Windows Mixed Reality: everything you need to know

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (which you can now download and install) brings support for Windows Mixed Reality devices.

However, Windows Mixed Reality (MR) can be a confusing concept. Is it virtual reality (VR), like the Oculus Rift, or it is more like augmented reality (AR), which Microsoft has already dabbled in with its HoloLens?

The answer is that it’s a bit of both – though far more like the former than the latter.

Microsoft’s blended version of VR and AR is a new platform that's designed to immerse more users in the digital experience with lower-priced and less graphically-intensive headsets. To this end, the software maker has worked with leading computer manufacturers like Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo and Samsung to develop a more accessible head-mounted display (HMD) standard with a few ground rules.

As with high-end VR headsets, you wear a head-mounted display with two built-in screens to peer into a virtual world. And, as with VR, you can interact with your virtual world using handheld controllers – in this case pair of Microsoft-made motion controllers or an Xbox One controller.

However, instead of HTC Vive Lighthouses, Oculus Waypoints or other infrared beacons tracking where you're looking and going, these headsets use integrated cameras to scan the surrounding environment. Mixed Reality headsets can also run at low-end graphical settings, enabling something as lightweight as an Ultrabook to generate a digital world for users.

Cut to the chase

  • What is Mixed Reality? Microsoft’s blended VR/AR standard
  • When is Mixed Reality out? October 17
  • What will Mixed Reality cost? Headsets start at $299 or AU$599 (about £225)

Windows Mixed Reality release date

Windows Mixed Reality has been a top priority for Microsoft since last October, and the upcoming release of the Fall Creators Update on October 17 will cement Mixed Reality as a standard feature of Windows 10.

This is when Windows 10 will officially add support for Mixed Reality headsets. As we mentioned above, the Fall Creators update is now available to download and install, so follow our guide if you want to experience Mixed Reality right now.

Windows Mixed Reality price

The biggest differentiator between headsets for Windows Mixed Reality and those designed for VR is that the former can cost half as much. With prices for Mixed Reality headsets starting at $299/AU$599 (about £225), Microsoft’s new platform competes more closely with mobile VR devices – like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View – than with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Adding motion controllers doesn't dramatically up the cost – a few manufacturers, like Acer, are bundling a complete headset package for $399 in the US. For a full price breakdown, let’s look at all the headsets currently announced.

Acer Windows Mixed Reality HMD

Acer was one of the first companies to come out of the gate with a Windows Mixed Reality headset. It offers a display resolution of 1440 x 1440 per eye. Users can flip up the screen to quickly return to the real world – this is a regular feature of most, if not all, headsets in its class. Acer’s headset is also among the cheapest, at $299 in the US on its own or $399 (about £300, AU$510) with a pair of wireless motion controllers. Pre-orders for this headset opened on October 3 and will begin shipping on October 17.

Dell Visor

The Dell Visor (and all Mixed Reality headsets, really) have a lot in common with Acer’s, but we’ll go over the specs nonetheless. It boasts two 2.89-inch, 1440 x 1440-resolution LCD displays that you can, once again, flip up for a quick exit from the virtual world. There are a few extra creature comforts in the shape of removable foam inserts, cable management loops and an easily adjustable headband for a comfy and tight fit. The Dell Visor is available in the US to pre-order for $349 and for AU$799 in Australia (about £260) by itself, while you can add the controllers for an extra $99 (about £75, AU$130). Units will begin shipping on October 17.

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset Developer Edition

HP’s take on the Windows 10 MR headset looks much more Tron-like than the others. It keeps up with its rivals thanks to a 2880 x 1440 combined resolution and 90Hz display, but its field of view is a narrower 95 degrees. HP’s Mixed Reality headset is available now for $329 in the US (about £250) and for AU$799 in Australia on its own and $449 (about £340) bundled with motion controllers.

Lenovo Explorer

The Lenovo Explorer features all the same specs and comforts as the other Mixed Reality headsets. Its field of view also runs smack in the middle of the pack at 105 degrees. The good news is it’s just as affordable as Acer’s at $399 (about £300, AU$510) with motion controllers included.

Asus Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Asus differentiates its MR headset with a futuristic geometric front facade. Looks aside, it has all the same specs as its rivals, although its field of view is on the low side at 95 degrees. Asus has only revealed European pricing for its headset at €449, which means it’ll cost about $530, £400 or AU$670. You can register now for pre-order info.

Samsung HMD Odyssey

The Samsung HMD Odyssey is the latest Windows MR headset on the block, and it’s both the most advanced as well as the most expensive device of its class. For starters, it packs larger 3.5-inch AMOLED displays for more vibrant, lifelike images. Built-in AKG headphones also add in the immersive soundscape of 360-degree spatial sound. Costing a cool $499 (about £377, AU$638) with controllers included, the Samsung HMD Odyssey will ship later than the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets, on November 6.

Windows Mixed Reality requirements

Unlike virtual reality, you won’t need a killer rig to jump into virtual worlds. The minimum specs required for a Windows Mixed Reality PC are lightweight enough for most modern Ultrabooks to power a headset.

At the very least, you will need the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, coming October 17, an Intel Core i5-7200U processor or better, 8GB of DDR3 dual channel RAM or better, 10GB of free disk space, an Intel HD Graphics 620 or DX12-capable GPU, and HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 as well as USB 3.0 Type-A or Type-C.

Keep in mind that the above specs are only good enough for a 60-frames-per-second (fps) experience. To get to 90fps, Microsoft suggests a system specced with at least a desktop-grade Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 5 1400 3.4Ghz – or another quad-core processor. You'll also need a discreet GPU at least on the level of an Nvidia GTX 960.