Microsoft details VR headsets from Dell, Asus, and more

Microsoft has revealed a wealth of new information about their upcoming VR headsets from HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer, including several October release dates, general hardware specifications, prices, and game distribution.

The good news is each headset will feature inside-out tracking, Steam support, and will start at around a $400 price point, which means they should be able to compete with the recent price cuts of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive even with a comparably newer tracking system. The bad news for gamers is that the tracking for the Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers appears to have some limitations thanks to this new system, but since these headsets are designed more for social and business VR than gaming, perhaps it won't hurt them in the long run.

Here's a look at what we've learned about the new Microsoft virtual reality (or mixed reality, or extended reality, or whatever you want to call it) ecosystem.

A New Set of Specs

As far as tecnical specifications go the new headsets are largely identical, and are only set apart from their older brothers over at Oculus and HTC by a slightly smaller 95-degree FOV, a significant resolution upgrade to dual 1440 x 1440 displays, inside-out tracking (which eliminates the need for external sensors separate from the headset), and several quality-of-life upgrades like a front-hinged display and built-in audio hardware.

As you would expect there are also number of aesthetic differences between each headset, but they all seem to be running off a similar Microsoft reference design so at this point it’s safe to assume that brand loyalty and personal comfort are going to be more of a determining factor when choosing between these new headsets than unique hardware or features.

Three Names, A little over a Month

At this point Dell and Asus have all confirmed that their VR headsets are due to release in the coming months, with Lenovo likely not far behind.

Dell has announced that the Dell Visor is set to launch sometime in October, and will feature a base cost of $350 for the headset, and an additional $100 for the Microsoft Mixed Reality touch controller, meaning that you’ll likely see bundles at or around $450 when it hits store shelves.

Lenovo has followed a similar pricing strategy with their newly minted Lenovo Explorer immersive headset, offering the headset on its own for $349 and a bundle with motion controllers included for $449.

Meanwhile Asus has dubbed their headset the Asus Mixed Reality Headset, and has priced out their headset and controller combo at around €450 euros, which in greenbacks comes out to around $540. Although it’s worth mentioning that at this point there’s no news on an official U.S. price, although we’ll likely hear more between now and the assumed release date of October 17, based on the Asus store page.   

HP and Acer haven’t made any big announcements concerning their headsets, but it’s likely we’ll hear from both companies soon.  

How important are these headsets for Gamers?

The important question for gamers is how these new headsets will perform in a fast-paced gaming environment. Originally these headsets were built solely with business and social features in mind, but Microsoft has also announced that we’re due to see them get support on the Steam marketplace, which indicates that these headsets could easily cross over into the VR gaming community.

Valve’s Joe Ludwig said of the new headsets: “The introduction of Windows Mixed Reality headsets is big step forward for VR. Working with Microsoft to include SteamVR compatibility with these devices is also a big step in growing VR as an open platform for developers and consumers."

So, there’s an intent, and we could eventually see these headsets taking advantage of VR games large and small, and with a good PC behind them there’s little keeping them from delivering a quality experience.

Unfortunately, there are reportedly limits to the inside-out tracking that could potentially change the way you have to play VR games with the Microsoft Mixed Reality motion controllers. Inside-out tracking takes advantage of the cameras and sensors on the front of the headset to track movement in game, and to warn players when they’re getting close to boundaries.

These cameras and sensors also keep track of the location of your motion controllers, but it’s important to note that the sensors can only keep track of the controllers when they’re in the headset’s line of sight, and if they exit that boundary they do their best to keep track of the motion via the controller’s inertial measurement unit (IMU), which while reasonable in the short term, breaks down the longer the headset is forced to predict the position of the controllers without the aid of the front-facing camera.

The result is a controller that you have to be much more careful with than the Vive and the Oculus Rift, because blind spots will crop up when reaching behind you, around virtual corners, or anywhere you aren’t directly looking. It’s not an impossible obstacle to overcome, considering it’s only in certain fast-paced VR titles where you’ll regularly be forced to react to targets out of instinct rather than by turning and looking at them, but it is a difference that you’ll want to take into account if you pick up one of these VR headsets hoping to use it for gaming.

We'll have continuing coverage of the Microsoft VR ecosystem as more information is released.