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Virtual RealityMicrosoft has announced it is opening up its Windows Holographic platform to partners, in an effort to drive forward its vision of mixed reality.

The vision of Window Holographic, the platform which currently powers the Microsoft HoloLens offering, is to create a platform where various different devices and experiences can create a hybrid reality environment, merging the physical and virtual worlds. Devices struggle to integrate currently due to the number of different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals and applications. Microsoft is hoping Window Holographic can be the answer to this challenge, despite the fact a number of the devices would be in direct competition with Microsoft HoloLens.

While Microsoft is not the only company to have developed a virtual reality headset, it is one of the very few who have built support for mixed reality into their OS. In opening up the idea is to give developers the freedom to create virtual reality experiences which can operate on a broader range of devices, including smartphone-based systems such as Google Cardboard or expensive PC-tethered headsets such as Oculus Rift. Once the VR and AR evolution branches out into social media and other outlets, there will be a requirement for a common language.

“Imagine wearing a VR device and seeing your physical hands as you manipulate an object, working on the scanned 3-D image of a real object, or bringing a real-life holographic representation of another person into your virtual world so you can collaborate,” the company said on its blog. “In this world, devices can spatially map your environment wherever you are; manipulating digital content is as easy and natural as it is in the real world.”

The platform will offer a holographic shell and user interface, perception APIs, and Xbox Live services. The team are now collaborating with a number of organizations including Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, HTC, Acer, ASUS, Dell, Falcon Northwest, HP, Lenovo and MSI to create a hardware ecosystem which will support the virtual reality experience.

The mixed reality market is expected to be an area of healthy growth during the next few years, with industrial applications one of the most lucrative areas. The market itself is estimated to be valued in the region of $450 million by 2020, though the consumer market is expected to be slightly constrained by various factors including price, battery life and image latency.

“With Windows 10, we’ve been on an incredible journey with our partners, and today we usher in the next frontier of computing – mixed reality,” said Terry Myerson, EVP of Windows and Devices.

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