3 key Windows Mixed Reality enhancements we're dying to see in 2018

Surface Book 2 and Dell WMR
Surface Book 2 and Dell WMR (Image credit: Windows Central)

As someone who's had plenty of time with the other PC-based VR systems — HTC Vive and Oculus Rift — I was pleasantly surprised with WMR when it hit the consumer stage in October 2017.

My HP headset is comfortable to wear thanks to the headband that's similar to that of the PlayStation VR, the display and lenses are a one-two punch of minimal screen-door effect and high-res picture, and the lack of outside sensors makes it easy to set up, which is important for someone who's constantly switching between platforms.

The WMR Portal, your entrance software, is a good start to something larger, and SteamVR integration has brought an enormous library of games to add to what's found at the Microsoft Store (opens in new tab).

Leaving WMR as-is, however, just won't do.

That's not how tech works. There's always room for improvement, and most companies who like making a buck will listen to what their customers have to say when it comes to exactly what those improvements entail. Here's what I'd like to see come to WMR in 2018.

See at Microsoft Store (opens in new tab)

Windows Mixed Reality controller tracking

WMR controller (Image credit: Windows Central)

I love the simple setup of WMR. After you've run through the initial setup at least once, all you have to do is plug in your headset and power on your motion controllers. There are no external sensors to contend with.

The way WMR motion controllers are tracked is from the inside out. There are sensors in the headset that pick up the lights on the ring around the controllers, and for the most part the system works well enough.

However, if you're playing in a bright room or somewhere with a lot of reflective surfaces, you're going to sometimes see drift. This is when your controller will decide to move around on its own, usually slowly. It's disorienting and, in games that require precision, often deadly.

WMR HP HMD (Image credit: Windows Central)

The sensors in the headset do a decent job of keeping an eye on the motion controllers even when they're at your side, but you'll still sometimes lose tracking, especially when you're in the middle of intense action. Again, it's disorienting and not something you see when using the Vive or Rift (although flawless tracking requires at least three external sensors for the latter).

What's the answer to WMR's motion controller-tracking woes? Maybe more sensors in the headset. Maybe a different type of sensor that isn't thrown off by sunlight coming through a window. I'd prefer if outside sensors don't enter the fray in order to keep the setup as easy as possible.

Windows Mixed Reality and a social Cliff House

A recent beta update to Oculus software — officially known as Rift Core 2.0 — brought a home area that's customizable, much like what the Vive has had in SteamVR for awhile now. Oculus Home is still awaiting a fully social aspect — the foundation is certainly there — but in SteamVR Home it is possible to invite your friends to your place to hang out.

WMR has Cliff House, a personal space that's customizable. It's the first place you see when you don the WMR headset, and it's where you launch your apps and experiences. At this point, there's no ability to share your Cliff House with others.

Microsoft's acquisition of AltspaceVR, a social app that lets people hang out together in VR, bodes well for the future of Cliff House, and I'm hoping that a social aspect comes soon.

Hanging out with people in VR is more fun than it might seem, and it no doubt helps a lot of people break past social boundaries. One of our favorite apps, Rec Room, is a fun, free meeting place in the meantime. You can create an avatar, join a social area, and branch out into other rooms to play cards or jump into an arena and enjoy some paintball or disc golf.

Likewise, the popularity of VRChat seemed to take off at the end of 2017. It's also a social space where you can do pretty much anything you want, as long as you're respectful of other players. Is this what VR was meant for? Who knows, but it sure is a wild ride.

Windows Mixed Reality needs wireless headsets

With the HTC Vive TPCast wireless adapter available (about $300) (opens in new tab) and an Oculus Rift version hitting North American markets (about $350), it's clear that 2018 is going to have a lot of wireless VR.

There's also some interesting stuff to do with WiGig going on in Intel's backyard, and Oculus has a wireless prototype that's known as the "Santa Cruz" project. These are all great developments for the Vive and Rift, but what about WMR?

WMR is the newest VR system to hit the stage, so it's undoubtedly had the least amount of time to garner wireless attention. Will something present itself before the year is out? I have no idea, but judging by the time it took to get other wireless solutions off the ground, I have my fingers crossed that we'll at least hear word of a solid plan by the end of the year.

Wrapping up

Have you had some time with a WMR headset? What do you like most about it? What would you like to see from Microsoft and its partners in 2018?

For more information, be sure to check out our other resources when it comes to WMR.

Cale Hunt
Senior Editor, Laptop Reviews

Cale Hunt is formerly a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full-time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • Surprised not to see Xbox integration as one of your points. The points you mentioned are good too though.
  • Didn't they say they wouldn't integrate to Xbox until wireless was available
  • Yes and the fact there is little to no content for for MS VR, they need lots of ports to make this work, so that when you plug a wireless WinMR headset into an Xbox there is plenty of content to use it with. Would also help push Xbox Play Anywhere program if they put money behined getting UWP ports. The other minor issue for PC WinMR is that the controllers are bluetooth only and don't even work with the Xbox wireless reciever you plug into your PC, you have to use a bluetooth adapter with a PC which most desktops PC's do not have, of course laptops do but it is an oversight and also why Xbox consoles are likely not using these generations headsets either.  
  • There is content on the MS Store, and is slowly growing. Increasing market share through PC Bundles from OEMs is a great way to get more content. 
  • Agree 100% sooner or later the new Mixed Reality will work with the XBOX One X. Technically it has the Hardware to support it. 
  • Until the kinks and beta aspects are worked out I would contend WMR is not ready for Xbox. I own two WMR headsets and each has issues with the platform, which is a software and not hardware issue. Works great once it's set up, but has been an on and off headache. Do you want that on Xbox?
  • I have the lenovo and play on a desktop.  If I could play space pirate trainer and superhotvr on an xbox with my headset, I'd go buy an xbox today.  I currently play in my home office, but have limited room.  My laptop barely meets the specs required (and frankly, I'm afraid I'd end up breaking it).  I'd love to play in my living room, but moving my desktop back and forth would be a chore. I've never played any xbox games, but can't help but think there would be fewer problems since everyone would basically have the same hardware and OS. In a perfect world, I'd have a...I don't know...maybe a folding tablet or something...and would be able to use it as a miracast display for my desktop.  It would then connect the the headset and provide an untethered experience.  
  • I would prefer it on the Xbox; a lot less variables to factor in, and much easier to optimize I would suspect... 
  • I've been enjoying my Lenovo headset, but in general, I agree with your list, especially the wireless connectivity;  getting wrapped up in the cord is the biggest immersion breaker for me.  Tracking hasn't been much of an issue for me, although it would be good to have a wider field of "view" with the inside out tracking, as sometimes when I let one of my arms down to rest, it goes out of view and get weird visuals of a phantom controller in space until I move it back to the tracking range. However, with the way tracking works, I could definitely see reflective surfaces causing trouble.  In addition to integrating a social envirionment, I would like to see more customizabilty and expandability of the cliff house.  I'm actually starting to run out of places to put apps without it seeming very messy.  Or alternatively, it would be nice to have some sort of grouping for VR apps in the "start menu" that comes up when pressing the Windows button the controllers. Xbox support would also be great, though I also agree they need to work out the kinks.  Which hopefully they're doing.  Honestly, I haven't had too many issues beyond occasionally losing the boundary and having to redo it; fortunately it's a quick process.  The other thing I sometimes run into is when launching mixed reality, there's a "something went wrong" message, but it's always worked on the second try after hitting the "try again" button.
  • I am very surprised to read about WMR without any though about the second version of Hololens.
    Let's be bold here: Hololens is the most incredible thing Microsoft ever did. It is the ultimate combination of Microsoft techs (Windows, Xbox/Kinect, Machine Learning, specific hardware and chips, etc.) and it is the future. Those WMR only exists for a reason: because Hololens is still unmature (especially the field of view) and too expansive. But it is obvious than in the next generation or at last the one after Hololens and "Windows Mixed Reality Headsets" concepts will merge.  Hololens doesn't have to be a standalone computer for the next generations. DAQRI Smart Helmet / Magic Leap One approach with a external PC in a (wired yet but this is temporary) is way better if you think about it wirelessly. Because then the headset will be a lot less expansive, lighter, and at the same time its performances could depend of a PC, an Xbox or even a smartphone depending of the power needed. So what I really want to see this year for WMR is Hololens 2 dumb headset with a wide field of view that can be used on a laptop, a pocketable computer or even a smartphone and that can act as those half baked WMR devices ...in true Mixed Reality. Those who says Microsoft do not think long term did not tried Hololens or understood its potential. Folks the current Hololens is already one and half years old, great things are coming :)
  • Agreed. I see Windows MR headsets move towards dumb Hololens-like HMDs to connect to Windows 10 devices, inlcuding Andromeda. These would be able to run Hololens and VR apps and games. Since Microsoft has a better reaching of form factors that Apple, Google or Valve don't have. They are better at doing standards for AR and VR.
  • With the new backpack computers coming out, I see HoloLens getting a big boost sooner than later. I was 'meh' on virtual reality, because you lose real context. But a HoloLens run on a VR backpack at least for the short term, bring it on!
  • I think the complaint of "no external sensors" is a bit unrealistic, if you want better tracking. There's not much of anything you can do about the LoS issues when the cameras are in the headset and you put them wands at your side. What's more, twith the targeting of laptops for entry-level WMR functionality, there is a built-in external sensor that can be used with ease--the webcam. It could help with a bit of precision, but especially with the LoS headset issues. The Rift's solution makes the most sense: The box gets you started, but an extral sensor can make things better. I think they should totally support and promote external sensors. In fact, I think that the best VR solution from current the is a wireless headset with one external sensor for WMR.
  • External trackers won't really solve the hand tracking issues, since they will only track in the area that they see. THe bigger the area you want to move around in, the more trackers you will need, which does away with one of WMR's best assets, the fewer cables.  Since the hand trackers will always be near the headset (unless Stretch Armstrong is a customer) then the right solution is more cameras on the headset itself, pointing down and backwards. It will help the headset track even better asnd will solve the hand issue as well.
  • I'd keep the wireless thing, but add xbox compatibility, and see through as 2nd and 3rd points
  • I would like to see it out for more countries 🙄
  • They could fix tracking issues by allowing the use of a webcam for better controller tracking when out of headset view. You'd just have to be in front of the webcam while playing. Same as PSVR. If Sony can use their old camera to track lights, I don't see why Microsoft can't do the same with a webcam. And almost everyone already has one so it would be a great update imo.