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Microsoft’s Future Is All About 3D

Microsoft is preparing to roll out the Windows 10 Creator Edition update and is finally talking about what you can expect. The new version of Windows 10 embraces creativity and gives you all the tools you need to work in three dimensions. 

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creator Edition is rolling out to Windows Insiders this week and focuses heavily on creativity. We’ve long had tools for 2D creation, but 3D creation isn’t as easy to pick up. 3D animation requires specialty software and training, and 3D scans require specialized hardware that isn’t readily available. Microsoft wants to change that, and Windows 10 Creator Edition is a big step towards democratizing 3D content creation.

3D All The Things

Putting the tools to create 3D objects and environments in people's hands is the first step to democratizing 3D creation, and Windows 10 Creator Edition does just that. Win10 Creator Edition includes a new version of Microsoft’s basic art program, Paint. The latest edition, dubbed Paint 3D, adds tools that let you manipulate 3D objects.

Paint 3D lets you import objects that you’ve scanned with a 3D scanner, or downloaded from the internet. Microsoft launched a  website that allows you to share your creations with others, or you can download others' creations to import into your drawings. Microsoft also partnered with Trimble to give you access to the entire library of 3D models in the Sketchup 3D Warehouse. 

Oh, and remember how Microsoft dropped billions of dollars on Minecraft? The company is leveraging that investment for more than just gaming. Now you can export your Minecraft creations directly to the remix3D catalog so that other people can use it in their art. The website also lets you order 3D prints of the exported Minecraft models.

Once you have a 3D model inside Paint 3D, you are free to do anything with it that you would with older versions of Paint. Microsoft redesigned every brush tool to work seamlessly with 3D objects, so you can doodle on their surface or change their color. Paint 3D also includes a stamp tool that lets you paste any 2D image to a 3D object the same way that textures are applied to 3D models. 

The new Paint treats 3D images as 3D models. After saving a creation from Paint 3D, you can import it into other software that can take advantage of 3D. For example, you can upload the 3D file to Facebook to share it with your friends. Facebook can play an animation to showcase the depth of the 3D scene.

You can also import 3D images from Paint 3D into AR and VR environments. With a Microsoft Hololens HMD, you can view the 3D images in the real world and treat them as objects in your space. The 3D models are accessible in full VR, as well. Microsoft demonstrated a full VR environment with a large TV screen on one wall and a shelf full of 3D apps on the opposite side of the room. The 3D image that it built on stage for the demo is seen sitting on the shelf next to the application icons. 

Paint 3D isn’t the only application that Microsoft is updating for the 3D world. The Microsoft Edge browser can access 3D content through Hololens and allows you to bring objects into the real world from a website. Microsoft showed an example of shopping for furniture with Hololens, which allows you to preview furniture in your home before buying it.

Microsoft said it plans to “integrate 3D into [its] most popular applications.” As an example, the company showed a preview of what you can do with PowerPoint in 3D. Imagine having a slideshow with a 3D object that you can position at any angle to get just the right vantage point. Now imagine being able to animate that image if you rotate it or zoom in. PowerPoint 3D lets you automatically create fancy animations like that with simple transitions, and the software does all the animation for you.

Hardware Too? VR HMDs

Microsoft talked a lot about the software updates we can expect with the Windows 10 Creator Edition update, but it also mentioned some exciting new hardware that it designed to interact with the 3D tools that come with Win10 Creator Edition.

Microsoft revealed five partners that are building affordable VR HMDs. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo will all launch VR HMDs that connect to your PC, like the Rift and Vive. Microsoft didn’t reveal the hardware specifications, but the company did say that these HMDs feature inside-out tracking that allows for 6-degrees of freedom (6DoF) movement. We can’t say for sure, but we wonder if these HMDs are the product of Intel and Microsoft’s collaboration, which we affectionately dubbed Wintel VR.

Microsoft didn’t say when the unnamed VR HMDs would hit the market, but the company indicated that they would be more affordable than current VR HMD options. Today, you can purchase a Rift for $599 or a Vive for $799 to enjoy high-end VR. Or, you can purchase a GearVR (and soon Google Daydream) for under $100 to experience mobile VR. Microsoft is slipping its tethered, inside-out tracking HMD right in the middle of the price range. For as little at $299, you’ll be able to buy a VR HMD from one of Microsoft’s five partners.

Faster Than Lightning

The VR industry is moving at a mind-numbing pace, and things are just getting started. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift started to trickle into consumer's hands half a year ago. In April, if you wanted a VR HMD, you had two options. Today you can add PSVR to the list of choices, but it won’t be long before that list is nearly a dozen.

We don’t yet know if Microsoft’s HMD design supports OpenVR, OSVR, or a proprietary VR standard. Microsoft already has a partnership with Oculus, so perhaps the Oculus Store will support these HMDs. Microsoft could even make a play towards console VR with these headsets. Project Scorpio, which is supposed to launch next year, has specifications capable of VR, and the website boasts that Project Scorpio is “the first and only console to enable true 4K gaming and hi-fidelity VR.”