Microsoft today announced that Acer’s first mixed reality headset will ship to developers later this month, making it the standard development edition for the Windows Holographic platform. The news, shared onstage this morning at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, means that Microsoft is moving fast to try and expand its augmented and virtual reality ambitions beyond the HoloLens headset. The company first announced that it would be partnering with device manufacturers for Windows Holographic products back in October.
Mixed reality is essentially a blending of AR and VR that can let you both bring real-world objects into a virtual space and render virtual objects in a real-world environment. It relies on cameras attached to an otherwise standard-looking VR headset so both your head and body motions can be tracked alongside objects around you, like a table or wall or something you’re holding in your hand. Intel is working on something similar with its Project Alloy headset (though the company likes to use the phrase “merged” instead of mixed reality).
Similar to a Windows Holographic headset shown by Lenovo back at CES, this Acer model contains two cameras on the front and inside-out, six degrees-of-freedom tracking. That means no external sensors or cameras are technically required for the device to do depth mapping, object recognition, or motion sensing. You may still need motion controllers for advanced hand tracking. Those peripherals should be in the pipeline from third-party manufacturers once Microsoft finalizes its Windows Holographic controller specifications.
The device achieves a display resolution of 1440 x 1440 through two high-resolution LCD panels, which gives it a higher resolution than current consumer VR headsets from Oculus and HTC. But we have yet to try one of these mixed reality headsets beyond the HoloLens, so it’s unclear if the image quality is compromised by some other component or by the types of images it may be designed to render.
Microsoft says it plans to deliver content for these types of Windows Holographic devices by 2018, including with support for the company’s upcoming Project Scorpio game console upgrade. That means we might soon see cross-platform AR, VR, and mixed reality content coming out for PCs, the HoloLens, and Xbox.