Microsoft to sell mixed-reality headset, controllers for $399

Microsoft just added a pair of motion controllers to its recently announced mixed-reality headset, and the combo price of $399 beats a similar hardware pairing from Oculus Rift by $200.

Developers working on applications for this forthcoming product, due to hit consumers around Christmas, can immediately begin ordering the tethered headsets made by partners Acer ($299) and HP ($329), Microsoft mixed reality chief Alex Kipman said Thursday at Build 2017, the company’s annual developer conference running through May 12 in Seattle.

Mixed reality, also known as augmented reality, layers holographic images over the real world. Many experts say that eventually this technology will lead to the next generation of computers that will do away with physical laptops and keyboards.

That leap requires a significant shrinking in the format of mixed reality goggles, which at present are still bulky and tied to a computer due to their image-processing power requirements.

Audience members look on as Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, talks about Windows Mixed Realty at the Microsoft Build 2017 developers conference Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)© Elaine Thompson/ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP Images Audience members look on as Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, talks about Windows Mixed Realty at the Microsoft Build 2017 developers conference Thursday, May 11, 2017, in…

Microsoft is pioneering the use of an untethered augmented reality device called HoloLens, which Kipman is guiding. But that device costs $3,000 and is still only available to developers. At Build, Cirque du Soleil executives came on stage to demonstrate how they’ll begin using HoloLens to create virtual stages that eliminate the need for building costly real stage prototypes.

Microsoft’s new handheld motion controllers are reminiscent of those offered by Facebook-owned Oculus, featuring various triggers that allow the user to “grab” an item floating in a virtual world.

One key difference, however, is that Oculus tracks a user’s location — and therefore the position of hands — through an external sensor. In contrast, Microsoft’s new controller utilizes sensors that are built-in to the headsets, eliminating the need for such external markers.

“A customer who pairs a Windows Mixed Reality headset with motion controllers will have a rich and immersive experience across creativity tools, productivity, games, and entertainment,” Microsoft said in a blog post. “We are keeping our promise to deliver a new mixed reality experience for everyone at an affordable price point.”

Buyers of the new Acer/HP gear will be able to take advantage of some of the programs currently running on HoloLens, including Holotour, which brings exotic locations such as the Roman Forum and outer space to virtual life. More use cases for the products are expected from developers over the coming months, some of which are likely to be announced at E3, the gaming expo taking place in Los Angeles June 13-15.

Although mixed reality have proven to be a huge hit on smartphones — take last summer’s Pokemon Go craze — one of the biggest hurdles for both virtual and augmented reality remains price, as well as content.

 Marco della Cava 

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