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Windows Holographic could fix the biggest problems with current VR platforms

Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Google Cardboard, and more. There seems to be no end in sight for companies who want to jump on the bandwagon, and Microsoft themselves today announced a major segue into the market.

Through the power of Windows Holographic, Microsoft is bringing features we've seen demonstrated in HoloLens to new VR headsets developed with partners like HP, ASUS, Lenovo, Acer and Dell. Microsoft was also proud to note that these headsets will start at $299, rather than Oculus Rift-level prices of $599 and higher.

As someone who has tried out various VR devices, I remain unconvinced by the technology as a necessary step for gaming, but Windows Holographic could change all that.

One of my major pet peeves about VR is the isolating nature of it. Many of the VR games on the market today are simply "experiences," unintended for lengthy gaming sessions. When VR games are designed from the ground-up, the highest quality games tend to be ports of regular PC games like Elite Dangerous, using the VR headset to replace the camera "look" function of a mouse or controller joystick.

Of course, there are plenty of games which defy these generalizations, but it's irrelevant to my central pet peeve. The isolation. Some may refer to it immersion, but there's rarely a situation where I want to completely shut myself out of the real world, and frankly, it's not always practical. We've all seen the gifs of people falling over in VR, or getting trolled by someone outside of the experience.

Disregarding the more circumstantial problems, there are some intrinsic issues when it comes to VR headsets acting as a replacement for a TV or monitor. If you want to do any PC tasks while inside VR, you'll have to use a VR desktop app with a physical keyboard and mouse (that you can't see) or remove the headset entirely. Even with apps like Virtual Desktop, fumbling around for the mouse and keyboard blindfolded speaks to scenarios that VR simply hasn't accounted for yet. Apps like BigScreen and Virtual Desktop are a temporary solution for a systemic issue.

The Windows Holographic VR headsets, however, are not only cheaper than the hot-ticket VR items on the market, but they utilize technology similar to HoloLens' and Kinect's object mapping. HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both require external sensors to be placed within your VR space to calculate the proper size of your room. HoloLens and the Windows Holographic VR headsets defeat this problem by placing the sensors on the headset itself, mapping your environment dynamically in real time with on-board cameras.

Not only could this give the wearer continuous feedback on their physical position, helping to mitigate motion sickness, but it could also provide information on exactly what is in the room with you, reducing the feeling you're wearing a blindfold. Sure, VR users get used to some of these sensations over time, but if Windows Holographic can reduce the barriers for the masses, it could help VR adoption in a big way.

Windows Holographic will make the VR experience a little more PC-like, reducing the delta between your physical self, the outside environment and your actual PC.

Windows Holographic and UWP could also bring lots of PC functionality to the VR environment. While apps like Virtual Desktop and BigScreen do provide PC functionality, they require dedicated control over your headset. It looks as though VR through UWP will work hand in hand with apps on Windows Holographic, sitting on top of the primary VR experience. Using HoloLens-like hand tracking and 3D object scanning, the next generation of VR headsets will have the capability to bring more components of reality into your virtual world, allowing you to respond to emails, join in Skype calls and maybe even stream on Beam directly from the hardware. All without leaving your game.

Microsoft demonstrated Holotour on stage, which allowed the user to experience an interactive 360-degree video of Italy without losing access to other apps. The 3D environment in Microsoft's mixed-reality demonstration ran in tandem with other UWP apps, such as Edge and Netflix. Sure, a 360-degree video is by no means as intensive as a fully immersive video game, but it's not a stretch to think that level of streamlined multitasking couldn't occur in the future thanks to UWP and Windows Holographic.

Sure, there's a bit of speculation going on here, but the video seems like a fair indication that Windows Holographic will make the VR experience a little more PC-like, reducing the delta between your physical self, the outside environment and your actual PC.

While Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive are fighting to find the killer VR app for gaming, Windows Holographic's "best of both worlds" mixed reality could be the silver bullet needed to make VR accessible to the wider market. And of course, we still need to find out how Project Scorpio will fit into all of this.

Jez Corden
Jez Corden

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Now if it was only cheaper.... $3K is not for everyone for something that would be used for mostly gaming (consumer level stuff)
  • If you watched the event, or read the articles or read this article, you would see that the VR headsets for this are starting from $300. HoloLens is something different and is still targeted at professionals and enterprise.
  • Guess you didnt read the article. We're not talking Hololens here. The vr headsets will start at $299.
  • yeah START which means for 299 you get only entry level "quality" = ****
  • And entry level quality is exactly what is needed for mass consumer market. And don't forget these are not "entry level" HoloLens devices, they are VR headsets compatible with Windows Holographic, as said in the article, this offers a kind of best of both approach. Much easier to sell a $300 headset that works with the computer you already own than sell a $2000+ gaming rig and high end headset bundle. The whole point is to open up VR to more people. I for one would love to own some VR gear but I will never spend that much money on it as I'd rather buy a bunch of other cool stuff.
  • With you all the way on this.
  • Probably a tad better than things like the PS VR.
  • So, you can get a entry-level headset for $299, or pay more to get something better. What exactly is your complaint?
  • Exactly. Also 3K is for Developers and Enterprise, why can some people get that! When HoloLens come to consumers in a year or two, it will me more accesible, I wouldn't say $299, but in the likes of 1 to 1.5L perhaps!
  • Quality is a difficult word.  Have you tried the Samsung Gear VR headset?  The quality is apalling.  But to use it all you need is a mobile phone and a headset.  Then there's Oculus and Vive.  The quality here is very good.  But to use them you need a BIG PC and their outside-in sensor systems limit their portability.  Microsoft's solution is to borrow the sensor arrays from HoloLens and apply them to headsets.  Although we didn't get a close look these seem to be stand-alone devices that need to be tethered to a Windows 10 device.  But with Windows 10 running in USB dongles these days the spectrum of choice is huge.  Stand-alone headsets (NOT mobile-phone headsets) have the chance to offer significantly higher quality by using the power of a Windows 10 device. 
  • I mean, reading the article would've helped.
  • Your quoting the HoloLens developers unit price which is not the price of the consumer version that doesn't even exit yet. HoloLens is AR these units are VR. Your comment is irrelevant to this article
  • Reading is fundamental.
  • Nahhhh... Didn't you know we live in a TL/DR society now? If it's not 140 characters We don't care. =P
  • Still need to find out the specs on these, resolution and fov in particular. If nothing else, maybe they will at least help to drive down the price of the Rift and Vive.
  • And even if there is a quality difference, Microsoft already previously announced that Windows Holographic will be supported on all of the current generation VR headsets. This is what I like about Microsoft jumping into this space... they bring a unified platform that lets people participate, regardless of hardware vendor. I am personally looking forward to using this technology in my work environment, so hopefully the resolution of these cheaper devices will be such that I can get two of these headsets (one for work and one for home) instead of a single, more expensive device that I would have to transport to and from work (which I know I would never do on a daily basis).
  • I haven't had a chance to watch much of event video yet, but one thing that really needs to be pointed out is the difference between VR (virtual reality) and AR/MR (augmented/mixed reality). Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive are going after the VR end. As entertaining as they may be, the applications are ultimately quite limited. OTOH, Microsoft's HoloLens allows the user to interact in an augmented/mixed reality mode, which has much farther reaching usefulness across many more scenarios.
  • Correct. And it seems like MS understands that both have its uses, so they are going to support both.
  • This really hits the head on the nail. I'm not at all attracted to VR gaming or VR anything so long as it requires me to wear a helmet that shuts out the rest of the world. In a couple of years our monitors will be able to project a holographic environment, then I'll be doing some VR!
  • And let me guess, all these $300 VR headsets will be compatible with the Xbox One!  Considering the nature of Windows 10 and the UWP, it seems like a logical conclusion that VR games will show up in the Windows Store for either the PC or Xbox as opposed to being exclusive to an individual device.
  • Well, maybe Scorpio compatible. I am sure it will be USB 3.0, but probably need drivers to be supported. Or like using Playstation VR with XB1, where you can play a game, but it isn't really native to the console and you can't adjust the screen.
  • Well they did demo it on standard laptop. I'm sure a xbox one has better gpu performance than that.
  • Doesn't a laptop have the ability to install drivers and programs to calibrate and control the headset? That doesn't quite negate my point. I am sure it is possible to import this onto XB1, but with ao many headset brands unless they all use a standard firmware, it will be harder for the XB1 that doesn't have driver ability. I am of course probably wrong and am way overthinking it. I am just assuming by how the XB1 doesn't like most USB components.
  • I tried the HTC Vive demo at a Microsoft Store once. While it was kind of neat at first, I was bored with it a mere ten minutes in. It's just too limited right now, and that's an issue if the Vive is supposed to be the cream of the crop. HoloLens seems much more intriguing.
  • You hit it on the head. I dont get the want to feel.isolated from the outside in terms of gaming. Just does t appeal to me and you have done this best job of describing that. On a side note, DOWN WITH NUTELLA.
  • You almost had a positive post for the first time in a while. =P
  • It was positive. I'm positive this guy wrote a good article. I'm positive his thoughts are dead on. And I'm positive they have to get rid of this lame duck CEO.
  • Last I checked, Lame Ducks don't make a company a bunch of money.
  • They so when they are in it for a quick grab and plan in leaving when it all heads south. To many CEO's no longer worry about the long term health of a company. Just a quick money grab and that's what Nutella is doing.
  • and of course you have proof of this right?
  • No, everything is pointing up so there is no fact at all that support his thesis.
  • Proof? Pick up any business paper.
  • I don't think you understand how proof works. Find an article that states Nadella is planning on leaving shortly and post a link when you do. Not an opinion article, an actual fact.
  • I dont think you understand that this isn't a court of law. I do my own research and reading. If you want to know more, do your own monkey work.
  • Translation: You formed your own opinion, and no matter what you think it's fact, and have no interest in an intelligent discusion.
  • Translation: You're to lazy to do your own research and like to pretend how smart you think you are.
  • Right because I'm supposed to magically know what articles you've goten information from so I can be on the same page. Are you really that thick?
  • Lord. Look up anything about CEO and stock compensation. You must have been brilliant in school.
  • First result, nope, nothing about Nadella getting ready to leave microsoft.
  • Lord. It won't name him specifically. It's painfully obvious what he is doing and it doesn't have a long term plan. I'm fine with this conversation, next you're going to want me to hold your hand while you cross the street.
  • Ooooh so nothing mentions Nadella, so what you're saying is, you have no facts to support your satement.
  • What? The whole point of windows 10 is the long term. That's why they are sacrificing things in the short term for it. Like your precious windows mobile that you believe is the center of the world and if that's not doing well MS is not doing well.
  • Zzzzzzz
  • I'm pretty sure you're just a racist. There I said what we all know.
  • Wow. That's ridiculous.
  • How's he a lame duck CEO? The company is doing better than ever financially, and they just announced the biggest revolution for a desktop PC. You're even commenting on an article about even further investment in an emerging field. 
  • Is they author wrote, this is a gimmick field. Will be nothing more than an expensive Wii...everyone will go "cool" when they first use it and then six months later be bored with it and find its not worth the hassle.
  • Judging by your above melt down, I can see you're going to just stick to your crazy opinion no matter what I type.    So, have a great day :)
  • No meltdown; just you sticking your head and the sand and pretending what is happening, isn't. Kudos.
  • So, Microsoft didn't just announce an amazing desktop? And they didn't just announce that they're the most profitable they've been since the 90's?   What exactly am I missing?
  • Come on man, pick up ANY business magazine and youll find articles supporting his statement. lol
  • I have the ability to analyze and comprehend what It's happening.... You on the other hand.... Well...
  • It's totally fine to have your own opinion, but if you're trying to sell it as facts then it's your job to defend it with proof. That job isn't for the people you're trying to convince. Then it's up to the other side to present counter proof/arguments to argue their side. It has nothing to do with hand holding while crossing the streets, it is the basics of debating.
  • I dont need a lecture from some little boy and a keyboard. Move along already.
  • Amazing
  • I tried PSVR and to be honest it really was quite well quite. I don't know. Limited. Basically the visuals were last gen. 360 level. The framerate jumped around so much it made me feel sick. And the games I tried were well boring really. I have been told Oculus is a much better experience, but there is no way PSVR will take off after initial people try it, and revert slowly back to the TV. The biggest issue was I couldn't interact with others in the room. It's absolutely no use to a family. None at all.
  • I didn't try Oculus Rift, but I tried HTC Vive hooked up to a ridiculously souped up PC, and I've been told that is about as good as it gets. My conclusion was that it wasn't good. Like you said, the visuals were low resolution and already felt outdated, which really killed the "immersive" part of the experience. The movement was extremely limited (a few steps in any direction was it), and it just felt fake and isolating. I think VR, at least in its current form, is going to flop. It's too expensive and the quality of the product isn't good enough.
  • I found the PSVR headset to be the best of the current options, since it is the most comfortable and easiest to adjust. I also think the lower barrier to entry will make it catch up quickly to where HTC and Oculus are. 
      I'm sure this holographic platform will tie in to the Xbox Scorpio, so we'll see Microsoft's full answer at E3. 
  • I'm just wondering why it took 20+ years for VR to get back to where it was when I first tried it then.
  • Im a big racing & space sim game fan, so VR works very well with those genres. Outside of 1st person sitting or standing in one spot experiences (rail shooters, racing, flight) where you are holding the same forms of input as in the game (gun, wheel, flight stick), I think VR is pretty niche for gaming. Once the field of view is wider by gen 2 or 3 of Hololens, more game genres actually work and would seem more natural with AR where the game can be seen in your normal enviornment..... isometric racing, platform, fantasy card/chess, wrestling/fighting, sports, strategy & diablo style role playing. I would love to play an AR version of madden or fifa where the field is the length of my bed and I could zoom in and view the action from different angles just by moving around.
  • Once Apple releases their AR/VR device, game over. Why, iPhone integration.
  • The iPhone doesn't have nearly the compute or graphics power to run a VR/AR device.
  • I've seen Lawnmower Man and it doesn't end well! I completely agree with the isolation sentiment and Hololens challenges that at its core. Having tried both, being able to look at, converse and interact with people around me makes a huge difference. For me the future will be mixed not virtual reality.
  • Nice attempt, but in the real world, VR will eat AR as regards general public = gamers adoption.
  • How? I really think both will have their place, even in gaming. Someone brought a good point of playing sport games in AR with the ability to see the field with different camera angles. I can think of a couple other instances where this can only add to games on screens, even more than the failed Smartglass or companion apps.
  • NerveGear is the solution to VR!!
  • Lol. This dude sucks ass when it comes to gaming. Hololens have small fps and lag. So it sucks ass for anything fastpaced, therefore sucks ass for most games. Also the field of view is small. Add to that the fact that you don't have proper black/dark colors in holo, it makes it awful in well lit rooms. Also, htc vive has a front camera to show what's in front of you in case you need to see, called "mixed reality". So do your ******* research.
    But most importantly, the main point of vr is to be immersive, so yeah it means being shut off from the outside and not seeing everything in your room while you play.
  • You are basing your review of something based on prototype models. Both will have their place, even in gaming.
  • I've read the article but just wanted to clarify how these headsets work; So, basically, the much cheaper option that Windows 10 Holographic allows for is that the headset itself scans the room and portrays the physical room through the headset, generating a digital recreation of what is really there? So whereas HoloLens overlays on real rooms, these headsets will digitally replicate the room and then overlay so you still know where everything is?
  • The key to this market is that everyone is discussing which Windows 10 devices will succeed in the VR/AR/MR markets.  Microsoft has succeeded in creating a monopoly for software (again).  Only this time there is no Apple to compete with.  Android, meanwhile, can still be used in "ghetto VR" devices like Samsung Gear VR.  The quality of these devices is so low they don't really offer any competition at all and will die.  Processor power is seriously compromised while graphics quality is apallingly bad. When Microsoft ships Redstone 2 Creators Edition in 2017 there will be an instant market base of around half a billion units already in the field.  This will be interesting to watch.  Is Magic Leap now dead and buried?