Microsoft may have missed out on launching its Amazon Echo competitor at its hardware event in New York City, but not all was lost – as the company finally gave the world a sneak peek at its upcoming 3D focus. As part of that focus, Microsoft is set to push virtual reality more than it ever has before, but it could have killed the dedicated VR room that CEDIA has been talking about.
Little is known about the VR headsets that Microsoft unveiled at the October 26 event, but the company did tease that they will be manufactured by some of its closest partners – including Asus, Acer, Lenovo, HP and Dell. While Microsoft won’t be directly manufacturing the devices, the company is behind much of the technology inside them; which includes one key breakthrough – inside-out, six degrees of freedom.
Six degrees of freedom refers to the freedom of movement of a rigid body in three-dimensional space. That means the body is free to change position in a variety of different ways – forward and backward, up and down, left and right. While those are the first three degrees of movement, the six degrees also comprises of pitch, yaw and roll.
The HTC Vive and PlayStation VR currently offer similar functionality, but they are both limited in terms of the tracking area. HTC’s is limited to an area of up to 15ft by 15ft, while the PlayStation VR can only track the user for as long as they are in the field of view of the tracking camera.
Microsoft’s approach to the six degrees of freedom is different. Instead of relying on an array of external sensors, or cameras, like the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, Microsoft says its VR headsets will be able to track the user utilising solely the sensors built-in to the device, or as it puts it ‘inside-out’. It didn’t explain how exactly it’s managed to achieve this feat, but the company has integrated sensors into the headset which will detect how the wearer is moving and adjust their in-VR position to match.
The dedicated VR room has been cited by CEDIA as a potential future business opportunity for custom installers. With systems like the HTC Vive, installers can strategically place sensors around the room to get consumers up and running with their VR headset. With Microsoft’s inside-out approach however, users simply need to strap on the headset and away they go, the headset will do the rest of the work for them. That means all the consumer will need is a big empty space – and a custom installer isn’t needed for that.
Of course Microsoft will still have to answer some important questions regarding how the technology will work – after all, how good is the tracking versus the HTC Vive? In the demo at the October 26 event, Microsoft showcased how movement works with the VR headset, but only moved a couple of steps – hardly a breakthrough.
If Microsoft can get all of its ducks in a row and the technology actually works – then it could represent serious competition to the likes of Oculus and HTC. Especially since those headsets retail at the higher-end of the market, with the Oculus Rift costing £549.00 and the HTC Vive costing £769.99, whereas those offering Microsoft’s technology are set to start $299.
The first batch of Microsoft VR headsets should launch from partner manufacturers in 2017.