Microsoft Snaps Up AltspaceVR to Put a Social Spin on Mixed Reality

After a brush with corporate death, the AltspaceVR social virtual reality platform is acquired by Microsoft.

Social Virtual Reality

Microsoft's mixed-reality strategy just took a more social turn.

Anchored by augmented- and virtual-reality technologies, mixed reality is Microsoft's attempt to combine computer generated visuals, gestures and the physical world into immersive and potentially productivity-enhancing experiences. HoloLens, the company's flagship mixed-reality headset, is a prime example of the company's vision. In fact, Ford recently revealed that plans to accelerate its automotive design process using HoloLens after a successful, year-long pilot program.

Now, with the acquisition of social virtual reality startup AltspaceVR on terms that weren't disclosed, Microsoft appears to be exploring new avenues for Windows-based mixed-reality. But the acquisition amounts to a corporate resuscitation.

On July 28, AltspaceVR bid "a very sad good-bye" to its users, after a round of funding fell through. The last infusion of investor cash occurred in July 2015 when the company announced it had raised more than $10 million. In mid-August, the company announced it was back and "deep in discussions" with potential benefactors.

It turns out that Microsoft held the key to AltspaceVR's survival, albeit as part of the Redmond, Wash. tech titan's expansive software and services portfolio.

After AltspaceVR announced its impending closure, "members of the AltspaceVR team worked hard in the following days and weeks to make sure the technology lived on," the company shared in a blog post. "They connected with Alex Kipman [technical fellow at Microsoft's Operating Systems unit] and found a natural overlap between his goals for mixed reality and their hopes for the future of AltspaceVR."

AltspaceVR is an application that allows VR enthusiasts to create communities and participate in events in a virtual setting. It works with leading VR headsets, including HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and others. Those without a headset can participate using a 2D mode on Windows or Mac PCs. "With the AltspaceVR team onboard we look forward to building the world’s preeminent mixed reality community," Kipman stated in an Oct. 3 announcement.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is gearing up for the "era of Windows Mixed Reality," which kicks off with the official release of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update on Oct. 17, according to Kipman. With the help of hardware partners HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Acer, each of which are rolling out comparatively affordable mixed-reality headsets around the holidays, Microsoft wants to push the boundaries of Windows computing beyond flat screens and keyboards.

On Oct. 3, Microsoft announced that a potentially powerful new ally had joined the cause.

Samsung officially unveiled the HMD Odyssey, a $500 headset that sports dual AMOLED displays, each with a resolution of 1,440 pixels by 1,600 pixels, providing a 110-degree field of view. AMOLED is same technology the electronics maker uses for the high definition displays on its flagship smartphones such as the Galaxy Note8. The headset also includes "built-in spatial AKG headphones, inside-out tracking, built-in microphone" and responsive motion controllers, said Alanna Cotton, vice president and general manager of Samsung Electronics America, in a statement.

Samsung HMD Odyssey ships Nov. 10. Interested buyers can preorder now.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...