The answer is: it’s kind of both, really – though far more like the former than the latter.
Microsoft’s blended version of augmented reality (AR) and VR is a new platform to immerse more users into the digital experience with lower-priced and less graphically-intensive headsets. To this end, the software maker has worked with top computer manufacturers – like Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo and Samsung – to develop a more accessible head-mounted display (HMD) standard with a few ground rules.
Like with VR, you still wear a head-mounted display with two built-in screens to peer into a virtual world. Likewise, to interact in Mixed Reality, you can grab a pair of Microsoft-made motion controllers or an Xbox One controller.
However, instead of HTC Vive Lighthouses, Oculus Waypoints or other infrared beacons tracking where you are looking and going, these headsets use integrated cameras to scan the surrounding environment. Mixed Reality headsets also can run at low-end graphical settings, enabling something as lightweight as an Ultrabook to generate a digital world for users.
Cut to the chase
- What is Mixed Reality? Microsoft’s blended VR/AR standard
- When is Mixed Reality out? October 17
- What will Mixed Reality cost? Starting at $329 (about £250, AU$420)
Windows Mixed Reality release date
Windows Mixed Reality has been top in mind for Microsoft since last October. Now, the upcoming release of the Fall Creators Update on October 17th will cement Mixed Reality as a standard feature of Windows 10.
This is when Windows 10 will officially add support for Mixed Reality headsets. However, you could have already been testing the virtual waters with Insider builds of Windows 10 through the Windows Insider program.
Windows Mixed Reality price
The biggest differentiator between headsets for Windows Mixed Reality and those designed for VR, is they can cost half as much. With prices for Mixed Reality headsets starting at $299 (about £225, AU$380), Microsoft’s new platform more likely competes with mobile VR – like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View – than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Throwing in motion controllers are pretty affordable, too. A few manufacturers, like Acer, are bundling a complete headset package for $399 in the US. For a full price break down, let’s look at all the headsets currently announced.
Acer Windows Mixed Reality HMD
Acer was one of the first companies to come out of the gate with a Windows Mixed Reality headset. It offers a display resolutions of 1,440 x 1,440 per eye. Users can even flip up the screen to get quickly back into regular reality – though this is a regular feature of most if not all headsets in its class. Acer’s headset is also among the cheapest ringing up for $299 in the US on its own or $399 (about £300, AU$510) with a pair of wireless motion controllers. Pre-orders for this headset opened on October 3rd and will begin shipping on October 17th.
The Dell Visor (and all of the Mixed Reality headsets, really) have a lot in common with Acer’s but we’ll go over the specs nonetheless. It boasts two 2.89-inch, 1,440 x 1,440-resolution LCD displays that you can, once again, flip up for a quick exit from the virtual world. There are a few extra creature comforts of removable foam inserts, cable management loops and an easily-adjustable headband for a comfy and tight fit. Pre-order the Dell Visor is available for $349 (about £260, AU$445) by itself and throwing in the controllers is an extra $99 (about £75, AU$130) even if they’re bundled together. Units will begin shipping on October 17th.
HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset Developer Edition
HP’s take on the Windows 10 MR headset looks much more Tron-like than the others. It keeps up with its rivals, thanks to a 2,880 x 1,440 combined resolution and 90Hz display, but its field of view is a narrower 95-degrees. HP’s Mixed Reality headset is available now for $329 (about £250, AU$420) on its own and $449 (about £340, AU$570) bundled with motion controllers.
The Lenovo Explorer features all the same specs and comforts of the other Mixed Reality headsets. It’s field-of-view also runs smack in the middle of the pack at 105-degrees. Good news is it’s just as affordable as Acer’s at $399 (about £300, AU$510) with motion controllers included.
Asus Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Asus differentiates its MR headset with a futuristic geometric front façade. Looks aside, it has all the same specs as its rivals, even if its field-of-view is on the low side of 95-degrees. Asus has only revealed European pricing for its headset at €449, which means it’ll cost about $530, £400 or AU$670 elsewhere around the world. You can prepare to pre-order this one here.
Samsung HMD Odyssey
The Samsung HMD Odyssey is the latest Windows MR headset on the block, and it’s both the most advanced as well as expensive device of its class. For starters, it packs larger 3.5-inch AMOLED displays for more vibrant, lifelike images. Built-in AKG headphones also add in the immersive soundscape of 360-degree spatial sound. Costing a cool $499 (about £377, AU$638) with controllers included, the Samsung HMD Odyssey will ship later than the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets, on November 6.
Windows Mixed Reality requirements
Unlike virtual reality, you won’t need a killer rig jump into virtual worlds. The minimum specs required for a Windows Mixed Reality PC are lightweight enough for most modern Ultrabooks to power a headset.
At the very least, you will need the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, coming October 17, an Intel Core i5-7200U processor or better, 8GB of DDR3 dual channel RAM or better, 10GB of free disk space, an Intel HD Graphics 620 or DX12-capable GPU, and HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 as well as USB 3.0 Type-A or Type-C. Keep in mind that those specs are only good enough for a 60-frames-per-second (fps) experience.
To get to 90fps, Microsoft suggests a system specced with at least a desktop-grade Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 5 1400 3.4Ghz – or another quad-core processor. You will also need a discreet GPU at least on the level of an Nvidia GTX 960.