When Microsoft talked about their new "Mixed Reality" headsets at their keynote at IFA last week, I'll admit I was somewhat skeptical—Microsoft's track record with their own hardware isn't exactly perfect. But their VR solution turned out to be surprisingly polished when I tried it out for the first time. While they're not necessarily at the cutting edge, they've managed to create an implementation that is highly accessible to the consumer and that works very well as an entry-level product. Microsoft has worked with Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo to integrate the "Mixed reality" technology in the new headsets into Windows 10 once the Fall Creators update rolls out in October.
Even though Microsoft's term for the new headsets is "Mixed Reality," what they've really done is put their own spin on regular VR. All of the four headsets incorporate "inside-out spatial tracking," which essentially means that each of the devices interacts with their surroundings to register your movement, as opposed to having to set up tracking technology in your room. Even though this cuts down on setup time, it has its own limitations—Microsoft's devices won't have, say, room-scale support - but it's surprisingly accurate even in situations where you're dodging and ducking from virtual lasers or just turning your head to look around a 360-degree video. While Microsoft's headsets won't be able to deliver VR gaming experiences quite like the Vive or Oculus Rift, they will include essential gaming features such as SteamVR support.
But what makes Microsoft's VR solutions so appealing is the seamless way they've integrated support into their OS. The demonstration included a virtual house that one could move through to select from different applications or even browse the desktop and watch a movie in a cinema room. The motion controllers especially work really well with the experience and are relatively easy to get used to, even though there is a small learning curve if you're not used to that sort of thing. To add to this, the headsets are also priced very competitively at around $349 depending on the manufacturer. Microsoft's website states that "Mixed Reality apps and games will run on a broad range of PCs and headsets," and even though you'll need a PC with above-average specs, the headsets will even work with non-gaming laptops with integrated GPUs, which I expect will do a lot to open up VR experiences to new users.