Hands-on: How Microsoft’s mixed-reality devices could learn a lesson from the HoloLens

At Microsoft’s Build conference this week, Microsoft set up what it calls a “shared immersive experience”: a group of HoloLens users perched high up in a virtual sky, directing another group of mixed-reality users on the “ground” through a short maze. It’s easy to see this as a metaphor to describe the relationship between the two devices.

And in some ways, it works. Microsoft’s HoloLens is priced at a lofty $3,000 for commercial partners and developers; mixed-reality devices are literally a tenth of the price, or $300. I’ve tried both. I’m cautiously impressed with the Acer Mixed Reality Developer Edition that will be sold as a consumer device this holiday, but it could still learn a trick or two from the HoloLens.

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Here’s what your PC needs to run Windows 10’s Mixed Reality VR

Windows 10’s blurring of physical and digital barriers is inching closer towards reality.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mixed Reality headset partners—including Acer, Asus, Dell, and HP—were at the Build 2017 conference this week talking up their hardware. The initial models will also be priced at $399 or less, which is significantly cheaper than gaming-centric virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

The new Windows 10 headsets are expected to start rolling out in the summer in the form of “Developers Edition” headsets by Acer and HP, with a wider consumer release scheduled for the holiday season. That’s the plan, anyway. At one point Microsoft hinted that these headsets would launch a lot closer to the April release of the Windows 10 Creators Update, so who knows if we’ll see more delays?

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Google takes a big VR leap with Owlchemy Labs acquisition

Google has only been in the serious VR game for a few months with Daydream, but that doesn’t mean it’s a small player. Many of its interactive and immersive efforts extend beyond the limitations of its phone-based headset, including Title Brush and Google Earth VR, and a new acquisition looks to take VR to the next level.

Relja Markovic, engineering director of VR and AR at Google, has announced that the company has acquired Owlchemy Labs, the studio responsible for award-winning titles such as Job Simulator and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality. However, Owlchemy says it is “free to pursue raw creation and sprint toward interesting problems,” despite its new owners.

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Microsoft’s mixed-reality devices undercut the Rift and Vive with lower prices

Microsoft is bringing a new spurt of energy to its mixed-reality efforts. On Thursday at its Build conference in Seattle, the company announced partner devices with features and prices that challenge rivals like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Of particular interest are the motion controllers, which will be bundled into kits with mixed-reality headsets from Acer and others. 

Acer, which has already shown its Mixed Reality Developer Edition headsets at Build and elsewhere, plans to ship a consumer version by this summer: $299 for just the headset, and $399 for the headset and controllers, Microsoft said. HP will also announce a mixed-reality developer kit on Thursday, priced at $329 for the headset alone. HP’s headset will also ship by summer, while headsets from other manufacturers like Asus and Dell are expected later in the year, closer to the holiday season.

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PC makers will ship Windows 10 mixed reality headsets in Q4

Microsoft’s hardware partners will flood the market with Windows Mixed Reality headsets by the holiday season this year, offering up a new way to enjoy Windows 10.

A Windows Mixed Reality headset from Acer is already being seeded to select developers by Microsoft, but isn’t available to consumers yet.

So far three PC makers — Lenovo and HP as well as Acer — said they would ship headsets later this year. Dell is still mulling a release date. The headsets will start at $299, the rough minimum price suggested by Microsoft.

The headsets need to be wired to Windows 10 PCs. Once on, they will transport you to a virtual world where you can, for example, roam, Skype-chat and play Xbox games. It’s like computing in a 3D world, without the use of a mouse or keyboard.

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Microsoft teases a Surface event to ‘show the world what’s next.’ Is it mixed reality?

Microsoft said Thursday night that it will host another mysterious event for reporters, to “show the world what’s next” in Shanghai, China.

So far, the invitation has come somewhat out of left field. Microsoft representatives were unavailable for comment at press time, and Microsoft executives haven’t previously indicated that such an event was planned. It likely involves new hardware, though, since Microsoft’s device chief, Panos Panay, has tweeted that he will be at the May 23 event, using the #Surface hashtag.

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‘View Mixed Reality’ app will turn any Windows PC into an augmented reality screen

Windows 10’s virtual reality chops will be bolstered by a nifty-looking new Microsoft app launches this fall, presumably alongside the next big Windows 10 update.

The straightforward-named “View Mixed Reality” app will allow users to view augmented reality images and 3D rendered digital objects through their device screen, placing them alongside real-world objects. In an onstage demo at Microsoft’s educational event today, View Mixed Reality was used to display the Mars Curiosity Rover next to a speaker, to show how large it is in real life. Paired with the Paint 3D app introduced in the Windows 10 Creators Update, or 3D educational tools already starting to trickle into the market, this could be a handy feature in the classroom.

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Acer’s new Holo 360 is a 360-degree camera in a smartphone

The effort to grow in the virtual reality market has Acer chasing weird, but rather interesting, devices.

The company introduced the Holo 360 camera, which is first and foremost a 360-degree camera. It can capture 3D content, much like other 360-degree cameras, and could be used to capture, view, and create content for VR headsets.

But, seemingly as an afterthought, the device also has WiFi and LTE connectivity. The device itself looks like a bulky smartphone and can be used to make phone calls. It has a small screen, much like those on candy-bar phones.

It’s clearly not designed to be a full-fledged smartphone. No information about the chipset was provided. Different countries have different types of networks, and not all modems support all networks, especially in countries like China.

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How HP reclaimed the title of world’s top PC maker from Lenovo

In late 2015, HP was reborn as a PC maker following a split of its parent organization, Hewlett-Packard. At the time, HP was a lost cause, and its double-digit decline in PC shipments was a main reason for the split.

The new HP then set out to reclaim its spot as the world’s top PC maker from Lenovo, a title it lost in 2013. It reached the goal in the first quarter of 2017, during which its PC shipments grew by 13.1 percent year over year.

A series of cool products and decisions to cut off low-margin products helped HP return to the top. Lenovo’s struggles also played a part, but HP’s strong performance in North America was a deciding factor, IDC said.

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Nvidia’s offering three free VR games if you buy a GTX 10 Series card and an Oculus Rift + Touch

We’ve seen several deals and giveaways for virtual-reality headsets in recent months, but those mostly involved the HTC Vive. This time around, Nvidia and Oculus have teamed up for a Rift-flavored deal: Currently, if you buy a select GeForce GTX 10 Series card and the Oculus Rift + Touch, you’ll three VR games for free.

The deal began on April 25 and lasts until Tuesday, June 13, 2017, or while supplies last. Nvidia says both Newegg and Amazon have this deal. However, while Newegg definitely offers the deal as described by Nvidia, Amazon seems to limit you to specific, preset bundles.

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