At its WinHEC 2016 opening keynote in Shenzhen, China Thursday morning, Microsoft revealed its plans to make mixed reality mainstream in 2017 by opening up its Windows Holographic technologies to its partner ecosystem.
“Windows is the only platform unifying the mixed reality ecosystem, providing inside-out tracking for head-mounted displays, a single platform and standardized inputs for developers, and a consistent interface with a single store for customers,” Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson said. “2017 is the year that mixed reality goes mainstream.”
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At the high-end of the market, Mr. Myerson, revealed, Microsoft has submitted its HoloLens untethered mixed reality headset for regulatory approval in China, the world’s largest market. The firm expects its HoloLens Developer Edition and Commercial Suite products to become available in that country in the first half of 2017.
That’s exciting, but HoloLens will always be a fairly niche product, given its pricing. To achieve scale, Microsoft is of course working with its top five PC maker partners and other hardware makers to bring the underlying mixed reality capabilities of HoloLens to market via a variety of head-mounted displays at different price points.
Microsoft revealed its first five partners—Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, and Lenovo—at the October Windows 10 event, and Terry Myerson confirmed for me this week that the capabilities of these headsets will vary as you move up in price. (The starting price will be $299.) Also new this week is the PC system requirements for using this Windows Holographic hardware:
CPU: 6th or 7th generation Intel Core i5 mobile dual-core CPU with Hyperthreading or equivalent
GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 (GT2) or equivalent or greater DirectX12-capable GPU
RAM: 8 GB+ Dual Channel required for integrated graphics
Video-out: HDMI 1.4 with 2880×1440 @ 60 HzHDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.3+ with 2880×1440 @ 90 Hz
HDD: 100GB+ SSD (Preferred)/HDD
USB: USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 for accessories
Additionally, Microsoft is working with the largest VR vendor in China, called 3Glasses, to bring Windows Holographic to that country. 3Glasses will bring Windows 10 with Windows Holographic to its existing S1 device in the first half of 2017, which has an audience of over 5 million active users. (I’m told that 3Glasses’ devices are used in kiosks in malls and other public spaces in China.)
To make it easy for customers to find mixed reality content, Microsoft will highlight what it says is a library of over 20,000 universal Windows apps in the Windows Store catalog, and it will enhance several built-in Windows 10 apps to support this technology.
For example, Microsoft Edge will natively support 3D objects in WebVR, so you can drag and drop objects from the web directly onto your PC. And the Movies & TV app will be updated to support 360 degree videos for the first time. I was told this would be an “immersive experience” when used with a head-mounted display.
Finally, Microsoft plans to deliver developer kits for these new Windows Holographic head-mounted displays at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco in February. This will give developers a few months to adapt their apps to Windows Holographic.
“We are facilitating choice with Windows Holographic,” Mr. Myerson told me from China. “It’s pretty exciting.”