Update, 3/2/17, 9:20am PT: Added a photo gallery, additional details on specifications, and a statement from Microsoft. Originally published 3/1/17, 10:35am PT.
We’ve been waiting for solid details from--well, from anyone--about the inexpensive VR HMDs that are supposedly coming from several PC makers. Today at GDC, Microsoft announced that an Acer-made HMD dev kit bearing the ungainly title of Acer Windows 10 Mixed Reality Development Edition is nigh.
We first learned that several PC makers were planning to build VR HMDs (at the probably not-so-gentle-prodding of Intel and Microsoft) around Computex 2016 time, and at WinHEC, we learned more about the range of specs to expect from the upcoming HMDs and the PCs that will support them.
We were a little surprised that we saw only one prototype HMD at CES--from Lenovo--but now there’s one about to hit the wild in the form of the aforementioned Acer HMD dev kit.
It will offer a resolution of 1440x1440 per eye (706ppi) on LCD displays with a refresh rate of 90Hz. It has built-in audio out and a 3.5mm mic jack, and you can connect it to your PC via a single HDMI 2.0 cable (for the display) and a USB 3.0 cable (for data). Also note that this appears to offer some semblance of mixed reality.
We also know that "Windows Mixed Reality" supports Xbox and Xbox 360 controllers, and it "enables" support for additional controllers, but Microsoft spokespeople cleverly never said whether or not this headset supports any of the above. However, given that this Acer HMD is the MR dev kit, it stands to reason that it does support those controllers.
The "phased rollout" of these dev kits, starting with those who received a "golden ticket" for attending the Windows Mixed Reality session at GDC, will begin later this month. The kits include Acer's HMD as well as "documentation and access to Windows 10 Insider preview builds and the software development kit (SDK) to enable developers to build mixed reality applications." Microsoft said in a blog post that it plans to bring MR to more devices in the future:
We’re also excited to share that Windows Mixed Reality experiences will light up on other devices over time, beyond desktop and Microsoft HoloLens. Our plan is to bring mixed reality content to the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio, in 2018.
Since we first published this article, we had a chance to see the HMD up close and in person--but under glass. Microsoft even had a security guard posted to make sure people (cough, like us, cough) didn’t try to remove it. He wouldn't let me take his picture. There's not too much more we could glean from seeing the HMD this closely. You can see the simple clasping mechanism that goes around the back of your head. Notably, there is no strap that goes on top of your head, so the whole thing needs to stay up just from the friction around the front, sides, and back of your head.
It's unclear how exactly and to what extent this Acer device will do mixed reality. Clearly, there are a pair of cameras on the front. As we noted in our coverage of LG's new high-end VR HMD prototype, these could be used to toggle on a "real world" view, perform some of the inside-out tracking, let you toggle between fully occluded VR and MR, or create a merged reality environment. At the very least, it will obviously make use of Microsoft's Holographic Shell, and Microsoft confirmed that it will offer inside-out tracking. (We assume that will be 6DoF, but that detail remains unconfirmed.)
Microsoft would not tell us much of anything offering only this statement:
The Acer Windows Mixed Reality Development Edition headset uses the Windows Mixed Reality platform, and delivers built-in inside-out tracking. Windows Mixed Reality is the most complete mixed reality platform across virtually any device type – from VR to AR and everything in between – creating the foundation for the next generation of innovative mixed reality devices powered by Windows 10.
For now, those are the only details we have available. Microsoft will start sending out the dev kits “soon” to content creators. As before, the company stated that we should expect to see devices like the Acer HMD hit the market around the holidays this year, and said it will share more at Build 2017.
What work are you doing in VR?
We're keen to learn more about what specifically they're going to be doing with inside-out tracking, too. There are better and worse ways to do it--and those are make-or-break decision IMHO.