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The arcade may be the foothold Windows Mixed Reality needs

For a couple of years, it felt like VR was going to become an inescapable part of gaming life, but as we move into 2019, it certainly feels as though the hype has fallen by the wayside. In any case, Microsoft isn't done.

The company is widely expected to be unveiling HoloLens 2 at Mobile World Congress this year, and has seen a surge in orders among enterprises who are finding unique uses for augmented reality, particularly in medicine and engineering. The US military just dropped half a billion dollars on HoloLens orders, in a move that could see even bigger investments down the line.

Microsoft's cheap-and-cheerful range of Windows Mixed Reality headsets are also finding a foothold as a cheaper alternative to competing VR headsets, with on-board tracking proving to be a simpler set-up scenario than some other products out there.

At CES 2019, we saw a few examples of Windows Mixed Reality finding popularity as a modern arcade machine solution, granting opportunities for the location-based entertainment sector.

Arcade of the future

As a kid, you might've used arcade machines to kill time while waited for a movie in the cinema, but going further back they often represented unique experiences simply not available in the home. House of the Dead was a particularly memorable rail shooter in my own experience, sporting visuals simply not possible on home consoles at the time, complete with futuristic-feeling light guns that were far more accurate than some of the solutions designed to be used at home.

Tech has some a hell of a long way since then, of course, but VR still feels like it's too overly complex and prohibitively expensive for the casual user, particularly when it comes to Windows-based VR, which requires powerful hardware and boatloads of cables to go with it. Simply put, VR is very much for enthusiasts right now, and probably still far away from hitting the mainstream in the short term. That being said, location-based entertainment solutions might go some way to bridging the gap between the enthusiast and mass market consumer, where all the set-up is already done.

Source: VRLOUSA

One such solution we saw at CES 2019 was VRLEOUSA's Scorpion deck, which incorporates a Windows Mixed Reality headset into a sit down VR experience, blasting aliens on a gun-turret. As far as the user is concerned, there's no set-up required on their end. Simply sit down and play.

Microsoft Technical Fellow for Mixed Reality Alex Kipman noted to us that Redmond is indeed seeing an uptick in location-based entertainment companies seeking to utilize Windows Mixed Reality headsets in particular, citing the best-in-class specs on the new Samsung Odyssey+ headset, and the comparatively low up-front costs when compared to headsets that require external sensors for tracking. Amusement parks, arcades, cafes, shopping centers, and other types of businesses are all seeking WMR kiosks to offer something unique to their customers.

Companies like Varonia Systems (above) are experimenting with large-scale events based on Windows Mixed Reality too, offering arena-style shooter combat and unique peripherals that incorporate the Windows Mixed Reality joysticks. Today, Varonia Systems relies on Windows backpack PCs to power its games, but manufacturers are already exploring full standalone headset experiences where a bulky PC wouldn't necessarily be required for a quality experience.

What does the future look like?

While it looks like HoloLens may find its future in business and enterprise, Microsoft seems to be doubling down on the possibilities of WMR in the consumer space. Mainstream adoption probably won't be until they can truly make these headsets cable free with the software support of a platform like Xbox, but in the near-term, they continue to be a great, cost-effective solution for enthusiasts looking to dabble in SteamVR.

For regular consumers however, their first experiences of VR might be on a whim while in an edgy coffee shop, or while waiting in a movie theatre. Chances are, those headsets will be Windows Mixed Reality-based, for as long as Microsoft and its partners remain aggressive on price options. This fact bodes well for future support, in an era where no consumer-oriented Microsoft product feels safe from the chopping block. Here's hoping they stick with it.

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!

22 Comments
  • It really just needs a killer game. I am afraid that MR will end up like Kinect. Developers will be unable to leverage it into a great experience.
  • VR has a killer game already. At least. Have you ever heard of Beat Saber?
  • Nope. Can't be that killer. I am sure it is great, but they need something huge. They really need a breakout game to realize the potential. Like Kinect, MR has a ton of promise, but it is hard to realize.
  • You haven't played it, have you? Do you own a VR headset even? Because all of these are things that have to be tried to know what they're about.
  • You still here? Can't you take a blatent hint? Like the main editor telling you to hit the road? 🤔
  • I'm a gamer and i've never heard of that 'killer' game either.
  • It's VR only. If you've played games in VR, you would have heard of it.
  • A lack of available games isn't the problem. Price is. The hardware is just too expensive for a casual gamer. So it's very much still a niche piece of kit. Things like the Wii and the Switch do so well as they are affordable. Yes, they have great games, but they are cheap enough for parents to buy their kids for Christmas. If the Switch was the same price as the latest xbox or play station it wouldn't sell nearly so well. Right now, it wouldn't matter if VR\AR had the greatest games ever created, many of us just can't justify the expense of the hardware.
  • That turret game seems to be a really poor example of VR. It's basically just a stereoscopic display.
  • Indeed, that makes the experience much more limited than what is possible with the 6DOF tracking. But if the experience attracts players, why not? I recently realized we shouldn't dismiss the use of WMR headsets as simple stereoscopic displays too quickly. After all, in here, during the black Friday week, Lenovo was selling the Explorer (headset with motion controllers) for just 3 times as much as simple 3D shutter glasses (without compatible display). For a display technology that doesn't suffer from any shuttering, doesn't have any crosstalk, has the full resolution on each eye, and can do much more. We probably should embrace all use cases, even when they don't fully take advantage of the possibilities, and just present these headsets as devices that are versatile and can be used for lot of different things.
    We might not reach enough users with VR games alone, but what if we can get all users who want to watch S3D movies, experience 180° and 360° videos, experience immersive realtime-rendered 3D storytelling, etc... ?
    This might be key to reach the critical volume and make the technology more common. When you think about it, having lot of sensors in our phones and tablets didn't necessarily mean a game had to use all of them to be great.
  • I agree with your comment! It won't just suddenly become mainstream.
  • Right, there's ways to get there, to gain more adoption, but I just think that stereoscopic 3D visión is a really small part of what makes a VR experience. Being able to look around freely, and interaction through hand-held controllers as natural as posible add a lot more immersion, which is what people associate with VR. I just thought it was a bad example when talking about VR arcades precisely because there ARE true VR arcades that offer a completely immersive experience, and are worth mentioning instead of this one.
  • Boatloads of cables? Are you high? There is ONE cable from my WMR rig to my PC. ONE. And it absolutely does not require a monster machine to get an enjoyable experience. And I easily spend up to six straight hours playing Elite Dangerous in VR.
  • woah that's weird cus I thought literally every single WMR headset on the market requires both USB and HDMI oh wait they do
  • One cable, two ports. The part where they split is like what, 6 inches?
  • Yeah, compared to Vive/Oculus, it's a completely different level of simplicity, it's literally one cable with two connectors vs what, 3 sensors plugged to the outlet, 5 USB 3.0, etc. And regarding comfort, I've too played for over a couple of hours (in my case with Arizona Sunshine or Vanishing Realms), so it's really not as bad as they say.
  • The future looks like pink eye, unless they clean those headsets regularly at the arcades...
  • In my experience, at expos and with VR demos, people seem to be starting to take that seriously, and disinfect the headsets between uses, and some even use some kind of discardable paper frame for the face cushion.
  • As long as the arcades have a plentiful supply of disinfectant wipes it's all good👌🏾👌🏾👌🏾
  • Hi everyone! Please, could anyone explain me the difference between Virtual Reality VR, Augmented Reality and Windows Mixed-Reality? I was sure to understand the concept, but actually, I don't.
  • In a nutshell:
    VR: Replacing your real senses with a virtual world. You are fully immersed in the virtual world and do not see (and potentially hear) any part of the real world.
    AR: Augmenting your real-world senses with virtual objects and overlays.
    Mixed reality is a term that encompasses the entire spectrum, both VR and AR.
    Note that some people are using the term "Mixed Reality" to refer to a VR headset that offers pass through video of the "real world" as seen by cameras on the headset. This is proving to be a popular use of the term, but is not as correct as Microsoft's usage.
    "Windows Mixed Reality" is a software stack that covers both VR headsets (like the ones from Samsung, Dell, Acer, etc) and AR headsets like Hololens. If you write an app for Hololens, it is very similar to how you write an app or a WMR VR headset because both use Windows Mixed Reality.
  • VR, you are in the virtual world.
    But, with current-gen tech, when you sit, your neck structure is the limitation, when you stand, your room size then becomes the limitation. You can only create arcade style rail shooter (pilot a plane, racer included) at the moment. MR... by definition, VR + spatial mapping == MR. Or you could say, MR - spatial mapping, is just a VR. AR. With helps from spatial mapping and depth sensor and stuff, you scan and create a mesh of the environment, then you can map objects/avatar in the environment. AR can do VR does but not vice versa.
    e.g. render a car around a chair in the room. you can walk around the car to observe, and when you sit on the chair, start the engine, race track fades in.