Microsoft has announced that the first Windows Mixed Reality devices will be supported by a number of early VR games currently available, including support for Steam and SteamVR. Steam support is likely critical to the Mixed Reality concept, given that HTC’s Vive relies on it, and it’s still the largest VR market, despite recent gains by Oculus in that area.
“The introduction of Windows Mixed Reality headsets is a big step forward for VR,” Valve Software’s Joe Ludwig said via an emailed statement. “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. With a broad range of hardware options available from leading PC manufacturers, the Steam community will have more choice than ever to experience the amazing potential of VR.”
The first $ 300 mixed-reality headset to hit the market is from Acer, and Engadget has spent some time with the hardware. They praise its overall capability and describe the Windows Mixed Reality controllers that are compatible with it as being a best-of-both-worlds fusion of the Oculus Touch and the HTC Vive’s controllers. Overall, for $ 300, Engadget felt the experience compared quite well with the more expensive VR brands, with Acer’s 1440×1440 lenses also holding up against the Vive and Oculus, both of which use 1080×1200 per-eye.
Microsoft is pushing the idea that even simple systems with integrated graphics can also benefit from VR apps, though I think a great deal more testing is needed to confirm this. I’m skeptical for a simple reason. Integrated GPUs may have improved markedly over the years, particularly in comparison with midrange products, but they still don’t hold a candle to what a high-end GPU is capable of. The question isn’t so much whether an integrated GPU can run VR, but what kind of quality sacrifices will be required to run it well, and whether we’ll ever see games support this beyond the simplest titles. Microsoft claims that its control over the OS allows it to squeeze more efficiency out of lower-end GPUs, but we’ve never seen anyone squeeze GTX 1080 performance out of an Intel or AMD iGPU, no matter how many rounds of optimization they use. There’s a point where brute force — computation and memory bandwidth, in this case — is simply required to maintain a 90fps target.
Engadget reports that Minecraft, however, worked fairly well, while Microsoft has teased potential VR support in upcoming Halo titles, courtesy of its partnership with 343 Studios. More news on these efforts is expected in the coming days.
Generally speaking, we view the advent of lower-cost VR solutions as a good thing, even if HTC and Oculus don’t lead the pack in developing them. A large OEM like Acer can exploit economies of scale in ways that neither HTC or Oculus can, to say nothing of companies like HP and Dell. Moving headset prices down is critical to driving overall VR adoption and right now it looks like Steam will be a common repository for VR titles, even if Oculus, Vive, and other companies still operate their own storefronts or rental services.
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