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Microsoft wants VR headsets to replace your computer monitor

Daniel Howley

Samsung is one of the leading manufacturers of virtual reality headsets thanks to its Gear VR. And now the company is teaming up with Microsoft to release its new Samsung HMD Odyssey. Weird name, I know.

Here’s the essential information about the headsets:

  • Samsung headset coming this year for $499 with controllers
  • Windows 10 Mixed Reality coming Oct. 17 to all Windows 10 PCs
  • Microsoft has two categories of Mixed Reality PCs
  • Microsoft’s approach differs from Apple’s Augmented reality offering

Unveiled by Microsoft’s (MSFT) Alex Kipman on Tuesday, the creator of the company’s Hololens, the Odyssey offers twin 3.5-inch high-resolution AMOLED panels. I tried the headset, which is available for pre-order Oct. 3 for $499, during a quick demo and it offered a slightly better experience than competing headsets.

Colors looked livelier and movement was smoother. Text also appeared crisper, which a Microsoft representative attributed to the fact that Samsung purposely worked to ensure text was clear enough to view on websites and other apps.

The Odyssey was unveiled at an event that doubled as the final coming-out party for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Mixed Reality software, which is available on Oct. 17 for Windows 10 machines as part of the company’s upcoming Windows Fall Creators Update. Windows Mixed Reality is meant to run on just about any PC with Windows 10.

Microsoft currently has two specifications for Mixed Reality PCs: a standard spec that can run on PCs and laptops with integrated graphics chips and an Ultra spec designation for machines with discrete graphics chips like those from Nvidia and AMD. Base Mixed Reality PCs will be able to handle all of the apps Microsoft offers, while the Ultra PCs will be able to run high-end PC games.


Welcome home

During his keynote, Kipman referred to Windows Mixed Reality as the world’s first spatial operating system. To be sure, Windows Mixed Reality isn’t its own OS. It’s simply how you interact with Windows 10 via a VR or augmented reality headset like the Hololens.

In place of a traditional desktop, Microsoft created a virtual home on the side of mountain that the company refers to as the “Cliff House.”

You can personalize and decorate your house as you see fit, by pinning apps and pieces of art to walls. To use an app, you simply walk up to it, or teleport using the Microsoft’s motion controllers, and interact with it by pointing and clicking using the controllers’ triggers.

Goodbye, monitor

Kipman believes the headset is the way of the future, and that it could replace monitors for some consumers. During his presentation he explained that he spends more time with a headset than looking at his computer screen.

I’m not totally sold on that idea, though. It’s a lot to ask people to wear a headset all day, regardless of how comfortable it is. Microsoft does, however, make it easier to use your headset thanks to its six degrees of freedom technology. The tech, which is also referred to as 6-DoF, lets you move around a virtual space by physically walking in the real world.

The result is a system that accurately tracks your movement without forcing you to use external sensors like Facebook’s (FB) Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive or Sony’s (SNE) PSVR.

Games and entertainment

Of course, like any VR or AR headset, Microsoft’s mixed reality systems need to provide consumers with compelling content. The demos I’ve experienced so far have been fun in small bursts, but nothing in particular has made me want to dive in for hours at a time.

Microsoft showed off a short concept demo for its “Halo” franchise during the Tuesday event, and discussed its partnership with Valve’s Steam VR, which will open up Windows Mixed Reality headsets up to a whole other world of offerings — but I’m still waiting for that one must-have title or experience.

Microsoft’s offering differs drastically from Apple’s (AAPL) ARKit, which uses augmented reality to place a digital interface over the real world using your iPhone. Microsoft, meanwhile, offers AR through its Hololens, but its Mixed Reality headsets use full-scale VR, which creates a completely virtual world.

The beauty of Microsoft’s Mixed Reality headsets, though, is how easy they are to plug in and use. You simply connect them to your Windows 10 PC and it will automatically download the necessary software and get you up and running. That’s far better than the kind of setup required by the Rift or Vive.

The question now, though, is whether there is enough public interest in VR headsets to make Microsoft’s approach worthwhile. We’re still in the very beginning of the VR revolution, and while the hype train might have slowed down to a more reasonable speed, the technology certainly promises to incredibly powerful.

More from Dan:

Samsung and ADT are merging the worlds of home security and automation
Roku unveils new line of streaming devices following IPO
‘Cuphead’ review: Insane boss battles and cartoons. Yep, it’s nuts.
SNES Classic Review: The Super Nintendo is back, and you’re in for nostalgia overload
Why you should buy a TV antenna. Yes, really.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.