2017 is expected to be a big year for virtual and augmented reality, and Microsoft (MSFT) is hedging its bets on the full spectrum of experiences, including mixed reality, which combines aspects of both VR and AR.
In Q1, Microsoft partners Asus, Acer, HP (HPQ) , Lenovo and Dell plan to launch a line of $300 Windows 10 headsets that will enable both virtual reality and mixed reality experiences and run on PCs costing as little as $500. At the other end of the spectrum are devices such as Microsoft's $3,000 HoloLens Development Edition goggles, which are for companies and software developers to test and build apps for.
The key to Microsoft's approach is its launch sometime in 2017 (the company has not said exactly when) of Windows Holographic, a version of Windows 10 built for mixed reality applications, via a free online update (it's available right now, though, on the HoloLens Development Edition). Companies such as Volvo and Thyssenkrupp Elevators, and institutions such as Case Western Reserve University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are actively using HoloLens.
Craig Cincotta from the mixed reality team at Microsoft told TheStreet that Windows 10 is the first platform to support virtual reality and holographic computing that enable gaze, gesture, voice and environmental understanding.
"Windows Holographic enables something no other platform can -- shared experiences in mixed reality across a range of devices from a host of device makers through a singular shell, consistent user interface and standardized input," Cincotta said. "We see developers creating a range of holographic applications, from gaming and entertainment to education and enterprise line of business apps."
Cincotta said developers can target mixed reality experiences destined for a range of VR, AR and mixed reality devices, and not just for the HoloLens.
According to Alexis Macklin, VR analyst at research firm Greenlight Insights, Microsoft's approach is different from what top VR and AR companies are doing. Microsoft is starting to position its VR and AR product suites as business tools that help deliver digital transformation for enterprises.