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CORRECTIONS: Microsoft Grows the Mix With Mixed Reality

Big corrections and updates below!

Microsoft Mixed Reality

It's time for a new round of immersive devices!  This time, Microsoft is throwing its hat into the ring with a slew of anticipated mixed reality (MR) HMD makers like Acer, HP, ASUS, Dell, and Lenovo.

OK!  Before you read another step.  There were some REALLY big booboos with this article.  First, there was confusion about the device resolutions at our end.  Much of what was said still holds up, but corrections were made to account for this.  Also, Microsoft's concept of "Mixed Reality" and what has been considered mixed reality to date may have changed.  For example, while Acer's HMD has front facing cameras for positional tracking, they are not yet being marketed or demonstrated as passthrough cameras.  This means mixed or otherwise, this is pure VR until something changes.  Here we go...

HP Mixed Reality HMD
First at bat are Acer and HP.  Scheduled for release in August this year, both devices feature inside out positional tracking (no wall mounted cameras or tracking emitters), 1440 X 1440 resolution PER EYE at 90Hz, 95 degree FOV, built-in audio, and a 13' cable.  Acer's model sits at $299 USD, while HP's unit will run at $329 and includes additional comfort and adjustment features.

Booboo #1: It didn't click that this was 1440 X 1440 per eye resolution the first time.  My bad!

Microsoft VR Controller
In the case of Acer, they will also have a bundle that includes the HMD and new Microsoft VR controllers available for $399 USD.

We are still awaiting launch dates and details from manufacturers including Lenovo, Dell, and ASUS.

All of the Microsoft ecosystem HMDs are mixed reality, which means that they let you view the real world via pass-through cameras and experience digital enhancements.  Examples of mixed reality enhancements could be digital characters, objects, desktop interactions, and more.

Booboo #2.  While the words Mixed Reality are being thrown around, we have yet to see any product reviews demonstrating passthrough camera capabilities; at least with Acer.  This means that the cameras are only being used for positional tracking and the device is indeed a VR device until something changes.

Acer Mixed Reality HMD

One of the big selling features of these devices is that they require far less processing power than other premium PC devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.  We think the reasoning for this is that even though they have they are pushing about 60% more pixels through (approximately 4.15 million with Acer and HP versus 2.6 million by HTC and Oculus), mixed-reality requires less processing power than virtual reality does.  We say this because in virtual reality, the computer has to render the full screen resolution from scratch, whereas mixed reality is only responsible for the digital add-ons being mixed with the real world source.  In straight VR versus straight VR mode, we expect the processing challenges will be the same minus the difference in resolution.

This whole paragraph is right...and wrong.  If indeed these devices behave as mixed reality devices by mixing the real world and the digital world, then the hypothesis should hold true.  If it's strictly VR as currently showcased running on the more demanding larger pixel displays, then the solution is more likely software that has limited processing requirements compared to the VR content we've seen to date.  I'm guessing they would have scalable performance features to account for better hardware.

It's a major market growth victory to have PC MR devices available at the $300 mark.  Oculus is currently priced at $599 with controllers, and the HTC Vive runs for $799 USD.  Is the 20% drop in resolution worth the at least 50% price difference between the Microsoft Team and the Oculus/HTC offerings?  Are the products apples to apples, or are there qualitative differences that set them very far apart?  Are they competitors, or will they represent their own specialized market groups?  Time will tell!

Now that the resolution counts are properly accounted for, the divide is much further apart!  It's not a 20% difference in pixel counts, it's closer to 60% for about half the price of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.  On paper, HP and Acer look like clear winners.  In practice, we have to see how they actually perform (motion blur, tracking accuracy, nature of software, etc.).  Also, unless Microsoft has some kind of miracle software pixel generator, there will need to be comparable processing powering to compare apples to apples from a content point of view.