Microsoft prepares to barnstorm VR market
By Ajith Ram November 2, 2016
- Cheaper VR devices coming from OEMs
- More versatile than existing VR headsets
THE giant of Seattle has finally shown its full deck of VR playing cards. As many had suspected for months, Microsoft has a cunning plan to take on Sony, Oculus, HTC and all the other virtual reality hardware vendors.
Last week, the company made a series of announcements that showed it is taking the Windows 10 platform into the VR market. The new set of virtual reality headsets and accessories will be manufactured by OEMs such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer.
But the real bombshells were the features and pricing. Microsoft's VR devices will all include 'inside-out' tracking. This obviates the need for all external sensors. Also, prices will start at US$299. This is in sharp contrast to the much more expensive HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
“These headsets will be the first and only to ship with inside-out six-degree-of-freedom sensors. Unlike every other VR headset on the market today, this means there will be zero need for a separate room. Zero need for a complicated setup,” said Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group.
Make no mistake about it. Microsoft's low key VR announcement is a real game changer. With only a few million units sold so far (including Samsung's Gear VR), the VR market is still in its infancy. All the existing devices are priced in the premium category, well out of range of most consumers.
With prices starting at US$299 and no requirement for a separate 'gaming' room, this second generation of VR devices have the potential to bring in millions of new customers who are now sitting by the sidelines.
The new VR devices will also be Microsoft's trojan horse in its battle against Steam. Although the new VR devices will be manufactured by a range of OEMs, there is a very good chance that the software will be sold only through Windows Store. Microsoft is probably hoping to entice millions of Steam users to its own sales portal via VR.
But what about compatibility with existing VR headsets? Is Microsoft going to shut out competing VR devices?
This is unlikely to happen. With the company still being the dominant player in the operating system market, it is still under scrutiny by government agencies around the world. Microsoft would not want to increase the intensity of that scrutiny by denying access to its competitors.
But it is possible that certain specific Windows 10 features will be enabled only on Microsoft-certified VR devices.
It is not just through third party VR devices that Microsoft intends to conquer the VR market. Let us not forget the company's own HoloLens.
At the same event, Microsoft was keen to show off the device's VR capabilities. In a demo, the user could watch a 360-degree video via the HoloTour app. This is a clear attempt to woo potential VR buyers. The Edge browser will also get the ability to interact with 3D objects via the HoloLens.
And it is not just VR outfits like Sony, Oculus and HTC that Microsoft is now targeting.
Microsoft has also announced a free update known as the Windows 10 Creators Update. This will be released next year. It will include built-in steaming functionality for games broadcasters. This is a move that will bring Microsoft into direct competition with Amazon which now owns Twitch.
Earlier this year, Microsoft had acquired the streaming service Beam. Unlike a third party application like Twitch, Windows 10 users will soon be able to livestream without the need to download a separate client. They will also be able to interact with the audience.
It is now crystal clear that Microsoft has no intention of letting Sony, HTC or Oculus dominate the nascent VR space. But it is too early to say who will become the dominant player.
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