Microsoft has launched a 3D asset optimization service called Simplygon Cloud, which the software giant says will enable people to view 3D images and video without special hardware.
Simplygon Cloud's origins can be traced back to Microsoft's deal to buy Simplygon, the Swedish maker of automatic 3D optimization software, in January for an undisclosed amount. The technology takes complex 3D models and cuts them down to size while maintaining much of the detail that 3D artists and developers originally created.
This enables video game studios, not to mention developers building enterprise augmented reality and virtual reality applications, to transfer their creations from professional graphics workstations and other high-end 3D rendering systems to less powerful business- and consumer-grade devices.
For Microsoft, bridging the performance gap between high-quality 3D and affordable hardware and software solutions is key to its mixed-reality vision.
"Historically, 3D asset optimization has taken days or weeks of manual effort and is one of the tasks that artists and developers dislike the most," said Lorraine Bardeen, general manager of Windows Mixed Reality Experiences at Microsoft, in a Dec. 7 announcement. "With Simplygon, you can create 3D assets once—at full visual fidelity—and automatically optimize them to render smoothly on any platform within minutes, saving valuable time and money."
As shown in this blog post, Simplygon is able to shrink a 3D model of a couch consisting of 584,000 polygons to a model with only 5,000 that can be suitably rendered on a device with a modest GPU capabilities while remaining fairly faithful to the original. Simplygon Cloud is available now in the Amazon Marketplace.
Besides the Simplygon aquisition, Microsoft has investing heavily to bring mixed reality into the mainstream.
The company continues to find ways to get HoloLens, its standalone augmented-reality headset, into the hands of corporate customers. In September, Microsoft joined Ford to announce that the automaker was using the $3,000 device to design cars faster and more collaboratively while reducing its reliance on costly physical prototypes.
On the consumer side, the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is helping to usher in an era of mixed-reality experiences that run on off-the-shelf PCs.
In time of the holidays, Microsoft and its hardware partners are relying on a combination of 3D software components within the operating system update along with a range of affordable Windows Mixed Reality headsets to bring VR into the home. Starting at $299, headset bundles that include hand controllers are available from Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo. By comparison, Facebook's Oculus Rift sells for $399 and HTC Vive has a price tag of $599.
However, Microsoft will soon be getting some competition in the affordable VR space.
In early 2018, Facebook plans to ship Oculus Go, a standalone VR headset that costs $199. Despite the low price, the company says it isn't skimping on visual quality.
"The high-resolution fast-switch LCD screen dramatically improves visual clarity and reduces screen door effect. And the next-generation lenses are our best ever—offering a wide field of view with significantly reduced glare," wrote Oculus representatives in an Oct. 11 announcement.