Last Wednesday’s Microsoft Show featured the company’s new Surface Studio computer and easily became the show’s star. But what didn’t get enough attention from the media was how Microsoft is expanding its platforms for augmented and virtual reality in order to be compatible for Windows 10 and made much more affordable. Microsoft has always viewed virtual reality as the next step in the era of computing, which is why beginning in the middle of next year, the company plans to release a free update for Windows 10 called the Creators Update. It will include the ability to plug a virtual reality headset into any computer. The headsets will be made available at the same and very affordable at only $299. Top PC makers like Asus, Dell, and Lenovo will build and manufacture the headsets. And there’s more to these affordable headsets than just a cheap price.
They will have features that even high-end headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift (selling at a whopping $599) won’t have. For instance, the Microsoft headsets will provide free range of motion without the use of external cameras or devices needed to track you. According to Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s head of HoloLens and other augmented and virtual reality projects, “the new portfolio of VR headsets will be the most immersive and powerful headsets at the most affordable price.” Kipman does admit that the new Microsoft headsets may not match the Oculus Rift headsets in terms of display quality, but it makes up for it in other areas by making virtual reality more accessible and affordable and more capable. For example, to power an expensive Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset will require a very powerful PC starting at $1,000. Anything lower and the specs won’t work with the headsets. With the Microsoft headsets, you only need a PC that costs around $500 and running on Windows 10. This opens up virtual reality to a large portion of the Windows ecosystem even if it is only in its early stages.
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Of course, in terms of tracking, this aspect is another advantage for Microsoft. The new headsets allow the user – using built-in VR tracking found in the HoloLens – to be completely untethered from a computer and can “scan” any surroundings so movement is made freely in virtual reality. With Vive and Oculus Rift, you need to install external cameras and laser emitters in your room to achieve the effect of virtual reality. The Windows headsets allows you to do virtual reality without any external accessories, and much cheaper by several hundred dollars. And while Facebook merely “teased” its own Oculus Rift with “inside out” tracking in its early stages, Microsoft will have its own version ready for sale in its headsets by spring of next year. Using Microsoft’s signature move of automatic updates online, it has made virtual reality both affordable and viable even for non-high end computer users, leapfrogging much of the VR competition in the process.