All latest news about Microsoft VR Headsets: controllers, price, release date

Hello all! This week have been revealed a lot of news about the upcoming Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets, so I thought it could be a great idea making an article with a quick round up about them! Keep reading if you’re interested in this new virtual reality platform…

Crystal Keys Controllers

Don’t know if you knew that, but the VR controllers of Microsoft headsets are codenamed Crystal Keys (a cool name). Some super-special devs have already received them for testing and one of them, called Sean Ong, has made two interesting videos about them. In the first one, he shows the unboxing of these controllers

while in the second one he shows the controllers while in use.

From this video and from the reviews of these devices by Road To VR and Tom’s Hardware, it is clear that these controllers are good, but not great. Some points I want to highlight:

  • They seem quite cheap products: they are very light and don’t seem that resistant. We all know that Oculus Touch are almost indestructible (unless you play Echo Arena) and that Vive controllers are solid. Well, forget this quality with these devices;
  • They aren’t super comfortable. Oculus Touch controllers are very ergonomic (and the upcoming Vive Knuckles should be even better), while these ones don’t make the hand stay at a comfortable rest position. Furthermore, it is easy to press the Windows button by mistake and return to the home room while you’re playing;
  • Buttons are many and this is great to offer a wide range of interactions;

    Windows Mixed Reality controllers buttons
    Buttons… there are a lot there (Image from Road To VR)
  • Tracking is solid while the controller is in the field of view of the cameras that are present on the headset. The field of view of these cameras is acceptable, so controllers don’t have to be exactly in front of the user, as if you were using a Leap Motion v1. Road To VR journalist noticed some little jumps in the tracking while using them, though…. but we’ve to consider that this technology is being updated each day, so I guess that by the official launch of these devices, all problems will be solved;
  • Using IMUs on the controllers, the system is able to take care of tracking even if the controller exits from the field of view for one second or two (it makes some kind of predictions). If the controller stays out of the headset’s sight for too much time, tracking becomes unreliable and the system blocks the virtual controller position inside the VR experience and keeps only the rotation. When the controller returns in sight, tracking can restart. It has to be seen how much this behavior hurts the quality of the VR experiences (for instance, bow and arrow games are not possible);
  • Controllers work using standard batteries. A set of batteries at the moment is enough for 8-10 hours of controllers usage;
  • The overall VR system includes a Chaperone-like security system. It is polygonal and not only rectangular;
  • These controllers and the relative software is being built very fast and there are a lot of updates: things may change until the day of the official release.

From what I’ve read, these seem to me good products for good-enough experiences in VR for the general public. Surely they can’t offer cutting edge VR experiences to gamers and innovators.

SteamVR Support

Talking about experiences, the real issue of Microsoft is that it has few applications you can play on its platform. Yes, they’ve made some partnerships with some studios, they announced some Halo experiences in VR, but surely they can’t compete with the great offer of Oculus Store or SteamVR.

SteamVR Unity plugin hands on
Soon you will be able to play all SteamVR experiences with your Microsoft Mixed Reality headset (Image by SteamVR)

That’s why Microsoft took an intelligent decision and partnered with Valve to make its headsets SteamVR compatible. Details on how this will happen are still not clear and we have to consider that some time ago Microsoft declared that its headsets would have worked only with UWP environment and so making them work with SteamVR would have been hard. The most probable (and even the most beneficial for the VR ecosystem) scenario would be that Microsoft and Valve write an OpenVR driver for these headsets so that to integrate completely these headsets into all the SteamVR ecosystem.

This is fantastic for Microsoft because this means that from the day one its headsets will be out, its users will be able to play with all the great games and experiences available on SteamVR (they’re a lot!). Redmond company has so solved its biggest issue about content. And is great for Steam, because this way Valve can count more users for its virtual reality apps store. And it’s great for us developers because developing with Unity and SteamVR we can target a lot of different headsets (Vive, OSVR, Microsoft, etc….)

And there’s more: if these headsets will be compatible with OpenVR… and ReVive makes SteamVR users play with Oculus games… will it be possible for Microsoft users to play Oculus games using Revive, too? This would be an awesome win for them… even if I think that playing Echo Arena with these cheap controllers is a big risk 😀

UPDATE: According to a Reddit post citing Microsoft sources, it seems that SteamVR support won’t be available at headsets launch, but will come later. Keep this in mind if you want to buy a MS headset.

Specifications

We already knew about specs, that are similar between all the various Microsoft Mixed Reality Headsets. Taking them from Road To VR, they are:

  • Two high-resolution LCDs at 1440 x 1440
  • 2.89” diagonal display size (x2)
  • Front hinged display
  • 95 degrees horizontal field of view
  • Display refresh rate up to 90 Hz (native)
  • Built-in audio out and microphone support through 3.5mm jack
  • Single cable with HDMI 2.0 (display) and USB 3.0 (data) for connectivity
  • Inside-out tracking
  • 4.00m cable

As you can notice, the big innovations towards competitors like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive are:

  • Inside-out tracking, that lets you use room-scale virtual reality with a super easy setup that doesn’t require external cameras;
  • 1440×1440 resolution that is superior to the Rift’s and Vive’s one;
  • A super-long cable

There are anyway points where these headsets don’t shine:

  • FOV is little: 95 against the 110 of Rift and Vive;
  • There’s no integrated microphone and this is terrible for social VR experiences;
  • There’s still the cable. This is exactly as the other two headsets, but now VR is moving towards removing the cable by using standalone headsets or wireless-addons.

Again, the impression is that we’re talking about good-enough devices that aren’t performing any innovation, are just offering state-of-art VR at a cheap price.

PC Specifications

Microsoft has released new specs for PC running its virtual reality experiences:

Desktop and Notebook PCs with Discrete Graphics Desktop and Notebook PCs with Integrated Graphics*
Operating System Windows 10 (RS3) Fall Creators Update – Home, Pro, Business, Education
Processor i5 Intel Core i5 (4th generation) CPU with 4 or more physical cores AMD FX-4350 4.2Ghz (desktop), 4 or more physical cores Intel Core i5 (7th generation) CPU, 2 physical cores with Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology enabled
RAM 8GB DDR3 8GB DDR3 Dual Channel
Hard Disk Space 10 GB of free space
Graphics Card NVidia GTX 965M/AMD RX 460 or greater DX12 capable discrete GPU Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 620 or greater DX12 capable integrated GPU
Graphics Driver Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 2.2
Display Connected external or integrated VGA (800×600) display
Graphics Display Port 1 x available HDMI 1.4/ DisplayPort 1.2
USB Connectivity 1 x available USB 3.0 Type-A or Type-C
Bluetooth (for accessories) Bluetooth 4.0

What do these two columns mean? Well, the first one is the one that regards high-tier Mixed Reality PCs (Microsoft calls them “Mixed Reality Ultra PCs”), while the second one regards standard Mixed Reality PCs.

With both types of PCs, you can experience Microsoft mixed reality and this is a game changer, since as you can read even an Intel integrated graphic card can run a virtual reality experience! This is a big moment for VR since any decent computer becomes a VR-ready PC thanks to Microsoft. The difference between the two types is that with Ultra PCs you can have 90Hz virtual reality and run any app you wish, while with low-end PCs you have only 60Hz VR and can run only 3 applications simultaneously in the immersive Windows environment. This means that with low-end PCs you can’t live a great virtual reality, but you can enter VR anyway and this is awesome.

Anyway, Microsoft should release stickers on PCs to certify that they work with its VR ecosystem in Standard or Ultra mode.

Notice that we’re talking about user’s PC. Developers’ PCs should have higher specs, as follows:

Processor Notebook: Intel Mobile Core i5 7th generation CPU, Dual-Core with Hyper Threading Desktop: Intel Desktop i5 6th generation CPU, Dual-Core with Hyper Threading OR AMD FX4350 4.2Ghz Quad-Core equivalent Desktop: Intel Desktop i7 6th generation (6 Core) OR AMD Ryzen 5 1600 (6 Core, 12 threads)
GPU Notebook: NVIDIA GTX 965M, AMD RX 460M (2GB) equivalent or greater DX12 capable GPU Desktop: NVIDIA GTX 960/1050, AMD Radeon RX 460 (2GB) equivalent or greater DX12 capable GPU Desktop: NVIDIA GTX 980/1060, AMD Radeon RX 480 (2GB) equivalent or greater DX12 capable GPU
GPU driver WDDM version WDDM 2.2 driver
Thermal Design Power 15W or greater
Graphics display ports 1x available graphics display port for headset (HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 for 60Hz headsets, HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 for 90Hz headsets)
Display resolution Resolution: SVGA (800×600) or greater Bit depth: 32 bits of color per pixel
Memory 8 GB of RAM or greater 16 GB of RAM or greater
Storage >10 GB additional free space
USB Ports 1x available USB port for headset (USB 3.0 Type-A) Note: USB must supply a minimum of 900mA
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 (for accessory connectivity)

A note on the Microsoft websites remembers us that laptops with hybrid graphics may have issues for development purposes.

Models, prices, and release dates

Road To VR has made a great list of the Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets models and release dates:

  • Dell VR118: to be released in October, for $350 without controllers and $450 bundled with controllers

    Dell mixed reality headset with controllers
    Dell mixed reality headset. Very white (Image by Dell)
  • Asus HC102: to be released in October, for €450 bundled with controllers

    Asus mixed reality headset with controllers
    ASUS headset: notice the low-poly design. It is the one with the most original appearance in my opinion (Image by ASUS)
  • Lenovo Explorer: to be released in October, for $350 without controllers and $450 bundled with controllers

    lenovo mixed reality headset with controllers
    Lenovo headset. it is very elegant (Image by Lenovo)
  • HP Mixed Reality headset: already on-sale in developer edition in the US for $329 without controllers (guess will be at $429 with controllers)

    HP mixed reality headset with controllers
    HP Mixed Reality headset: wearing it, everyone appears as Robocop (Image by HP)
  • Acer Mixed Reality headset: already on-sale in developer edition in the US for $299 without controllers (guess will be at $399 with controllers)

    Acer mixed reality headset with controllers
    Acer mixed reality headset and controllers. It seems a happy toaster (Image by Acer)

UPDATE: the exact date of launch may be October, 17th, that is when the Windows 10 Creators update will be released.


I’m very excited by this new wave of VR products that come with a new tracking technology that will make VR more user-friendly. What’s your impression about them? Would you buy them considering the fact that they cost more than the Oculus Rift without offering a better experience? Let me know in the comments! (And subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already done it…)

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…