With a new controller, Microsoft just took a big shot at Facebook and Sony in the race for cheap virtual reality

Windows Mixed Reality Acer bundle
The $US399 Acer bundle, available this holiday season, will bundle the headset with the new Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality controllers. Microsoft

This holiday season, Microsoft and Acer are teaming up for a $US399 virtual reality bundle — containing Acer’s $US299 Windows 10-powered virtual reality headset, along with brand-new motion controllers made by Microsoft specifically to control VR apps and games.

There’s one big question, right off the bat: Apart from apps like Netflix or the Edge browser that are already listed in Microsoft’s Windows Store, we don’t know what games or other software will work with the headset. It’s not immediately clear if it will support titles from Facebook’s Oculus Home app store or the SteamVR service at launch.

Despite the fact that the VR market is still in its early days, there are already a variety of competing hardware options available from the different tech companies, such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the Sony PlayStation VR.

The Microsoft/Acer set-up has a couple of good things going for it though.

The headset uses technology pioneered in the Microsoft HoloLens “holographic” headset to track the motion of your head, without needing you to set up cameras or other sensors. The new motion controllers are powered by the same technology, meaning you can wave them around and not have to worry about a camera tracking your position.

And at $US399 for both the headset and the controllers, or just $US299 for the headset itself, Microsoft and Acer are offering something very competitive on price.

Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers
A closer look at the Windows Mixed Reality controllers. Microsoft

Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and the Oculus Touch controllers to go with it, sell for about $US600 combined, plus you need a relatively beefy gaming PC to run it. Meanwhile, the minimum tech specs for Microsoft-certified virtual reality headsets like Acer’s are actually fairly modest, so it might be able to run on a Windows 10 PC you already own. And it seems a safe bet that it will work on Microsoft’s new “Project Scorpio” console, also launching this holiday season.

Oculus Rift setup
Facebook’s Oculus Rift, pictured, needs a camera (The skinny thing in the middle) to track your head as you move around. Corey Protin / Tech Insider

A Sony PlayStation VR headset is $US399, but you also need to buy the PlayStation Camera and PlayStation Move controllers to make it work. The complete PlayStation VR setup costs at least $US500 total. That doesn’t account for the $US249 minimum for a new PlayStation 4 console with which to use it, assuming you don’t already have one.

In other words, Microsoft and Acer have something easier to set up, and easier to use, at a price that’s as cheap or cheaper than anything else on the market.

A few months ago, I tried the developer version of the Acer headset, and it was surprisingly nice — lower-fidelity than an Oculus Rift, but I reckon you’d have to be a real VR connoisseur to tell the difference. And the camera-less head tracking worked without a hitch, freeing your motion greatly.

It’s the motion controllers that are still a question mark. Microsoft promises they have 6 degrees of freedom, letting you wave them around like Nintendo’s famed Wii remotes. The controllers use the same technology as the headset, so you don’t need to keep them within sight of a camera to work. It seems neat, but we’ll have to try them and see.

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