5 things you (really) need to know about Windows Mixed Reality

Over the last few months, I have been exposed to Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) platform built on Windows 10. Whether it is talking to partners, app developers, or Microsoft, I've been trying to wrap my head around the concept.

While it is too early to declare WMR a consumer hit versus just a fad, there are a few things that I know are vital if you are thinking about diving into the experience.

Microsoft outlines its plans for Windows Mixed Reality

Samsung's Odyssey is the best head-mounted display (HMD)

While a few companies are making HMDs for WMR, it's the just announced Samsung Odyssey that delivers the best experience. Indeed, Microsoft calls it the "premium" WMR headset, and it delivers.

Samsung HMD Odyssey: Hands-on with a 'premium' Mixed Reality headset

With dual-AMOLED displays with a slightly wider field of vision than other headsets, and built-in microphone and headphones, the Odyssey is the most comfortable and pleasant one to use. Meanwhile, other HMDs will require you to plug in headphones and add a microphone to use Cortana, which starts to make them a bit clumsier even if they are cheaper.

Samsung Odyssey HMD

Sure, the Odyssey is priced at $499 (opens in new tab) (it includes two motion controllers), which is higher than the $299 for the Acer HMD (with no controllers), but if you can swing the cost, it will be worth it.

The only people who I don't recommend getting the Odyssey are developers. With no flip-visor to go from coding on the PC to the Windows Mixed Reality experience, you may get frustrated with having to remove the headset when working constantly.

Preorder at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

You need motion controllers

What's cool about WMR is it takes any input method that a Windows 10 PC takes, such as a pen, Xbox game controller, mouse, or keyboard. That ability to keep cost down while maintaining familiarity is fantastic.

But if you want the right experience, you need the excellent motion controllers that each HMD company is offering.

The reason is simple: Motion controllers are made for mixed reality. Mice, keyboards, and game controllers, by comparison, are meant for a 2D world.

Mixed Reality motion controllers

Motion controllers feel ergonomic to hold, are not heavy, have lanyards, and the controlling effect in the virtual world is very natural to use. I equate motion controllers to using chopsticks when eating instead of a fork. Sure, a fork gets the job done like a power shovel, but chopsticks are more precise, accurate, and refined.

Once you play your first game with motion controllers and you look down to see your virtual hands in this new world, your brain instantly gets what's going on. Combined with the joystick and Windows keys found on the motion controllers these are must-haves if you are doing Windows Mixed Reality.

WMR gaming is great

Seeing as many of the WMR games are coming from the world of Steam VR, there are some excellent established titles already on the market.

I even tried the new Halo Recruit, which is more of a demo than a full game experience. Still, it was awesome. The game puts you in a training room where you get weapons and target experience against many of the classic Halo baddies. Seeing those enemies that close, in that much detail and that immersive was outstanding. Being able to use my dual-motion controllers as pistols, which I could see in this virtual world, was a blast.

Social could be huge

Microsoft is not defining what WMR is just yet. It can be used for gaming, productivity, or watching movies. Instead, the company wants to put this platform into the hands of users and creators to see where they take it.

Alex Kipman, who oversees Microsoft's Mixed Reality ambition and who invented HoloLens, was asked what he thought the killer app was for WMR. He replied with social apps, such as AltspaceVR, which the company just bought.

He may be right.

Humans are pathologically social. We need to share everything and express ourselves consistently with others, even if it is with total strangers on the internet with fake names.

But social on mixed reality is different than your standard messaging apps on your phone. The ability to see the other person – even if just a 3D avatar – while sharing a common space is a whole different experience that is much more personal.

While you may not need to hang out with your neighbor in a mixed reality app, it's different story if the person is across the planet, a traveling family member, or someone you never met in real life.

In fact, I might as well announce that starting later this year Windows Central will begin hosting virtual reader meetups where you can hang out with me, and the other Windows Central editors, including Zac Bowden and Jez Corden.

Try to get powerful hardware

Microsoft has two tiers for Windows Mixed Reality. One is for computers with integrated graphics, the other – Ultra – is for PCs with dedicated video cards.

Combined with a $299 headset, that means almost anyone with a Windows 10 PC – even a dual-core Ultrabook – can get in on the action.

But make no mistake, a higher-end PC rig is a better experience. WMR Ultra setups get 90 frames per second (FPS) versus the 60 FPS for integrated graphics. The computer with the faster video card will have quicker loading times and a smoother experience.

Lenovo Y710

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Y710 Cube is a good start for a VR computer.

The test rigs Microsoft uses sport a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 32GB of RAM and a NVIDIA GTX 1080 video card. Much of that is because developers are using these to write mixed reality apps, compile and then play them, so consumers do not need such a system.

Finally, while you can use WMR with a laptop for cooling, performance, and fan noise, the desktop will likely be the better experience. It's pretty great that you can still do it all on an HP Spectre x360 too if you want.

More to come

There's a lot left to learn about Windows Mixed Reality. The genre is undefined now on purpose. Microsoft is merely putting all the tools with some experiences out there to see what people and developers create. If gaming is the most used feature, that is where Mixed Reality goes. Likewise, for social experiences or productivity.

Everything you need to get started with Windows Mixed Reality

Since Windows Mixed Reality is just an extension of the Windows 10 OS, users can expect regular updates and new features to experience with those two significant updates every year. Things like multitasking in immersive games, improved performance, new hardware, and added abilities are all on the roadmap, making its launch later month just the beginning.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • Xbox One X should have supported MR at launch, it will be the most powerful hardware for a lot of people and would put all the power to good use. Add in 4K and it would be a solid combo.
  • It also should've had thunderbolt 3 so that you could just plug in one cable for video and data to any MR headset. With only one HDMI output they are now going to need either a breakout box or create a wireless headset.
  • they will sell a connector device to do it or even a small box like Ps Vr to manage some elements like the 3d menu... 
  • but then it would launch with no games on 1X.  I think MS recognizes that and will let the platform grow on Windows and in 2018, if they have apps/games built for WMR, launch it on XB1X
  • This is why you would want a company that works in unison. Then MR would have been taken into account when the X was announced last year and games would be available for it. Making it work on the Xbox allows easy entry into MR for casual users who might not be looking to buy a PC (which is the trend) and console gaming would be an ideal situation to use a headset. Guess we'll see if MR lives long enough to make it to the Xbox.
  • Don't be absurd. Mixed Reality is probably coming to Xbox One next year. They have no choice. PSVR is doing phenomenal and part of the reason why PS4 is destroying Xbox in sales.
  • Really? That doesn't sound like MS. MR will likely have been retrenched to the enterprise market by then. I actually liked this article until the ridiculous last paragraph: 'Since Windows Mixed Reality is just an extension of the Windows 10 OS, users can expect regular updates and new features to experience with those two significant updates every year. Things like multitasking in immersive games, improved performance, new hardware, and added abilities are all on the roadmap, making its launch later month just the beginning.' Really? No one noticed this was a cut and paste from previous MS half-hearted hype exercises? No one actually believes this stuff anymore, except for WC article pushers I guess?
  • PS4 has been destroying Xbox in sales long before PSVR. Just saying. Though I do agree PSVR is phenomenal, especially given the low price of entry, how comfortable it is to wear for extended period of time, and the amount of content available. (I own both Vive and PSVR.)
  • The lack of front-accessible 2nd HDMI + USB (or better, a single connector for HMD), leads me to believe they don't plan to really support VR on the Xbox One.
    I have a feeling they'll provide something with a breakout box for existing users to entice them to try out VR, but at the same time release a new console optimized for VR. Remember if they want visuals similar to what you get on a single display inside a HMD, they basically need twice the GPU power. They might end up with "base experience" on existing Xbox One X, and "premium experience" on Xbox One VR, along with more comfortable front connector for the HMD.
  • It makes more sense to use wireless VR than tethered. The living room space isn’t an easy experience to get right especially as living rooms can vary in size. 
  • Streaming games just about works at 1080p. Doubling that? Seems a tricky concept to me right now. Can't see that making more sense than wired.
  • There is a working wireless adapter for HTC Vive. It works surprisingly well with no noticeable latency issue, though it is complicated to set up and is quite pricey. The technology is there.
  • From reports I have read, a very generous esitmation is that only 1.5M Playstation VR devices have sold. If Microsoft lauched and focused on XB1X, and only 1.5M devices were sold, we know damn well you would be here screaming that Microsoft is a failure, Microsoft MR is a failure, XB1X is a failure, Microsoft needs to shut down now since they have lost to every one of their competitors, blah, blah, blah. With all this advice that you like to give that will cause every product Microsoft sells to be a hit, I would think that you should apply to MS, all of your advice would instanly catapult MS to a trillion dollar/quarter profit machine, you would be named CEO and raking in billions! Instead, you are an anonymous nobody on the internet that does nothing but troll.
  • They're not making it easy to choose a PC for this. I really wish MS had a Surface Book 2 that could run MR in Ultra settings. I'm not interested in buying a desktop PC just for VR gaming. When I look at laptops that can run Ultra settings it's in the $2000 range. That means this Ultra experience is still out of most people's reach unless they get VR for a dedicated game console.
  • Laptops have only recently been properly viable for gaming (and they still aren't plan A). Expecting them to be the main platform for VR gaming is rather hopeful right now.
  • I got my Ultra ready GTX 1070 laptop for a little more than $1000 (refurb unit). Ultra only requires GTX 1050 if i remember correctly and you can get such laptop for less than $1000.
  • Does the lack of flip-visor make the Samsung more awkward for someone wearing glasses? Although I suppose you'd just have to remember to loosen the headband before removing :)
  • I think you're supposed to take your glasses off and adjust the focus on the headset, kind of like you do when looking through binoculars. Although maybe I'm wrong about that?
  • No, you must have your glasses on. I also read a discussion about this issue that it's impossible to mimic your glasses from software side; it can only be done by hardware (addtional lens or glasses).
  • Yikes! I didn't know that your glasses need to stay on. Have you seen the size of glasses frames today?! Haha. I'll definitely need to try on one of these helmets before I buy. 
  • My regular pair of glasses with sizable frame fits into these VR headsets just fine. I tried PSVR and Oculus Rift with my glasses on. Yes you need to keep your glasses on. If it's a bit blurry without glasses outside, it will be a bit blurry inside the headset as well. (I have OK vision.)
  • I think the lack of flip visor is the deal breaker with the Samsung HMD.
  • Totally agree based on my expirences with Oculus Rift.
  • I'm not crazy about contrast, but I value comfort and the ability to flip up the visor. Otherwise you're trapped and can't react to real life.
  • I totally agree, but the quality is tempting and other OEMs offerings for now with the flip visor do not have comparable quality. I have pre ordered Samsung HMD from MSFT and I eagerly awaits its arrival. Good thing is, other OEM offering ships before Samsung's and users reviews might give me more info before it ships November 6.
  • I wear glasses and i use Psvr which is lacking the "flip visor". Just needs to take a bit more care putting it on and taking it off.
    There are companies making subscription lens for oculus rift and HTC vive. Maybe they will add support to these windows MR VR headsets, if windows MR picks up steam.
  • Thanks for the round-up!
  • I'm sorry, but those controllers are just as ridiculous as the Xbox or PS4 controllers.  For MR, some sort of glove makes the most sense.  
  • Eventually. But not every game/experience needs ten finger articulation/tracking. With shooters I'd rather have a controller, otherwise it's like using a make-believe gun.
    But in any case, this will evolve soon. In the meantime, there's people like Leap with tracking technology that can be used together with VR hardware, to varying degrees of success.
  • But, would it be easy to put those arrays of sensors on the glove though?
  • The controllers only have basic motion sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope or equivalent) and a bunch of lights. It would be fairly easy to put those into a glove0like device. The hard part is the extra horsepower needed on the host computer to track a flexible device like a glove to give accurate positioning. The rigid ring of lights on the current controllers is much easier to track.
  • This is the first time I've been excited about computing in a long time! Looks VERY promising! The Cliff House alone is awesome!!!
  • I’m right there with you after seeing the demo. I’m enthused!
  • Yeah, these are the controllers specifically created for VR but I'm someone will end up playing some of these games with keyboard and mouse...
  • They need to bring Steam to Xbox as well
  • Finally got round to watching the WMR presentation, it will be interesting to see how they evolve the social aspect oF WMR. Maybe something similar to second life? Who knows. Once these HMD's become mainstream, opticians and laser eye surgeons will have a 'bumper year' for awhile lol.
  • "Sure, a fork gets the job done like a power shovel, but chopsticks are more precise, accurate, and refined." --> Please discuss 😂 😂 😂
  • This is another fad like 3D tvs.
  • I think it would be great if there would be an article that fully compares all avaiable devices. I checked Microsoft Store website, and besides Samsung, all other 4 have same description, specs, just with different names, pictures, and prices. It's not useful at all to make decision, and I have no idea why Dell and HP are $150 higher than Acer and Lenovo. Besides specs and how it looks like, I may also like to know something like the display quality, weight, comfortableness, foam type, difference regarding how to ware (e.g., how to adjust, top hinge), earphone / audio interface / standard, cable management (if any), glasses friendly, if there's any perfermance / accuracy differences, and if there's any special design that not common with others.
  • Agreed. We need this as soon as they are available.
  • I hate to break it to you, you are absolutely right, I have been thunking about it. Meantime, have pre ordered the Samsung HMD
  • Being a diehard MS fan for years it is really hard to move on to different platform. But since Satya with most of the moves ( Garage apps on android but nothing for windows uwp, retirin apps on windows, windows app never or last to get updates, slashing products, services ) its really very upsetting. Its like your parents buy all gifts for the neighbor kid while you get the scraps. Look at this event for example. I can host the event in a far better place than what this billion dollar company did for announcing their next spatial OS. Seriously??? Hard to move on, but with google announcing a beautiful array of products, it's just time. Not easy after being an advocate for MS amongst your friends showcasing bing, usng outlook, lumia phone, groove, cortana etc but they all are far behind in windows or slashed. Cortana and bing are beautiful apps in android while no bing app in w10 and cortana integration is no where nice in looks as android app. I certainly be visiting windows sites but dropped plans to buy cortana speaker, no waiting for surface phone myth and not goig to invest in mixed reality. Bye MS until either Satya shows passion or get sacked as he is proving to be elop for nokia.
  • Ugh, yes some people like vr gaming, but frankly I think Microsoft is better off working out the AR system in HoloLens, I think it has more potential, this just seems like a shiny toy distraction that will stuck time while apple eats away at the AR lead Microsoft did have.
  • True that. But ponying up $3k is just hard. Maybe once we all get hooked on these less pricey ones, with economy of scale and time to bring HoloLens Like devices price down to say between $850 - $1200, Ohh my, Oh my (Remember with HoloLens, you don't need a PC, it is a PC with Windows 0 already on it) Now I am drooling again.
  • Man Microsoft is so stale lately especially compared to the competition.
  • Let's be honest. It's the idiot at the controls that is stale.
  • Not nearly as stale as your post.
  • "Sure, a fork gets the job done like a power shovel, but chopsticks are more precise, accurate, and refined."
    Daniel, are you high? I even tried the new Halo Recruit, which is more of a demo than a full game experience.
    Everything that comes from Microsoft for the past 10 years is more of a demo than a full experience.
  • It depends how you use chopsticks and / or a fork to eat lol. I say 'and', you wouldn't eat for example, a steak with chop sticks... although you could try... haha.  
  • It kinda bugs me that either a) THe Vive and Rift are not compatible with WMR, or everyone is being cagey about it. Even if it isn't the way MS wants it, I can't believe a system that hundreds of thousands of people already have won't work with WMR.
  • The core of WMR is the inside-out tracking on the headsets that allow for beyond room-scale experiences. Neither Vive nor Rift can do that, so they simply cannot run the full WMR layer as it is today.
  • 5 more things you need to know about VR.
    The moment you stick the hmd in your head you will: 1. Stop being social with your family.
    2. Your partner could be cheating on you, right at front of you.
    3. Your house may be being robbed.
    4. Your house may be catching fire.
    5. Some one could be urgent needing your help. And you are totally isolated from reality...
  • It sounds like you have had all those already happen to you even without VR.
  • I guess we shouldn't sleep either. Your comment isn't very insightful, nor humorous.
  • thanks for that feedback