Microsoft Finally Explains Its VR Strategy

Posted on October 26, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 33 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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  1. 1 | Reply
    EnterMegatron99 Alpha Member #189 - 2 months ago

    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. 1 | Reply
    plibken Alpha Member #916 - 2 months ago

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

  3. 0 | Reply
    jwpear Alpha Member #2194 - 2 months ago

    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.

  4. 0 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 2 months ago

    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.

  5. 0 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 2 months ago

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

  6. 0 | Reply
    DWAnderson Alpha Member #730 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 1 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago
      In reply to DWAnderson:

      We need to stop it with the Hololens field of view thing.  We all know first gen hardware never gets it 100% right.  Come on guys.

    2. 1 | Reply
      zybch Alpha Member #2568 - 2 months ago
      In reply to DWAnderson:

      Go do one of the PSVR demos sony have all over the place.  Its remarkable how good their $300 (I think) experience is.

      Your 2nd, 3rd and 4th points are mostly solved with that system.

  7. 0 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago

    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. 

    1. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago
      In reply to glenn8878:

      The price point could shift things dramatically.  Not to mention the software side of things and the support given to the hardware...

  8. 0 | Reply
    Neville Bagnall - 2 months ago

    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.

  9. 0 | Reply
    Hougaard Alpha Member #2008 - 2 months ago

    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.

  10. 0 | Reply
    slbailey1 Alpha Member #1080 - 2 months ago

    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.

  11. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 0 | Reply
      darth3pio Alpha Member #2528 - 2 months ago
      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).

    2. 0 | Reply
      richfrantz Alpha Member #2341 - 2 months ago
      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?