Innovation

Windows 10 to get 3D makeover to prepare for new $299 VR/AR headsets

Next spring, Microsoft will be releasing Windows 10 Creators Update, a 3D-focused revamp for its flagship OS.

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The new Windows 10 headsets.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft plans to put 3D and virtual reality at the heart of Windows 10, as it gets ready for the release of a host of low-cost VR headsets designed to run on its flagship OS.

The company announced that HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, and Acer will release virtual reality head-mounted displays, with prices starting from $299.

In a dig at high-priced competing VR headsets, Facebook's $599 Oculus Rift and $799 HTC Vive, Terry Myerson, Microsoft's lead for the Windows and Devices team, described the new Windows 10-powered devices as being more affordable than "those other less-immersive accessories".

While not detailing the specs of these new headsets, Myerson said they are the only head-mounted displays to offer six degrees of freedom with "zero need for a separate room" and "zero need for a complicated setup" of external sensors.

However, there is no word so far on the quality of the headsets and the devices are priced from $299, so there is no guarantee that a high-end offering won't also end up costing more than $500.

Possible uses for VR and augmented reality (AR) headsets running Windows 10 were shown off at a Microsoft event in New York today, by someone wearing the HoloLens, Microsoft's AR headset.

The headset was shown first being used to display Microsoft's Edge browser, which appeared as a window in the user's vision. The demoer selected 3D objects from an online store in Microsoft Edge and then dropped actual-sized 3D models of stools from the furniture site Houzz around the room to see what they looked like in real life.

He then switched to using one of the forthcoming Windows 10 VR headsets, with a mock-up of what he was seeing showing a virtual space with a large TV screen and virtual shelves stocked with apps and 3D models, and with the Edge browser appearing as a large window in his view.

Finally he demonstrated Holotour, an interactive tourism site that allows various locations to be visited in VR, in this instance the Pantheon in Rome. At present this site is listed as 'only on Microsoft HoloLens' but in the demo it was shown running on one of the new headsets.

To complement these new headsets, Windows 10 will get a series of new features focused on making it easier to create and share 3D content, as part of the Windows 10 Creators Update, which will be delivered free to Windows 10 users next spring.

The Creators Update will add Paint 3D to Windows 10, a new version of Microsoft Paint, which is geared towards letting users create 3D objects and includes an online store, accessible via a sidebar, where the community can share 3D models created using Paint, Minecraft and SketchUp.

In a demo of Paint, the audience was shown a real-world sandcastle being scanned using Windows Capture 3D Experience running on a HP X3 handset, although Microsoft said it would run on any device.

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The sandcastle is scanned into the phone.

Image: Microsoft

That full color, 3D model of the sandcastle was then dropped into Paint 3D, as a fully-rotatable 3D object, had a 2D photo placed in front and was mixed with another 3D model of a beach scene. 2D images could also be laid over the top of 3D models as stickers and 2D doodles, such as a cloud, transformed into 3D models.

That 3D model of the sandcastle was then published to the community store, and shared on Facebook as a 3D model that could be interacted with directly in the feed.

That same 3D model was later downloaded by the demoer wearing the Microsoft HoloLens headset, where it sat on a virtual shelf in VR.

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The 3D sandcastle model is dropped into the vision of the user wearing the Microsoft HoloLens.

Image: Microsoft

"What you also saw today was the birth of a new medium, a future where you can move from 2D constructs to 3D form, from 3D objects to hologram and from hologram to mixed reality," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who once again stressed how this 3D functionality would appeal to professional creators, much like the Surface Studio all-in-one PC released today.

He went on to describe the demo as "the magic you can create when you take the malleable resource of software and mix it with hardware innovation".

Other forthcoming features in the Creators Update are aimed at making it easier to use Windows 10 to connect with a small group of friends and family.

The Windows MyPeople feature will allow users to pin their favorite contacts to the Windows taskbar and drag and drop any documents, photos or videos they wish to share with them onto that contact's face.

Clicking on that person will also bring up email or Skype messages just from that person, screening out messages from other users. Another feature, called Shoulder Taps, will allow those individuals to send the user emojis and other clipart, which pop up above their face on the task bar.

Finally, a variety of gaming-related updates will be delivered in Windows 10 as part of the Creators Update, such as Beam integration for broadcasting gameplay on Xbox Live.

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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