Microsoft has been hyping up mixed reality for years now – starting off with the Hololens in 2015. In a mere two weeks, the first batch of MR headsets hit the market – including a new headset from Samsung that was just announced. The Samsung HMD Odyssey joins the existing lineup of MR headsets, and will make use of SteamVR and Microsoft itself has acquired AltSpaceVR. AltSpaceVR is possibly one of the biggest long-term benefits to the mixed reality headsets since it is a social platform and can open the doors to not only mixed reality, but also life itself to people who may otherwise avoid interaction.
Social integration with things like Second Life over a decade ago gave people who may have had trouble interacting in the real world a chance to overcome some hurdles in that space, while Sony’s PlayStation Home service did that with 3D avatars a decade ago as well on the PlayStation 3. These were each big steps for some, while the use of mixed reality places people in more realistic-looking settings and could really allow people to find themselves or overcome social anxiety issues to some degree. With its usage of live events and gaming activities, it really does feel like an evolution of the PlayStation Home concept merged with a bit of some Kinect Sports-style interaction thanks to things like disc gof and other sporting events being included.
For something to work on several levels, having an easy barrier of entry is important and by having this as a “meet celebrities, play games” service and then also including the ability to interact with new people, it can be a Trojan horse of sorts to help people without necessarily needing to try and so on. Those who want to ease into the more social aspects can do so, but still enjoy the app’s jukebox, or even learn to paint with their device of choice. It’s nice to see the ability to learn a skill to some degree integrated and gaining a skill could be a way for someone to also gain more confidence. Microsoft has long heralded itself as a revolutionary company, but doing something like this that could very well better the lives of its users actually lives up to that goal – hopefully, the service lasts long enough to do some real good over the long-haul.
Samsung joining the lineup of mixed reality headsets is a bit of a surprise, and the headset itself looks like a hybrid of the PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift. It combines the rounded edges of the PS VR with the built-in headphone style of the Rift and an all-black appearance that looks pretty slick. The device includes motion controllers caked in lights to presumably aid in positioning, and gives users a 110 degree field of view. This means that things like landscapes will be viewable with relative easy, while the dual AMOLED displays will result in vivid images. Going with high-resolution screens is important too since that can reduce eye strain while using VR and anything that makes the content easier to view is better in both the short and long-term for the user.
The Odyssey is available for pre-order now and costs $499.99. You can choose to pay it all in one go, or if you get approved for financing, you can pay about $83 a month for it over the course of six months. While most retailer options give you similar financing for major purchases, it’s good to see a manufactorer offer something like this to make mixed reality and VR experiences more accessible for users on a tight budget. The use of 360 degree spatial audio should make things more immersive – especially for things like Perfect that aim to deliver relaxing real-world experiences. You can also use Cortana with the device to move around Windows as you need to.
The release dates of October 17 for the first round of mixed reality headsets is finally etched in stone, and it looks like they are doing a top-shelf job getting launch content out for it. Superhot VR is probably the killer app for action gaming, while the mainstream and creative types will love Minecraft in VR. Arizona Sunshine, Luna, Skyworld Move, Free the Night, and Obduction will also be released at launch. Steam VR content will also be playable on the devices too. Beyond the Samsung Odyssey, the Acer Mixed Reality, HP Mixed Reality, Dell Visor, and Lenovo Explorer headsets will all be available on October 17 alongside the fall creators update. With a wide variety of headsets available and a starting price of $400 for the Lenovo Explorer, the barrier of entry for high-end VR experience is lowering. This means that in the space of one calendar year, it will have gone from about $800 for the HTC Vive and $600 for the Rift to now having almost a dozen options available for PC users. The only caveat for them being that most of them will need the upcoming creators update to work.
Fortunately, with that being a free update, it shouldn’t hold anyone back from enjoying VR. Having far more options available means that pricing will be at a reasonable level and with $400 being a new starting point, it gives plenty of room for major sales. Unfortunately, with these launching right before Black Friday, it seems unlikely that any of the new headsets will receive a drop in price or even software bundles in that time. With the start of the new year, maybe we’ll see some software bundling – maybe even through things like a Humble Bundle that would allow users to buy VR content at a super-low price point to then enjoy it fully down the line. This is an exciting time for VR, and with its usage extending far beyond gaming into social uses that could really help people out. The technology may not change the world as a whole – but it can change someone’s world individually if it allows them to see more of the world than they otherwise would, or helps even one person overcome social anxiety issues. Hopefully, the cost of the hardware keeps falling and allows it to get into more hands over time to really do some good.