Microsoft kicked off their annual Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC for short) conference with OEM partners and Windows device builders to talk about the path forward for Windows 10. The direction: broader availability for "mixed reality" hardware and beefed-up security measures.

Microsoft's CVP of the Windows and Devices Group, Terry Myerson, revealed that HoloLens has been submitted to authorities in China to clear the device for use and sale to developers and business customers in the country. It is expected to be available sometime in the first half of 2017.

Then Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow who was also behind the creation of HoloLens, came on stage to talk mixed reality and Project Evo.

Avid Microsoft watchers should not be surprised by any of these announcements. Back in October, at the Windows 10 event where the Creators Update and Surface Studio were announced, we were told to expect more about the mixed reality elements, which were briefly mentioned as part of the Creators Update, this December at a separate event (WinHEC).

The WinHEC keynote held true to that statement as Microsoft's Alex Kipman gave more information about what is now known as Project Evo. This involves a partnership between Microsoft and Intel on the PC side and then Microsoft and six different hardware makers — ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, and 3Glasses in China — for the head mounted devices (HMDs). These partnerships will deliver mixed reality to all Windows 10 users running the Creators Update.

Microsoft and Intel shared the specs for these systems with their partners at WinHEC so they could target their own device line to support this new mixed reality environment on Windows 10.

Those specifications for builders reference designs are as follows:

  • CPU: Intel Mobile Core i5 (e.g. 7200U) dual-core with hyperthreading 
  • GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 (GT2) equivalent or greater
  • RAM: 8GB+ dual-channel required for integrated graphics
  • HDMI: HDMI 1.4 with 2880x1440@ 60 Hz, or HDMI 2.0 or DP 1.3+ with 2880x1440@ 90 Hz
  • Storage: 100GB+ SSD (preferred) / HDD
  • USB: USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 for accessories

The plan is to deliver the following functionality to these Project Evo based devices:

  • Far-field speech communications so you can ask Cortana a question or play a song from across the room.
  • The latest security capabilities to protect devices from malware and hacking threats, advances in biometric authentication with Windows Hello, sophisticated insights from Microsoft’s Intelligent Security Graph, additional world-class security intelligence, and analytics from Intel.
  • Mixed reality experiences for everyone through affordable PCs and head mounted displays (HMDs) that blend the physical and virtual realities in ways that no other platform can.
  • Gaming innovations like eSports, game broadcasting and support for 4K, High Dynamic Range (HDR), Wide Color Gamut (WCG), spatial audio, and Xbox controllers with native Bluetooth.

So if Microsoft's HoloLens is so popular why would Microsoft even think about dabbling in mixed/virtual reality?

Well, HoloLens was never intended as a consumer device. Its target audience has always been developers and business customers. However, because of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps developed for HoloLens should also run on these Project Evo devices and HMDs. That is the consumer audience's opportunity to get into this new arena using Windows Holographic on Windows 10.

Microsoft is also establishing a new price point to bring consumers into the world of mixed/virtual reality. By establishing a reasonable set of specifications for the hardware with Intel and then partnering with other companies to produce the HMDs at different entry levels from both a quality and cost perspective, it is a win for consumers and makes the opportunity more widely available for all users - especially from a cost perspective.

In other words, no need to spend $800 for an Occulus Rift headset and Touch controllers plus a very powerful and expensive PC to run everything. In addition, Project Evo HMDs will use a technology called Inside-Out tracking that eliminates the need for external space mapping and tracking devices to keep you from walking into walls while wearing an HMD. This technology will be built right into the HMDs.

Windows 10 users will then gain access to mixed reality features and content such as:

  • More than 20,000 universal Windows apps in the catalog
  • 3D objects from the web using Microsoft Edge to drag and drop into their physical world
  • Immersive WebVR content via Microsoft Edge
  • 360 degree videos available for the first time in the Movies & TV app

According to Microsoft, HMD DevKits will be available at the annual Gamers Developer Conference (GDC) in San Francisco in February of 2017.

But, wait...there's probably more so be sure to follow me on Twitter and Google+.