What You Can (And Can’t) Do With Windows Mixed Reality
Microsoft believes that the Windows Mixed Reality platform will attract those who want to bring their working environment into the virtual world. At least initially, though, the company is more focused on gamers. It recently released Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR in Early Access on Steam, which gives WMR headsets access to the vast content library on Valve’s VR platform.
There aren’t many games in the Microsoft Store that support WMR yet. However, after speaking with two of the developers who brought games to the WMR platform, we’re confident that list will grow rapidly.
In particular, Trevor Blom, Vertigo Games’ lead programmer, told us that bringing Skyworld and Arizona Sunshine to Windows MR was almost as easy as checking a box in Unity and compiling a new build. The inputs and functionality of Microsoft’s platform translate well from the Rift and Vive.
Space For Entertainment & Productivity
Inside the Beach House, four loosely segregated sections allow you to set up different work spaces. The one directly ahead as you enter the building is for casual Web surfing. On one wall, you find an Edge browser window. On the other side, there's a bench for sitting as you browse.
To the left of this room is an entertainment room, which has a virtual seating area and a giant display for watching movies. Microsoft configures the theater screen to launch its rental service. Here, you can watch trailers and pay for feature-length films.
We didn’t bother renting any movies, but we did watch a few trailers. The image that Acer’s WMR Headset produces is acceptable for short clips, but we're not sure we'd enjoy it over a couple of hours. Microsoft designed this space to resemble what you'd find in a high-end home theater. It's not as inviting as a real theater, though, mostly because it can't be shared with anyone. You can make the room a bit more interesting by opening the walls to reveal night sky behind the screen.
Again, this experience would be better if it could be shared, and we expect that'll be possible in the future. Microsoft recently acquired AltspaceVR, and it’s not hard to imagine that the company would merge AltspaceVR technology directly into Windows MR to enable group movie nights.
The other side of the Beach House offers two more configurable spaces. A room on the right side of the hallway has a large screen on the wall that opens to the Windows Store games section. Clearly, Microsoft considers this the game room. However, you can use it for any task you'd like. We chose to make it a productivity space. The room on the left side of the hallway features a large window for viewing photos from your image gallery. This room has several bare walls that you can decorate or fill with app windows.
If you’re looking for a less confined workspace, you can also set up shop on the building's roof, which gives you a clear view of the ocean and shoreline.
Limited By Window Placements
We usually work with windows open across multiple monitors, so we attempted to emulate that setup by placing Skype on the left, a browser window on the right, and OneNote in the center. But with three windows active, we started to see a problem. The space around us quickly filled up because we had to place the windows within a foot or two from our face, or the screens had to be rather large so that we could read them.
To counter this, we tried placing windows above and below us in ways that would accommodate a quick glance. This didn’t work well, though, because we couldn’t place the app windows where we wanted. Microsoft doesn’t facilitate fine-tuned control over the angle at which apps appear. The windows instead snap to wall surfaces, which interferes with configuring a perfect 3D workspace.
We wanted to give the Acer WMR Headset and Microsoft's platform a fair chance, so we tried using it to write our review. Typically, that'd involve Microsoft Word. But to our dismay, the company's own Office suite isn't one of the 20,000 UWP apps with Windows MR support. So much for getting your work done in a WMR headset.
We spoke to Microsoft about the lack of Office support and, to our surprise, we learned that it should be working. Microsoft designed Windows MR to support all UWP apps natively, without the need for an update from the developer. Company reps told us that they're aware of a bug in the Windows Store that prevents you from seeing all available apps when you’re in the headset, including those in Microsoft’s Office suite. The company is working on a solution.
Without access to Word, we attempted to write the article in OneNote, which proved futile for such a long story. You could easily take a few short notes, but OneNote just isn't suitable for long-form documents. It is possible to use Google Docs within Windows MR, but you must do that from Microsoft’s Edge browser. There is a UWP Google app that lets you access Gmail, Google Drive, and your Google Calendar, but it doesn’t include access to Google Docs.
Some day, we imagine you'll be able to perform a full day's work within Microsoft's mixed reality environment. Access to more than 20,000 UWP apps in WMR is a good start. But the app selection currently comes up short.
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