The first round of Windows mixed reality headsets are now all present and accounted for.
Made by Microsoft's PC maker partners, the designs for the new headsets were shown at the end of August at IFA Berlin, one of the world's biggest consumer technology trade shows. Prices initially started at $299 (roughly £250 or AU$400, converted) for the headsets alone, but you can now find them bundled with motion controllers for between $200 and $300.
The lower bundle pricing helps them compete with the current $399 Oculus Rift bundle and they're much cheaper than the HTC Vive, and they don't require a super-powerful PC to run them. (Head to the end of this article for more details on necessary PC specs.)
Also, unlike Oculus and Vive, WMR headsets (the name is meant to encompass augmented and virtual reality and anything in between) use a pair of front-mounted cameras and a set of built-in sensors to map your physical position. Called inside-out tracking, the design allows for six-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) movement tracking without the need to buy external sensors and set them up in a dedicated space. They're made to be plug-and-play for the most part, too, so you can be up and running in minutes just about anywhere.
Windows Mixed Reality Headsets blend real and virtual worldsSee all photos
However, since they're all designed to meet Microsoft's specific requirements, there aren't huge differences between the headsets. The first five headsets announced have the same basic set of specs:
- Two high-resolution 1,440x1,440-pixel LCDs with up to 90Hz native refresh rate
- Front-hinged display for quickly lifting the viewer up and out of the way
- Built-in 3.5mm jack for audio and microphone support
- Single cable with HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0 for video and data
- 4-meter (13.1-ft.) cable
Samsung's Odyssey headset offers a slight variation to the formula by using 1,440x1,600-pixel AMOLED displays and skipping the flip-up design. Otherwise, at least for this first batch, the differences seem to come down to overall design. And even those don't vary too much.
Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Acer's headset was the first one we had a chance to test out back in April. Though it was priced at $299 (equivalent to £250 or AU$400) at launch ($399 with motion controllers), you can now pick up a complete bundle for less than $300.
Asus Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Certainly the most interesting-looking headset of the five, Asus said its designers used technology normally used to create digital architecture to make the pattern of hundreds of 3D polygons. It's lightweight at about 14.1 ounces (400g) and balanced to take pressure off the nose and cheeks. Pricing in the US is $429, while the European price is 449 euros, which converts to £415 and AU$675. That's pricey, but includes motion controllers.
Dell designed the headset so that it's comfortable and easy to adjust for different users. A thumbwheel on back lets you quickly adjust the well-cushioned headband, and the balance and extra padding on the face take pressure off your nose and cheeks. Its antistain coating helps keep the headset from getting gross after your friends and family use it. It's available now for $330 (roughly £270 or AU$440 converted) for the headset and controllers.
HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Like Acer's, HP's headset was originally available as a developer edition from Microsoft, but is now available as a bundle with controllers for less than $250.
Lenovo's entry into the headset market is perhaps the most boardroom-ready in appearance. The Explorer follows the same design and feature sets as the others. One nice little extra, though, is that Lenovo will have a set of its own apps available for use with the headset through its own entertainment hub. The Lenovo Explorer is available now for $279 with a set of motion controllers.
Samsung went beyond the specs of the other WMR headsets by using dual 3.5-inch AMOLED displays with 1,440x1,600-pixel resolution. It also has built-in premium AKG headphones for 360-degree spatial sound, so you don't have to bring your own headphones as you would with the others here. There is a slight tradeoff, though: The visor doesn't flip up from in front of your eyes. The Odysseys are also more expensive at $400 bundled with controllers and two games.
What else you should know
Will I need a new PC?
Maybe. A big plus for the WMR headsets is that you don't necessarily need a superpowerful PC to drive them for all uses. According to Microsoft, there will be WMR desktops and laptops with integrated graphics starting as low as $499 (approximately AU$630 and £390 converted) that will run the headsets at 60 frames per second, while WMR Ultra PCs with discrete graphics will run at 90fps. Microsoft has an app you can run to check if your PC is WMR ready.
Headsets aside, the more demanding the games or content you want to experience, the more powerful -- and pricier -- your PC will need to be. HP has a list of recommended system requirements for its developer edition headset that you can use as a baseline for what components to look for to get the most from the headsets. Also, one thing you definitely will need is the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update.
What games and apps can I use?
For starters, you'll be able to use all 20,000 Universal Windows apps in mixed reality. Basically, the headset will act like a monitor attached to your face. Again, that's why you won't necessarily need high-end components in your PC to use the headset for everything like watching 360-degree videos or regular movies for that matter.
The headsets will also work with HoloLens apps, and Microsoft announced that it's "working with 343 Industries to bring Halo experiences into mixed reality." Gaming company Steam will be compatible with Windows Mixed Reality hardware, too.