In just a few days time, Microsoft will host WinHEC, its annual hardware / platform conference. This time around, the location is Shenzhen, China – also known as the hardware design capital of the world. Intel has 600 people here working on hardware form factors, while the similar story is with Microsoft and a few other known global players. 2017-2018 hardware strategy will evolve around two things: Microsoft HoloLens and “Microsoft VR”. The first device will be built and branded as Microsoft, while the latter will be a specification for the selected partners – Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo. Should the VR headsets from the partners take off, it won’t be long before we see a Surface VR headset as well.
As always, the game revolves around the minimum hardware specifications. Currently, the champion of minimum specifications is Oculus with its Rift, with some pre-build computers going as low as $500. Naturally, public announcement is one thing, availability is another – still to this date, neither Oculus, AMD nor CyberPowerPC came good on their word and shipped such as system.
Microsoft is not playing such tricks. In February 2015, HoloLens was announced, starting to sell the development kits of the devices a year later, in March 2016. Firstly available in America and Canada, it took six months for the company to open up and allow for sales in Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. HoloLens is world’s first and still only self-contained holographic computer. The HoloLens itself went through several revisions of hardware, and we might get a glimpse of a second generation HoloLens device – probably the last pre-production before it goes on sale – featuring Windows 10 Holographic Edition.
In April 2017, Windows 10 will receive a new, so-called “Windows 10 Creators Edition” (formerly known as Redstone 2). Familiar old Windows apps and new apps, games and media suited for AR and VR are expected. If WinHEC stays clear of 2nd gen HoloLens, you can be sure the April release will bring a much wanted update.
Announced applications are 3D Paint, improved social sharing, as well as cross-platform compatibility with the next generation Xbox console, more known as “Project Scorpio”. The new Xbox is evolving in the direction of 4K gaming, VR and broadcasting. While it is not the matter of public knowledge, the next generation Xbox should feature compatibility mode with the VR headsets from the five partners (Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo). This way, Microsoft will one-up the competitors from Sony, who only support their own PlayStation VR platform.
Terry Myerson is the Executive Vice President, Windows and Devices Group. Responsible for the software platform, apps, games, store and devices that power the Windows ecosystem. Myerson says an update to the OS will “enable mainstream PCs to run the Windows Holographic shell and associated mixed reality and universal Windows applications.”
Intel and Microsoft are working together for quite some time now on defining the hardware required for mixed reality ready PCs and head mounted displays. With a goal to enable building a broad range of devices for the mainstream consumer and business markets. In meantime. Windows Holographic First Run application is included on the latest Windows 10 Insider test builds. It is intended for checking if your PC will be adequate for what is called “Microsoft’s VR”. According to it, minimum requirements are somewhat lower than those for Oculus Rift:
- 4 CPU cores (including dual-core HyperThreading models)
- 4 GB of RAM
- USB 3.0
- A graphics card with DirectX 12 support
Microsoft VR headsets will have built-in sensor technology and will not require setup with markers, starting at $299 and up. Given the innovative solutions applied on HoloLens, Microsoft VR headsets, we might see the arrival of a game changer.