Microsoft's first tethered Windows 10 VR headsets to ship in March

Microsoft's first tethered VR headsets ship as part of developer kits for those looking to create apps based on the Windows Holographic platform

Microsoft will ship its first PC-attached mixed reality headsets for Windows 10 PCs to developers starting in March at the Game Developers Conference.

The first Windows 10 VR headsets from Microsoft will be units for developers to write and test applications based on the Windows Holographic platform.

The headsets will work with Windows 10 Creators Update, said Vlad Kolesnikov, senior program manager at Microsoft, during a webcast on Friday.

GDC is being held from Feb. 27 to March 3 in San Francisco.

Microsoft isn't expected to sell Windows 10 VR headsets commercially. Those will be available later this year through companies Lenovo, Acer, Asus, HP, Dell and 3Glasses, which demonstrated headsets at the CES trade show earlier this month.

The head-mounted displays work like HoloLens, allowing users to interact with 3D objects that show up as floating images on real-world backgrounds. Like Oculus Rift, users can also watch movies, use apps, play games in 3D with the headset.

These headsets need to be tethered to PCs, which provide the computing horsepower. That's different from the HoloLens, which is a full-blown computer in a headset.

Microsoft will provide updates on the VR development APIs during a Windows Developer Day webcast on February 8, Kolesnikov said.

VR can be demanding on a PC, and Microsoft has set minimum hardware requirements to support the headsets. A laptop will need no less than an Intel Core i5 chip based on Kaby Lake architecture and 8GB of dual-channel RAM, and a desktop needs an Intel Core i5 chip based on Skylake. Gamers will require a faster GPU, CPU and memory for headsets to keep up with the fast-moving games. The headsets will also support AMD CPUs and GPUs, though the specifications haven't been provided yet.

The headset will be detected as soon as it is plugged it into a Windows 10 PC, and drivers will be installed automatically. The next step will be to set up an "active space," or area in which users can play with the VR headset without hitting furniture or walls. The headset will scan and map the room and will issue a warning if a user steps out of an active space.

A built-in camera will take pictures of the environment to create a mapping model, and the headset will also have tracking technology to check user movement.

Headsets will also work with Cortana, so users can speak to give commands or interact with content. Initially the headsets will support nine languages, and more will be added during the holiday season this year.

Microsoft will make all of its universal Windows 10 apps, like Skype, compatible with the headset. Starting with Creators Update, the company will host a "Movie and TV app" with 360-degree videos that can be viewed on the VR headset. The Edge browser will also have VR support through the WebVR standard. In addition, company is also porting some HoloLens apps to the VR headset.

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