As Oculus declares itself the best in VR, Microsoft has an opportunity

The folks at Oculus took to the stage at GDC this year knowing there wasn't much anyone could say to unseat them as the company "winning" VR right now. The Oculus Rift just overtook HTC's Vive headset as the most popular headset on Steam VR, which is impressive given how much work you have to do to even get to Steam VR on that headset to begin with. The Oculus Store is home to most of the best VR games and apps out there today, and the massive refresh happening with Rift Core 2.0 is addressing a lot of long-term usabilities complaints Oculus users have had from day one. Everything is going well, so why not brag? Oculus has clearly earned it.

But that doesn't mean it's time for folks with a comparable new Windows Mixed Reality headset on their desk to start thinking about buyer's remorse. Instead, it's a good opportunity to look at the growth opportunities Microsoft can take advantage of here.

Simplicity as a big feature

An Oculus Rift headset comes with two sensors in the box, which you have to place in very specific positions in front of you. These two sensors track most of your gameplay, but not all of it. For "roomscale" tracking, Oculus requires you buy another tracker and set it up on the other side of the room. Even then, in some cases, this third sensor is insufficient for truly full tracking. At GDC this year, the folks at Survios had an impressive set up for its new Creed game in the demo hall. This demo was using four Oculus Rift sensors, and our camera person was advised to be very careful about where she was standing because none of the four sensors could be blocked while I was in my demo.

The difference in quality, especially when it comes to some of the most immersive apps and games, should be obvious.

Oculus charges an extra $60 per sensor if you feel the need to have them, which is $120 on top of the $400 base set up for a truly "roomscale" set up that can survive super active demos like the one I experienced. This set up also requires a minimum of five USB ports on your PC in addition to the HDMI port to power everything. It's not hard to compare this to Windows Mixed Reality, which needs a single USB port with the HDMI port to power the whole experience and requires no tracking sensors for a "roomscale" configuration. With headsets starting at $300 with controllers included in some cases, Microsoft should be aggressively making this point in comparing its headsets to the Rift.

It's an easy win, both in price and capability. Without a third tracking sensor, turning around and playing a game with the Rift is complicated and you frequently lose tracking. The Rift was designed out of the box for you to do very little full body rotations, and the more interactive the VR game you are playing is the more likely you are to do those turns at some point. The difference in quality, especially when it comes to some of the most immersive apps and games, should be obvious.

Productivity as a feature

Microsoft and Oculus customers have both asked for the same seemingly niche feature, to be able to work comfortably from inside the headset. And with the next software update, both Windows Mixed Reality and Rift Core 2.0 are obliging these users. The next virtual space for WMR in the Fall Creator's Update, dubbed Skyloft, has this mission control-style room in it with a ton of virtual windows set up like monitors for you to control. You can set yourself up right in front of this wall, set each monitor up however you like, and get to work. Meanwhile, Rift Core 2.0 lets you pop windows out of the PC view and arrange them around you as you see fit, creating effectively unlimited windows to work within from your Rift Home.

The company responsible for some of the best ergo keyboards on the planet today could probably find a way to make a trackable keyboard.

Both of these headsets suffer from the same flaw, in my opinion, typing is still sub-par with a headset on. I personally want a keyboard that can be tracked in VR, and there aren't enough users out there to justify that kind of rig just yet. What you have in the meantime is the ability to glance down at your keyboard or desk when you need to see something in the real world, and in that respect, most Windows Mixed Reality headsets have the upper hand. These headsets have a snap hinge that lets you lift the display without moving the headband, which means you can easily jump from one task to another and back into VR when you are ready. Oculus Rift headsets are simply not built for this, and can't really be adjusted to behave similarly.

If productivity VR folks are important enough to build custom VR worlds for, Microsoft should be loud about why the full Windows Mixed Reality experience matters to those users. And, not for nothing, but the company responsible for some of the best ergonomic keyboards on the planet today could probably find a way to make a trackable keyboard that plays nicely in Windows Mixed Reality as a way to lure some additional folks to this platform.

It all comes down to content

The biggest hurdle Microsoft faces with Windows Mixed Reality right now is content and audience. We hear lots of things about games supporting Windows Mixed Reality these days, but those reports usually mean Steam VR and not native availability in the Microsoft Store. Support through Steam VR is great but doesn't offer much in the way of a compelling reason for consumers to choose WMR if they are buying right now. If you want to be where the games are right now, especially with so many great games being announced for this year, some of those experiences need to exist native for this audience.

I'm not saying Microsoft needs to go the route of full exclusives like Oculus has, but it's clear those efforts have had a result. Oculus is able to confidently say it has the best games because it does, and even when it doesn't the headset still has access to Steam VR to access most of the rest of the collection. For now, the best thing Windows Mixed Reality headset owners can do if they want to experience the whole VR ecosystem is support the folks at ReMixed and hope the Oculus game can be easily ported to the Windows Mixed Reality controllers.

If Microsoft is going to gain ground this year with WMR headsets, the next big push needs to be apps and games everyone can get excited about. In much the same way games sell consoles for the Xbox team at Microsoft, there needs to be a big loud strategy for games selling headsets for Windows Mixed Reality.

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!

  • "Microsoft has an opportunity". This is the battle cry under Nutella. Those of us than know this true clown, also know this only means "RETREAT!" under this waste.
  • that's why the share price is 3 times of what it was during Balmer.. Ohh.. and I remember Balmer ridiculing the iPhone.. he isn't a clown eh?!
  • No, he's a clown too.
  • You really think Microsoft's share price is a result of the opportunities they've taken advantage of for their consumer products? ROFL.
  • The share price is high beause of their past massive layoffs, no investment in any sort of quality, mediocre products released with no financial effort, and the cloud business which was anyway running fine...
  • While clearly share price doesn't prove that anything is wrong, it can't be the end argument that something is right. If share prices reflected the reality in a successful way we would never had economic crisis.
  • Share prices, LOL. That's an asinine argument. Nothing to do with anything it did, if anything he stifled it's growth. Follow the revenue streams and you will see.
  • Microsoft having an opportunity is nothing new...
    Microsoft taking full advantage of an opportunity is unheard of.
  • Actually you're the clown for saying Nutella.
  • The benefits of WMR are not fully understood until tried. I have the Samsung HMD Odyssey and the AMOLED screens are gorgeous compared to Rift and Vive. The portability is amazing. The Samsung's box is designed to carry the headset around easily to friends' places. I bring my Surface Pro 2017 with the Samsung to a friend's place and just play games. Or just plug into their desktop PC and play. That's it. No permanent setup like with the Vive. Seriously, you really can't move things around with Vive. It's building a dedicated VR room with Vive. And Rift is not nearly portable like WMR. SteamVR support keeps getting better. There are ways to get Rift support though that can be improved as well. And all the WMR headsets are more comfortable than Rift or Vive. There's no strap that goes over the top of your head with WMR. I also own the Lenovo one (because it was cheap and on sale) which is great on a budget and works fine with glasses (the Samsung is hard to use glasses with because it pushes your glasses against your head).
  • When I used the Rift the accuracy of the positioning, especially of your have with the remote, was amazing. I didn't feel the same with MR. It was disappointing after using the Rift and the content seemed to suffer as well. Is that normal? I was going to buy WMR but not after the demo. I thought Microsoft was a better bet for future support, but I don't trust either now.
  • what software were you using? I've played with all of them a lot (the Vive the least). I didn't feel a significant difference in terms of tracking. Vive obviously had the best room tracking but it's not worth dedicating a room to having VR and having your VR equipment stuck in that room.
  • I played some shooter demos on both and with the Oculus you could aim down the sights at the robots running at you and it would register even the slightest tilt of your wrist. WMR was hip firing at disks.
  • When was that with WMR and what device? The device part is important because they aren't all the same. Acer one sucks in comparison to the Samsung. I think Lenovo and Dell ones are good to. I those 3 r the best ones from my understanding? The Asus I one may be good to. Each one is a bit different. Samsung is the best from what I know about them.
  • i play all types of games on my Lenovo explorer and the tracking is excellent. games I've played are: Arizona sunshine, the lab, rec room, ss3, space pirate trainer, superhot vr, job simulator, echo arena, halo recruit, eleven table tennis. all work very well. a good example that i never see the problem you describe is in arizona sunshine there's a point where you mount a scoped sniper rifle and you actually look through the scope to aim and it feels amazingly real and you have to move subtly and it feels real and is easy to do. the same goes with any wmr, if your controller is out of the view for too long it had to be repositioned/reset and it takes a few seconds of it being in your view. this can easily be avoided and only happens maybe 1 or 2 times if at all in an hour long session of an intense game where you are moving everywhere.
  • Hi, I was thinking to buy it after checking the new Vive (too expensive) and having the PlayStation VR.
    I want something for the PC I think the Samsung HDM is a good choice is it working good with the Steam VR games?
  • I can't see any push for WMR right now.
  • It's not just opportunity MSFT has a massive potential in mixed reality and I just wish they compete, for real this time.
  • And there lies the juxt of the problem. You're asking Microsoft Marketing to actually do some marketing.
  • There best bet is to accelerate version 2 of the hardware because the current ipd limited hradsets5 are useless.
  • "If we focus on content," should just be the company slogan. If Microsoft focused on content for Zune, Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8, Windows 10 Mobile, Kinect, and just about any of the good ideas they bagged up and threw in the dumpster, they would have fared better. Sadly, I think SteamVR has to make WMR work out because there's are only two kinds of people looking for WMR support. The first are people wanting that low-cost entry to VR with SteamVR and a WMR device. Those people don't even acknowledge VR content form the Windows Store, most likely. The other group includes people like me, who know about the Windows Store and WMR content, but have absolutely no faith in Microsoft to develop or license content for the Windows Store, leaving us to hope SteamVR support works itself to a place where you don't have to hope developers make things run smoothly with their Rift/Vive titles with a WMR device. The telltale sign I shouldn't have faith in Microsoft for WMR content is the XB1X. That they didn't give it WMR support at launch, and have been dead silent on XB1 WMR support entirely, is a huge letdown. I was stoked to get an XB1X, WMR headset, and play FM7 in VR. Then, they said no WMR for XB1X, no WMR for FM7 (even on PC), and I checked out on both XB1X and FM7, while leaving my WMR purchase on an indefinite hold while the PC GPU market is so laughably expensive that it makes diving into VR an uninteresting proposition until video cards fall about 20% in price.
  • MS has nothing here to win because they will fail again...last place as usual. Others are and will forever be best to deliver.
  • As usual, when were they ever last place?
  • WMR is still a thing?
  • VR as a whole is crashing and burning right now. 2 years ago we did know if this was just another dad or if it would catch on this time around and so it was a good strategy for MS to extend it's hololens technology into the mixed reality platform. Now we know, it's a fad, it's not going anywhere, why should MS invest resources into something people clearly don't want?
  • I think need time but for sure invest a lot of money and resource is not clever at this moment.
    MS should keep his hand on it and see if in 2-3 year will be a good business to invest
  • 1. How about joining forces? Use any VR headset, use any content. Not sure about chances of getting WMR on Vive Focus though.
    2. Wii controller had IR camera + 2 led beacon on top of (or under) TV, accelerometer and gyro. How can headset tracking be so difficult ;)
    3. There are two cameras in WMR headset, but one cannot see the keyboard. Well well. Why not use the cameras to show keyboard (and maybe some other stuff from real world) on those displays. Or add some RGB cameras to the headset to get live stream, camera modules at 2MP cannot be too expensive...
    4. As having 2 displays and sometimes way to many windows open, I'd love to transport my working to VR. I hope there are 360 cameras in proper places (Antarctic, Samoa, top of some active volcano) for live surroundings...
  • I'm never going to buy in to a store locked to a single VR headset like OR and the store. VR should be as universal as ordinary displays. If I choose to try a different brand, I don't want to lose my apps and games.
  • oh, Fear Not! I have full faith, Nutella and company will find a way, if not invent a new way to fudge it all up and bail.
  • Folks Apple is coming into VR and mixed reality headsets like the Hololens. Apple has a a
    lot of developers for it's devices and if Apple can make a cheaper Hololens device for the
    masses then Microsoft will have stiff competition. Apple is known for copying others tech and
    saying theirs is better. the Apple sheeps may jump at the chance to buy an Apple brand Hololens device
  • If Apple can make cheaper Hololens device?
    No they can't. They don't have a word "cheap" in there dictionary.
  • Having two HTC/Vives, an Oculus Rift and three Microsoft Mixed Reality HMDs, including the Samsung Odyssey. They all have their weaknesses, but the most reliable open space environment and widest FOV (with replacement face pad) has to go to the HTC/Vive. But the Samsung has the clearest image and much larger open space area, including outdoor use. My lease favorite is the Oculus Rift, and have had to make few modifications to improve the FOV and face comfort. I also agree the position tracking is very limited even with three cameras. Way too many times to see tracker errors, which are almost non-existent in the HTC/Vive and almost as good if you ensure your area has enough clutter and no highly reflective surfaces for the Samsung unit. I also feel the SteamVR integration with MSXR is much better than its early beta version, but I feel you need about 10 more performance from your PC over a native SteamVR approach, which is not a problem, since you also get that much improvement in resolution as well. Finally, it is great that I can also record headset video while in the MSXR environment or SteamVR with some stunning results, as you can see in the YouTube video: "Cyber puppy love at first sight. Is this the future of Tamagotchis?" (I seem to not have enough clout to provide URL links.)