At the end of the their Build keynote today, Microsoft had a little to say about their mixed reality plans. Keen on not hemming themselves in, Microsoft is developing a single platform that uses elements of virtual reality (complete virtual worlds) and augmented reality (virtual objects dropped into your natural vision) to create a wider range of experiences for their headsets. But, for VR applications, it’s hard to do much without some sort of a controller, and gamepads don’t really get you immersed in the experience. So, it’s no surprise that Microsoft announced touch controllers that will launch with the upcoming slew of mixed reality headsets.
Microsoft didn’t go into detail, but from the brief hype video, it looks like the touch controllers will be similar to the VR controllers for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. There will be two separate controllers for each hand, which will respond to motion and have buttons, sticks, touchpads, and Windows home buttons. The cool part about these is that, like the mixed reality headsets themselves, no external tracker is needed. Instead of needing to set up a sensor in another part of the room, the controllers will use the cameras on the outside of those headsets for tracking movement.
We know that HP, Acer, Lenovo, Dell, and Asus are all making mixed reality headsets in partnership with Microsoft, and we’ve already seen what Acer and Lenovo have been working on. After the controllers were revealed, we learned that the cheapest of those headsets, the one from Acer, will be available during the holiday season for $300 on its own and $400 when bundled with the controllers.
If you want to start developing apps for these headsets, you can get your hands on them a bit earlier. The HP and Acer headsets are both available to developers for $330 and $300, respectively, and can be ordered now for those in the United States and Canada.
The touch controllers look pretty cool, but there’s one wrinkle — they won’t work with HoloLens, Microsoft’s premium augmented reality headset. That’s interesting, because at this point, HoloLens is the more proven product — today’s keynote was full of demo videos made by businesses that have used HoloLens to virtually plan restaurant layouts, stage sets, or install staircase elevators for wheelchairs. For now, it looks like HoloLens will remain enterprise-focused, with these mixed reality headsets being made for the everyday consumer. The tricky part is that Microsoft will need to clearly communicate to consumers why they should want one, even with the touch controllers — and there weren’t as many demos that did that during the Build conference this week. Microsoft and their developer partners have about six months to fix that.
Disclaimer: Microsoft covered our travel and accommodations for the Microsoft Build developers conference. All thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.