looking at Spring 2017 for the software. It’s not year clear what the schedule is for the hardware, but that would of course by the earliest time.

What’s most interesting, perhaps, is that the Microsoft VR solutions will not require a lot of the extraneous hardware that we typical see on high-end VR systems. And that’s because the headsets will utilize so-called “inside-out tracking sensors,” or what enables the “six degrees of freedom” that Microsoft repeatedly mentioned on stage this week. So you won’t need to setup your own VR studio to get them to work properly.

What these solutions will not offer, of course, is support for holograms. That functionality will require higher-end, HoloLens-type hardware, and will be a lot more expensive. But that’s not entirely terrible. In speaking with a source who has experienced Microsoft’s platform, I was told that the field of view is totally immersive, like other VR solutions, and not limited to the “mail slot” view we get today on HoloLens. The performance, too, is purportedly excellent.

Microsoft’s relative silence on VR while it touted the expensive and vertical market-focused HoloLens has made me nervous that it was going to miss another big platform. But this week’s event has cooled those fears. It looks like Microsoft is on track with a great VR strategy.

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Comments (33)

33 responses to “Microsoft Finally Explains Its VR Strategy”

  1. 206

    I kind of thought we'd hear about the forthcoming Alcatel Idol w/VR that t-mobile will be selling...  They didn't really talk about that solution...what will that device (or what can that device) do with AR/VR...

    (and, off topic)  We didn't see a Home Cortana device today...was hoping for one.

  2. 951

    "That PC could cost as little as $500". Like a Windows 10 Mobile device perhaps?

  3. 3508

    One very nice thing about this approach, is that the "launcher/portal/interface" thing that Oculus and HTC have created gets swallowed up by Windows 10, so we don't have to use these "extra" levels of plumming, its all just in the OS.

  4. 5234

    I don't know why they don't just add cameras to the front of a VR helmet to give you AR.

  5. 7271

    "The good news? That PC could cost as little as $500, a far cry from the $1500 or more for an Oculus PC. And the headsets will cost as little as $300." 

    A pre-built Oculus Ready PC currently costs as little as $700. And an upcoming driver update (enabling ASW) will lower that by as much as $100. By the time Creators Update arrives I expect a $550 PC to be powerful enough. ($1500 was the price with Rift included at the time of launch.)

    That said, a "good enough" $300 HMD with inside out tracking would be fantastic for VR adoption and a great companion to Scorpio. After trying Hololens I have no doubt the head tracking will be solid and that adding hand controllers of at least PSVR level of tracking quality (for lets say another $100) should be quite possible.

  6. 5529

    Did anyone else notice Surface Studio just happens to have the minimum required GPU for the Occulur? I suspect this is intentional.

    Have you seen UE4's VR Editor?

    Surface Studio seems like a perfect fit.

  7. 5519

    VR is such a non-issue for 95% of tech users.  It's a geek product that tech vendors chase in an effort to "raise the flag" and generate hype.

    95% off folks just want a simple and stable system to check email, read the news, watch a video, listen to music, perhaps skype a little, manage photos, do a little facebook, etc.

    Oh yeah, and folks are way MORE INTERESTED in a mobile platform than they are about VR....

    • 6672

      In reply to Pbike908:

      You need to realize how amazing those mundane tasks are: you've replaced the US Postal Service, the Washington Post, NBC/CBS/ABC, Motown, AT&T, Kodak, and face-to-face human interraction, with a magic box smaller than a pack of Luckies. No small feat, right? Freaking impossible in 1970. So now imagine a world where physical restrictions or requirements are nullified. No one will be hunching over a Surface Studio. Your dog will wonder who you're talking to. And the fuzz in your mouse will not matter.

      Put on your solar jacket, and head to the beach. Or nowhere at all. It is coming...

    • 5501

      In reply to Pbike908:

      I kind of thought the same way at first.  Wasn't really sure if I would ever want or need VR.  But I think with initiatives like this, where it's baked into the OS and peripherals are much more inexpensive, then it starts to get me more interested to the point where I think I may change my mind and go for it some day.  Seems like it would make a nice companion to my gaming PC.

  8. 5510

    LOL. Is Paul serious when he says that Microsoft is the clear leader in augmented reality? Is that what it says in the Microsoft newsletter? Apparently Paul, does not know this space at all.

  9. 5184

    It's be interesting to see an implementation of this for software developers.  I'd like to see Visual Studio embrace this so we can have mulitple source views/windows open without the need for multiple monitors.  I could see it being particularly useful for profiling or load testing sessions where you have a lot of things you want to monitor at once.  Hololens and AR may be better suited for this, but it's just way too expensive.

  10. 3216

    I have not been a gamer for many years now and I'm not a fan of 3D movies so there is very little about the whole VR thing that moves me.  But, if it were, then I would think that building something like this into an X-Box would be a natural.

    It would seem to my limited perspective that trying to do too much across too many platforms right now could be counter productive.  If they could get something decent into X-Box before Christmas (fat chance) then they would have a real sales impact.

  11. 442

    I find this initiative to be interesting, in that Microsoft usually doesn't push or support peripherals like they are doing with the 3D thing.  Usually they've allowed the 3rd parties to engage and build the needed hardware and software to facilitate the market.  While there are still plenty of 3rd party entities engaged in this market, I'm not sure I see the benefit to Microsoft's input.  Basically I'm worried they may slow things down rather than helping.  I say that from past experiences, which may be wrong due to the changes at MS lately.  Just a gut feeling, if you may.  Not that I'm really that concerned, as 3D doesn't appeal to me much.

    • 5643

      In reply to Narg:

      "I'm not sure I see the benefit to Microsoft's input."

      The DirectX approach? Providing a software layer that makes it easier for developers to add in VR experiences. With as many HMDs are coming out, to account for all of them as a developer would be simplified if I only had to target a single SDK (Windows Holographic).

    • 5349

      In reply to Narg:

      "While there are still plenty of 3rd party entities engaged in this market, I'm not sure I see the benefit to Microsoft's input."

      Keeping Windows relevant?

  12. 6844

    They also have a good solution in research for allowing for low latency, high fidelity mobile VR.

  13. 5486

    While MS may be late to the VR party (by the time things actually launch), they haven't missed it completely. Everything's vapourware until actual products are available to buy though. Personally, I just don't get the whole VR thing. It's interesting for a few minutes, but that soon wears off, and it's all very disorienting, and really only appeals to gamers, and then probably still with limited appeal. I can see it all falling flat on it's face, as your average consumer won't be interested. Time will tell I suppose.

  14. 7211

    MS may be "late" with VR hardware, but if I understand their messaging correctly they are are pushing a platform play again.

    Windows Holographic as a 3D platform that works now on multiple VR hardware (potentially including Vive, Occulus and even a cross-platform phone based system), into the future on AR, and even with a fallback on 2D displays if I'm understanding them correctly.

    So potentially one executable/runtime/api across the whole hardware ecosystem with "proven" forward compatibility.

    Does a common platform matter (compared to SteamVR, PlayStationVR, Google Daydream/Cardboard) when development will probably be done in Unity or something similar anyway? I'm not sure. Does DirectX vs OpenGL/Vulcan matter?

    But I think the aggressive push into the base platform with Paint3D and Print to 3D may be part of making the platform the lingua franca of 3D assets & asset creation & manipulation, which is probably where the bleeding edge hardware will be deployed.


    On a separate point, I'm surprised we haven't seen a VR+  (or AR-) prototype that includes a basic live feed camera on the headset.  It obviously wouldn't have the depth sensing capability to do Hololens type mixed reality, but it could behave like the "follow mode" in Hololens, have better Holgram visuals/opaqueness for the holograms than a similarly priced AR solution and likely reduce/eliminate the motion sickness & blind man problems for a lot of use cases, if not the peripheral vision problem.

  15. 1143

    Since the VR platform will be part of Windows 10, can a 3rd part build a VR headset and games for XBox One S?


    Edit: Now is it more likely that the new XBox console will have a VR headset.

  16. 5394

    I tried out Oculus at the Microsoft Store demonstration. If Microsoft had its own solution, it will be a big switch and likely too late. Oculus seems to already be entrenched. 

  17. 2175

    Fantasic strategy. Be the enabler of VR solutions on your platform, and let the creators make the hardware. It's the strength of Windows.

  18. 760

    I have not used any current VR or AR solutions, but I have listened to a huge number of podcasts where these are discussed and have concluded that neither of the technologies is really ready for mass use. Here's why:

    -- Hololens has the field of view problem. Presumably that will be solved as chips that enable processing a larger number of pixels can be put into headgear. You need this in the headgear because AR really cries out for being able to move around untethered to a PC.

    -- VR currently suffers from the combined need for (i) a room scale installation and (ii) a gaming quality PC. (in my case, the gaming quality PC is not in a room I would want to use for a VR setup).

    -- VR also has not figured out how to let people move around in VR. Moving around via controller (i.e. the motion your eyes see is different from the lack of motion your body feels) seeem to lead to motion sickness. Room scale VR lets you move around a space the size of the room without motion sickness, but that is obviously limiting. These problems may get solved-- just as the problem of how to play FPS games on a console git solved, but we aren't there yet.

    -- What makes a good touch controller is still being worked out. Occulus launched without one and people seem to strongly prefer the Vive that launched with them. Occulus will soon come to market with touch controllers that are superior to the Vive (and the old PS Move tech). Vive has shown controllers that look like an improvement over the Occulus touch controllers which will probably come out next year. This technology is obviously still evolving, and quickly.

    However, for me the bottom line is that these issues make spending $800 for a soon to be obsolete system problematic. By March 2017, my suspiciion is that the systems will have advanced enough that I would take the plunge, even it if is just $300 for the headset MS teased in their show today. For once, their timing may be just right.

  19. 6734

    I would like to see if this will be able to run with a Surface Pro 3 or Pro 4. 

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