Hands-on: Microsoft’s “Mixed Reality” VR Motion Controllers

Microsoft debuted the lengthily-named “Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers” back in May, but until now we haven’t had a chance to actually try them out. During a recent meeting with Microsoft in San Francisco, I got to try the VR controllers for the first time paired with the Acer Windows VR headset.

Microsoft’s VR controllers are designed to let you reach into VR and interact naturally with the virtual world. With both a trackpad and a thumbstick, they look like a crossbreed of the Oculus Touch controllers and the Vive controllers.

In addition to the trackpad and thumbstick, there’s also a menu button and a Start button, as well as a grip button along the handle. The big circular parts on the front contain an array of LEDs which provide bright markers for the headset’s on-board cameras to detect and track. Microsoft tells us that the shipping version of the controllers will indeed use visible-light, just like we’ve seen in renderings and promo videos. (Microsoft didn’t allow any pictures of the controllers during my hands-on time).

Buttons and Inputs

Image courtesy Microsoft

Grabbing the controllers for the first time, they didn’t feel quite as elegant as either Touch or the Vive controllers. The odd side-by-side trackpad & thumbstick arrangement is useable, but seems to effectively put neither of the two in an ideal position for your thumb. The grip button is indeed a binary button (rather than being pressure sensitive), and doesn’t feel so much like a “grab” as it does a clicky button press with your palm.

Ergonomics

Though they resemble Touch with their ring-shaped tracking appendages, the Windows motion controllers are actually noticeably larger and clunkier thanks to the placement of the tracking rings, which don’t encompass your hand like Touch, making the controllers easier to bump together, especially when their physical outline is hidden in VR.

The shape of the rings is necessary though, as they need to present a substantial surface area from which the headset’s on-board cameras can track their movement. Though I was using the Acer dev kit headset, our understanding is that these controllers will work with any of the soon to be released Windows VR headsets (all of which feature on-board cameras).

Pros and Cons of Inside-out Controller Tracking

Image courtesy Microsoft

This method of controller tracking differs from both the Rift and the Vive in that it’s the cameras on the headset which are watching the controllers to track their movement (which is called ‘Inside Out’), whereas the Rift and Vive both use external sensors to track their controllers (called ‘Outside In’).

The upside to this approach is that you don’t need to set up any external trackers, but the downside is that the controllers must always be in view of the headset’s front-facing cameras to be properly tracked. Thankfully, the size of the tracking volume felt reasonable; for basic use (like reaching out in front of me to grab virtual objects), I didn’t feel like my reach was artificially limited by the camera’s field of view.

Outside of the Box Tracking

And for times when your hands will go out of the camera’s field of view, Microsoft is doing its best to compensate. When that happens, the system relies purely on the controller’s on-board IMU to estimate positional movement until it reappears in the camera’s view. This works well enough for quick jumps in and out of the camera’s view, but after a second or two, the IMU-only tracking estimation is too unreliable, and it appears that the system will eventually freeze the location of the controllers in the air and only feed them the rotation data from the IMU, though they snap quickly back into their proper place as soon as they’re brought back into view. It remains to be seen how much this limitation (the need to be seen by the front-facing cameras) will impact different VR games and apps, and how effectively it can be designed around.

Tracking Accuracy

As for the tracking accuracy when they are in sight of the camera, I did see some jumpiness here and there—especially if I was rotating my body while moving the controllers—but on the whole they seem entirely usable, and (in my short time with them thus far) to be more accurate than the PlayStation Move controllers.

As part of my testing, I played Arizona Sunshine (2016), and found that guns were steady when I held them out in front of me and aimed down their sites; I didn’t have any trouble landing zombie headshots. Granted, for inside-out controller tracking, holding a gun up in front of me to aim is pretty much the best case scenario—I’m curious to see how other common input modalities hold up (like shooting a bow and arrow or swinging a sword).

The occasional jumps didn’t present much issue in a shooting scenarios, but for more precise uses, like VR drawing, painting, and animating, it remains to be seen if those jumps will cause any usability issues.

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Microsoft says that the Mixed Reality motion controllers will be bundled with Windows VR headsets starting at $400 this holiday.

SOURCE: https://www.roadtovr.com/microsoft-mixed-reality-vr-motion-controllers-hands-on/

Microsoft’s Future Is About Much More Than PCs

A woman demonstrates the new Microsoft Corp. Acer Mixed Reality Headset during the #MicrosoftEDU event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Microsoft Corp. is releasing a new version of its flagship operating system, Windows 10, aimed at customers who want a more straightforward product that offers faster speed and better security. Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Microsoft brought its Office suite to Apple’s iPad in 2014, many observers viewed it as a move to strengthen the company’s presence in the mobile space — even if it meant working with a fierce rival. It was also a sign that then-new CEO Satya Nadella was committed to extending his company’s reach beyond laptops and desktops, where its Windows software already dominated the market (and still does.)

Three years later, it’s clear that Nadella remains committed to that plan. During this week’s Build conference, an annual Microsoft event for software developers, the Redmond, Wash.-based firm showed off a new version of Windows, a new controller for virtual reality experiences, and improvements for its Cortana artificial intelligence software. Yes, Microsoft missed the boat on mobile. But, taken together, these announcements show that it’s committed not only to making up lost ground, but also to powering the next big thing in tech, no matter what that might be.

Microsoft’s work on Cortana perhaps best highlights the company’s platform-agnostic approach. Whereas rivals like Apple have limited their digital aides to work with only their own hardware, Cortana is available for everything from Windows devices to Internet-connected speakers and cars to, yes, the iPhone. Microsoft sees a particular advantage in making Cortana useful in the workplace, given the company’s historical dominance there. One demonstration during Build showed how an office worker might use Cortana on a living room speaker to get everyday tasks done with simple voice commands, like posting updates to the company’s workplace chatroom, getting traffic notifications while driving to a meeting, or requesting time off.

Meanwhile, the forthcoming update will make Windows 10 the most multi-platform version of the software Microsoft has ever made. Cortana will help users seamlessly transition between devices, whether they run Windows or not. An improved clipboard makes it possible to copy and paste content between Windows, Android, and iOS devices. And a new video editing app called Story Remix lets users work on projects across devices — if you get some work done on an Apple device then switch back to a Windows computer, it’ll pick up where you left off.

But Microsoft’s boldest bet is on virtual and augmented reality. Its Windows 10 Mixed Reality software powers a range of experiences that, when used with hardware like the upcoming headsets from Acer and HP, blend the physical and digital worlds. The jury is still out on whether VR will go mainstream any time soon. But if it does, Microsoft is well-positioned to be a dominant force in the field. “If we can get that presence right, I think it’s just going to revolutionize our lives, allow us to connect when we’re apart,” Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of Windows and devices, told TIME in a previous interview.

There is good reason for Microsoft’s cross-platform approach. Worldwide PC shipments dipped by 2.4% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2017, according to research firm Gartner. Another firm, IDC, says shipments actually grew in this year’s first quarter, but only by 0.6%. Those numbers are bad news if your company is tied to PCs in the way Microsoft has historically been. So this kind of forward-looking hedging may give Microsoft a way to stay relevant in the future.

“If anything, one big mistake we made in our past was to think of the PC as the hub for everything for all time to come,” Nadella told ZDNet in 2015. “Therefore, we have to be on the hunt for what’s the next bend in the curve.” Nobody can predict the future, of course. But Microsoft looks more prepared than ever for whatever’s around the corner.

SOURCE: http://time.com/4777411/microsoft-build-windows-cortana/

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