The explosion of virtual and augmented reality hardware and software—at a recent check, it’s a market that’s set to grow to $108 billion by 2021—is already changing the face of the video game and entertainment industries.
But what if it could also change the way healthcare providers interact with their patients, the way educators teach their students and even the way office workers run meetings?
That’s the vision offered by MIcrosoft and HP, who this week unveiled the new HP Windows Mixed Reality Developer Edition Headset, which is available for pre-orders at Microsoft Stores, priced at $329 USD and $449 CAD.
“Windows Mixed Reality is not just about gaming, but how we will interact with computers in the future,” said John Ludwig, gaming and VR product manager at HP. “From an experience perspective, we’re helping Microsoft put Windows Mixed Reality technology into your everyday life.”
The devkit, which offers tools for the MR/VR/AR software development community, aims to inspire them to build software and applications with immersive capabilities for a broader, more mainstream audience ahead of the planned consumer launch later this year.
Bringing Windows Mixed Reality to the mainstream
As it is right now, the headset market is fragmented. There are high-performance devices for tethering with high-end gaming rigs that deliver immersive experiences, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. There are also lower-end devices, such as Google’s Daydream platform and Samsung’s Gear VR, that are meant to hook up to a smartphone for mobile applications.
But for the average PC user, there’s not much in between, Ludwig said.
“What’s innovative about Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform is that it spans both worlds, from accessory-driven, mobile applications all the way up to hardcore gaming,” he said.
Even when creating a device for software developers, HP’s designers set out to make a headset that’s both versatile and hones in on improving the user experience, according to Ludwig.
Gearing up for consumer launch
The developer kit precedes the eventual HP consumer hardware, which is expected to roll out later this year. It costs about half of what’s currently offered in the market for consumers and takes advantage of some key innovations that make it more appealing to a wider audience than ever before.
Today’s higher-end devices are expensive—running at about $500 for a single headset—and require pairing with a gaming or other high-performance PC with beefy graphics processing. They also require a lot of complex setup, including a dedicated space to install sensors around a room so that the player’s movements can be tracked with accuracy.
For example, to make setup easier, the device taps a pair of front-facing cameras that scan the space around the player to track movement.
It also ups the game on visuals, with a resolution boost to 1,440 x 1,440 pixels per eye. That’s an improvement from the existing standard of 1,280 x 1,080 per eye in most headsets today. It also features a 2-in-1 cable that pairs HDMI 1.4 and USB 3.0 together for easier, plug-and-play setup with no additional software to install and compatibility with whatever computing device the consumer already has – even an ultrabook.
“We want to expand the market and spur developers to get started making great content and novel applications for today’s users and potential users,” Ludwig said. “Microsoft has enabled us to move the Windows Mixed Reality headset into a much more consumer-friendly place.”