Microsoft has officially unwrapped the Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers during its Build 2017 developer conference on Thursday, May 11. The newfangled playthings boast responsive tracking and six degrees of freedom — no markers required.
A number of partners — Asus, Acer, Dell, HP, and Lenovo — will collaborate with Microsoft and sell these controllers on retail shelves "this holiday." The controllers, if paired with a dedicated VR headset, can provide experiences ranging from creativity, productivity, gaming, and entertainment.
"We created the controllers as a high-quality and comfortable input device with the same ease of setup and portability as our headsets," said Terry Myerson, executive VP of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group.
But hardware is no use without software. So to get developers onboard in time for the eventual release of the Windows 10 Creators Update this September, Microsoft also announced a Windows Mixed Reality development kit.
Mixed Reality Headset And Motion Controllers: Pricing And Availability
Developers can preorder the Acer VR headset now for $299 or the HP VR headset for $329 on Microsoft's store. These headsets will ship "later this summer." Microsoft didn't announce a specific standalone price for the controllers, presumably because the device will initially be available through partners only. Acer is set to offer a $399 bundle that includes its VR headset and the new Mixed Reality motion controllers, although it won't be available until the holiday season.
Windows Mixed Reality Motion Controllers
In terms of aesthetics, Microsoft's new controllers is similar to the Oculus Touch controllers and, by extension, the "wands" that come with the HTC Vive. Each controller bears a joystick and a trackpad, with a small menu button, a plus button on the side, and large rings at the top. Lights inside this ring help the headset track the user's movements.
Microsoft Goes Big On Mixed Reality
As you can see, Microsoft is working with a lot of partners to push Mixed Reality further up the commercial spectrum, and it's wise to do so. Its flagship mixed reality device called HoloLens, priced at $3,000, isn't exactly what you'd call market-friendly. Microsoft needs a palatable — and affordable — entry point for mixed reality devices to start kindling traction and, along with its partners, have to hope that these devices can do that for them.
Microsoft is the choice company if you want to create cool things. Or at least that's what Microsoft's big pitch is during the Build conference. Heading into mixed reality means the company is charting untapped waters, largely because the mixed reality platform has had very little, though significant, development. Microsoft is eager and ready to claim a stake in the technology like it did with PCs many decades ago. Time will tell if it succeeds.
All told, it's still a risky move. VR, while managing to enter popular dialogue, still has trouble penetrating homes, partly because of the high cost of owning high-end dedicated VR devices, not to mention its heavy specs requirements. Not everyone can spend that much on a new technology, but Microsoft's relatively fair price points might just change that.