Windows Mixed Reality gets infinitely better with dedicated controllers

Windows Mixed Reality is an incredibly exciting part of Windows 10 right now. It's still pretty new, and still in its infant days, but I have high hopes for this platform. It already has over 50 apps and games ready and available in the Microsoft Store to download, several of which are incredibly fun and immersive. Games like Superhot VR or Arizona Sunshine are prime examples of what Mixed Reality experiences should be, along with apps like HoloTour and Jaunt VR.

And at some point in the near future, SteamVR titles should be making their way to Windows Mixed Reality too. That means even more apps and games for people to experience with their inexpensive Mixed Reality compatible headsets. Windows Mixed Reality marks the first time VR is accessible to a wider audience, and not just dedicated gamers or bleeding edge technology enthusiasts. $400 for a VR headset is far more approachable than VR headsets have been previously.

What's more, the setup and use of Windows Mixed Realty headsets are unparalleled compared to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which require sensors to be setup around your room to work correctly. Windows Mixed Reality headsets use inside-out tracking, which means you don't need any extra sensors to get the VR experience working. It's a simple plug-and-play experience, which is what Windows is good at.

This is a remarkable feat when you consider the fact that Windows Mixed Reality headsets also support dedicated Mixed Reality controllers, something I've been playing around with over the last couple of weeks. After being confined to using my Windows Mixed Reality headset with an Xbox controller, switching to dedicated Mixed Reality controllers has changed how I feel about the immersive VR experience altogether. You need Mixed Reality controllers to be able to enjoy Windows Mixed Reality.

Mixed Reality controllers are needed

As it turns out, to take advantage of the real immersive experiences available in Windows Mixed Reality, they do require Mixed Reality controllers to function. You can play Superhot VR with a headset and Xbox controller, for example. This is fine, however, because the Mixed Reality controllers are so much better and immersive than using a gamepad when in VR. Being able to reach out and grab objects, throwing them at your enemies as they come toward you is just so cool.

And that's the key when it comes to VR experiences, you're supposed to be entirely immersed in that experience. The idea is to forget that you're wearing a headset and imagine that you're actually there, fighting off waves of zombies in a desert in the middle of nowhere. Without the Mixed Reality controllers, this type of immersion simply isn't possible. The dedicated controllers are also better for simply navigating around Mixed Reality interfaces, and aren't just for playing games.

For example, I find using the Mixed Reality controllers to navigate the Start menu and window management in Cliff House to be far more intuitive and easy compared to using an Xbox gamepad. Even typing is easier, as all I have to do is aim my Mixed Reality controllers at the keys on the virtual keyboard. There's some additional niceties that Microsoft has added to the Mixed Reality controller experience too, which include being able to actually see your Mixed Reality controllers in virtual reality.

Microsoft has built a 1:1 model of the controllers in the Mixed Reality environment that are tracked perfectly with the controllers in real life. This means when you look at your hands in Mixed Reality, you'll see the controller you own in real life in your virtual hands. Manipulating things like the thumbsticks or buttons will relay that in the virtual world; you can actually see the buttons your pressing in VR.

I truly believe the only way to experience Windows Mixed Reality is with dedicated Mixed Reality controllers. If you're thinking about getting a Windows Mixed Reality headset or already have one without controllers, stop. You need to get a headset that comes with controllers, which should be most of them. You may be able to get the headset standalone for cheaper, but that's at the cost of a lesser immersive experience that you should not be missing out on. It would be like buying an Xbox One without a controller, instead using the Xbox app on your phone to manipulate the console.

Of course, the comparison isn't that dramatic. You can still do plenty within Windows Mixed Reality with an Xbox gamepad or keyboard and mouse, but for the ultimate, immersive and true experience, you need a pair of Windows Mixed Reality controllers. Not all apps and games work with an Xbox gamepad or keyboard and mouse in Windows Mixed Reality; everything works with a pair of Mixed Reality controllers.

For those that already have a Windows Mixed Reality headset without a pair of controllers, you can pick up any set of dedicated controllers (opens in new tab) regardless of who made them, and they should work just fine with the headset you already have. They're all compatible with each other, meaning if you're using a Dell headset, you can use Lenovo's controllers, or vice versa.

It's worth the extra $100 or so. Trust me.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • I was hoping the Microsoft store would start selling the controllers by now for people who ordered the dev kits when they 1st came out. Yeah, I could head over to Dell but I have a gift card for my local store and I'd like to use that if possible. At this point I would even settle for them telling me when/if they will be getting them.    edit: I actually have not contacted my local store yet - just looking @ - going to give the store a bing now
  • wellll - called the store (call center?). The nice lady said they had em. Cool. I did not really believe her but cool none-the-less. After work, I took a 50 mile drive to the store. The store reps (again very nice) said that no - they did not have them in stock for individual sale and did not know when they were going to get any in.  I guess I can wait for a bit while I work on my Blender/Unity skills. I probably should go ahead and get a set from Dell. My biggest compalint is that nobody seems to know. Anything. No clue. Nobody know who to ask who might even know who does have a clue. Sigh.
  • That's all I need. Another Xbox-like controller.  I hate controllers.
  • I tried the Occulus demo in a Best Buy.  I have to say, it was fun.  I can't wait to see what the Windows counterparts look and feel like.  For the Occulus, the wires, the fixed sensors, etc, are to prohibitive for me.  I do wonder, though, why has no one "reinvented" the PowerGlove?  I feel that would be much superior to those dorky and clunky hand-remote/controllers.
  • The gloves were cool in the movie "Minority Report". Why can't we have something like that?
  • Agreed, the controllers are a must! Not only do some games require them, but they really make the experience much more tactile, intuitive, and way easier to move around in including the Cliff House environment. I'm glad most headset manufacturers are already including them in a bundle and yet there's no price punishment if you want to add them separately at a later date. (Or replace them... since one already flew out of my hand while golfing, ha! Luckily it survived and no pets were close by.)
  • Well yeah. Otherwise, it's just a 3d screen attached to your head.
  • So how long do you guys think until Microsoft drops mixed reality due to lack of dev support? 
  • Feb. 10. 
  • when apple understands that nobody needs a 1000 dollar toy
  • I tried the Lenovo Explorer with the controllers and yes it's cool to see them in the view. A note: the Steam VR app is already available in early access for the developers. I actually tried it already and yes, Steam games work with the MR headsets.
  • I would like to buy them without the controllers because I just want to play Elite Dangerous and keep the buy in cost low but nobody sells them that way.
  • How well does it work in games to use just one controller, say one on your dominant hand? I wonder because as I've been playing around with the Lenovo headset and controllers, I found the controller experience of separate controllers in each hand awkward. With an Xbox controller you use both hands but they are essentially working together on the same task (holding and manipulating the controls) whereas with MR each hand is working independently. I'm sure I could get used to that over time, but my initial sessions have been less than satisfying. One thing I didn't try doing yet was to sign on with just the right controller active to see if that made for a more realistic experience.