With next year's Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft is integrating 3D capabilities for virtual reality and augmented reality headsets into the standard Windows operating system. Along with this, companies including Lenovo, HP, Dell, Asus, and Acer will be shipping a range of VR headsets starting at just $299.
This will bring down the price of PC-based VR, but the headset isn't the only expense: both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have relatively steep hardware requirements. In particular, they need relatively fast, discrete GPUs, with the Nvidia GTX 960 (Oculus) or 970 (Vive) being listed as minimum requirements. If Valve's hardware survey of Steam users is anything to judge by, even many PC gamers will need to upgrade in order to meet the minimum VR requirements.
Microsoft hasn't published the full Windows Holographic hardware requirements yet, but an application shipping in the latest preview builds, the Windows Holographic First Run app, gives some hints as to what they are. The app is similar to apps that Oculus and Valve have produced for their respective platforms: it checks your system specs to determine if it's going to be ready for VR systems. Microsoft's app is a little vague, but it seems to be aiming quite low: it requires a four-thread processor (either quad core or two core/four thread), 4GB RAM (lower than Oculus' 8GB requirement), USB 3, and some amount of disk space.
The most striking difference is in the GPU requirement. The Microsoft tool demands only DirectX 12 graphics. Notably, this isn't a requirement for a discrete GPU: the integrated GPU in Intel processors appears to pass the test (verified with Skylake), and in principle, everything from Haswell onward should make the grade. AMD's integrated graphics on 6000-series processors or better should also be good enough.
The First Run tool also tells you to clear an area of a few square feet to run VR apps, and it tries to establish positional tracking (though this step naturally fails due to the lack of hardware to test with). Interestingly, the app says to make sure that the device is visible to (presumably external) sensors. The hardware Microsoft is promising shouldn't need external sensors for positional tracking; it's claimed to have inside-out, six degree of freedom motion sensing, meaning that it can detect rotations and translations along all three axes without needing external references. HoloLens can achieve this by using its Kinect-style 3D mapping of the room, but neither the Oculus Rift nor the HTC Vive can achieve the same feat. They both need wall-mounted sensors to track translations. The implication here is that Windows Holographic will support both styles of headset depending on what users have available.
Still unknown is precisely what kind of user experience Microsoft is offering. Clearly these specs aren't going to hit the same performance as those of the first-generation headsets, but they may be competitive with VR experiences such as the GearVR. For introducing people to VR, that may well be good enough.