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Microsoft takes on Oculus, Twitch in new Windows 10 update

Creators Update launches for free this spring, brings mixed reality functionality to HoloLens

Today's Microsoft Event showed the company taking both its Windows 10 platform and HoloLens technology in new directions, bringing the firm into the virtual reality and livestreaming markets.

A free expansion, known as the Windows 10 Creators Update, will be released this spring and introduces a number of new apps and functions designed to enable users of various types to produce more content.

Perhaps the most notable example was the latest demonstration of HoloLens. While the company reiterated the augmented reality technology, allowing users to see virtual objects in their own homes, the device now appears to have mixed reality capabilities. In the demo, the stage seen through HoloLens was replaced with a virtual space the wearer had customised. The user was also able to view 360-degree videos via the HoloTour app, placing them before the Pantheon in Rome.

It's an interesting direction for the tech given that Microsoft went to great lengths to separate themselves from the virtual reality arms race. Many in the industry believe that mixed reality is the natural end point for anyone working in either augmented or virtual reality.

Even Oculus' Jason Rubin told GamesIndustry.biz earlier this year: "The truth of the matter is there's not that much difference between AR and VR. You can have an AR device that blacks out the background entirely and becomes a VR device. You could have a VR device that has some sort of camera and/or the screens are translucent and it becomes an AR device. The difference is the use case."

The change in direction was further demonstrated when Microsoft explained its plans to provide "Virtual Reality for everyone", which was taken further with the revelation that the firm had teamed up with key electronics partners to bring a new range of VR headsets to market next year. HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Asus will each release a VR device specifically for Windows 10.

The company took a shot at the likes of Oculus and HTC Vive, stating that while other virtual reality devices are priced at $500 or more, this new range will begin at $299. It was also implied that these will not require high-end PCs, but will be compatible with a broader range of Windows 10 machines.

The Windows 10 Creators Update will also introduce new functionality built with the games industry specifically in mind. Xbox's Jenn McCoy took to the stage to announce that the update will introduce built-in steaming functionality for games broadcasters, a move undoubtedly made to compete with Twitch.

Thanks to the technology of streaming service Beam, which Microsoft acquired earlier this year, Windows 10 users will be able to livestream any games they are playing without the need to download an extra client or configure their stream. They will also be able to set up audience interaction, demonstrated by a Forza Horizon 3 player giving viewers the option to suggest going off road or taking a shortcut.

The tech will integrate with Xbox Live to inform friends when a user is streaming in an attempt to build up audiences, as well as the new Xbox Clubs functionality to target certain user groups.

Other games-related announcements included the ability to create custom tournaments through Xbox Live, the ability to export and 3D Print creations from Minecraft through the newly-announced 3D Paint, and the introduction of Dolby Atmos support to Xbox One.

Tellingly, the company referred to the newly-released Xbox One S as "one of the most popular Windows 10 gaming devices", further stressing that Microsoft is determined to blur the lines between PC and console with its latest operating system.

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