For God’s sake, stop trying to make Microsoft Bob a thing. It’s over

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Vid Microsoft has entered the virtual reality race, announcing a new headset called Evo in collaboration with Intel.

The headset will have the same advanced features of current high-end products including the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and soon-to-be-launched Sulon Q, but will work with mid-range laptops, the company said.

Up to now, Microsoft has focused its VR efforts on augmented reality (AR) and its Hololens glasses that add digital elements on a screen that you look through to the real world. The Evo will go full VR, covering your eyes and then reflecting an augmented reality back to you.

Critically, the Evo will allow for “inside-out” spacial awareness, meaning that sensors will be built into the headset to allow you to walk around a physical space with the headset, rather than requiring that external sensors be set up within your room to define a space.

That inside-out technology is what Sulon Q hopes to help it get first maneuver advantage on the market when it launches early next year, while both the Rift and Vive are furiously working on their own versions.

Promotional videos for Microsoft’s new Evo also show the headset as being wireless – again, something that Sulon Q is pushing as a unique advantage to its system (it has a full Windows 10 computer built into the headset), and something that both Oculus and Vive are working on.

At the moment, high-end headsets have to be physically connected by a wire to a high-spec computer. The Evo, on the other hand, will be wirelessly paired with a computer to achieve, well, this:

Youtube Video

Hm, what does this remind us of? Oh yes, that’s right. Microsoft Bob. Which it tried to make a success in 2015. And failed. It even has the little dog in the corner, too. Maybe 2017 will be kinder.

Youtube Video

Back to 2016: if Microsoft announced a new VR headset that wasn’t wireless and didn’t have inside-out tracking, it would have been laughed out of the room. The big question is when will it launch?

And on that Microsoft is being wildly vague. It says its Hololens should be available “in the first half of 2017,” and it says it has already shared the specs for PCs that will power its new headset, with those PCs available “next year.” It says developer kits will be made available to developers at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in February.

And it announced that the hardware developer 3Glasses will “bring the Windows 10 experience to their S1 device in the first half of 2017” – but that’s not the same as saying Microsoft Evo headsets will be available by then.

Incidentally the minimum specs for the new headsets are:

  • Intel Mobile Core i5 dual-core
  • Intel HD Graphics 620 (GT2) or equivalent
  • 8GB RAM
  • HMDI 1.4 or 2
  • 100GB drive (preferably solid state)
  • Bluetooth 4.0

Taking all the announcements together, it looks as though Microsoft is aiming at a Q3 or Q4 2017 launch of its VR headset – a timeline that is likely to give Oculus, Vive and Sulon a few months’ head start, but probably not enough of one to steal the market.

Where Microsoft and Intel really could win, however, is if they do manage to create a good VR system that requires a less powerful machine to run. That would pull down the price tag for the whole system and place it above the current best offering on the market – the PlayStation VR – in terms of quality. ®

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