Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality Platform
Microsoft jumped into virtual reality last October with the formal launch of its Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, which includes the Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) platform. Although Microsoft took its time getting there, the company does see VR as a serious computing revolution, not just an enthusiast fad.
More than 18 months after Oculus and HTC began shipping Rift and Vive headsets (early 2016), Microsoft is playing fast follower and focusing on making easier, more user-friendly solutions. For example, the company invested in creating a reliable inside-out tracking system to eliminate the need for external cameras and reduce setup complexity. Microsoft also wanted its immersive computing platform to support a wide variety of applications and use cases. Today, the Windows Mixed Reality platform supports both augmented reality and virtual reality devices.
Of course, Microsoft had its first kick at the can in 2016 with the HoloLens development kit, an augmented reality device featuring inside-out tracking. The HoloLens is too expensive for regular consumer use, but it's worth noting that the system does support Windows Mixed Reality and UWP apps. Moreover, Microsoft was able to re-purpose the HoloLens tracking technology for its more affordable VR headsets.
Rather than designing a proprietary headset for the Windows Mixed Reality platform, Microsoft partnered with a half-dozen familiar hardware companies to create compatible devices, including Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and HP. Most of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets were announced the same day as Microsoft's Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, but Acer was the first WMR partner to provide a headset for testing, so that's where we'll start our comparison of how WMR stacks up against the established Rift and Vive.
Microsoft calls its sole Windows Mixed Reality environment the Beach House. Eventually, you'll be able to change the default environment, but this is it for now. As with the SteamVR and Oculus Home environments, Beach House is the primary hub from which you can launch apps and games.
Inside the Beach House, you’ll find a handful of rooms that are configurable for different use cases. You start outside on what can be described as the patio. On the ground in front of you, there's a bag with the Windows logo on it. When you select the bag, windows open with quick links that take you to the apps, games, and free content available for Windows Mixed Reality.
On the right-hand side, you’ll find a giant window to access the Microsoft Holograms app, which hosts items for customizing and decorating your virtual space. Some of the Holograms are static objects, such as pictures for the wall and plants for a window sill. Other Holograms are animated, and you can place the holograms anywhere in your Beach House, resized to taste.
Navigation & Locomotion
You move around in the Beach House by teleporting. This involves pressing the thumbstick forward to activate the teleport reticle and using your motion controller to place the reticle on your landing spot. Simply let go of the thumbstick to teleport. You can also change orientation as you teleport by pointing the thumbstick in the direction you'd like to face when you land.
Microsoft’s locomotion mechanics draw from Cloudhead Games’ Blink system. But unlike Blink, Microsoft’s teleport system doesn’t fade the screen as you move. Instead, the field of view shrinks in to help reduce the potential for motion sickness.
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