On Wednesday night, Microsoft and Intel reforged their traditional “Wintel” partnership with a collaboration called “Project Evo” in which the two companies said that they will work together to improve how PCs think, see and hear. Their initiatives include everything from improved security and authentication to gaming innovations and “mixed reality” experiences.
Microsoft made the announcement at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Shenzhen, China, an event where Microsoft works with hardware partners to define the future of the PC and related devices.
Much of this collaboration involves Intel, which helps provide the hardware reference designs that inform computers and other products made by manufacturers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. This year’s WinHEC is being held six months after Microsoft declared its intentions to bring Windows 10 to virtual reality devices, and to help the five aforementioned hardware companies develop inexpensive head-mounted VR displays. To this end, Intel used WinHEC 2016 to unveil the PC specifications for those VR devices, and also announced its Project Evo partnership with Microsoft.
Why this matters: WinHEC was paused between 2008 and 2014, so it’s great to see Microsoft, Intel and the PC manufacturers actively talk about shared priorities. On one front, the industry wants to redefine the PC’s basic intelligence, and how we interface with computers—that’s Project Evo. As for Microsoft and Intel’s virtual reality plans, this effort could have significant financial payoffs: Just like gaming PCs have helped drive high-end sales, we can now look to VR to inspire a return to the good old days of premium PC pricing.
Project Evo: Redefining how PCs work
Not surprisingly, many of the improvements Microsoft built into Windows 10 have been software based. That’s Microsoft’s bread and butter. But other Windows 10 features, like Windows Hello, use hardware innovations developed by Intel and others.
Project Evo is designed to marry software and hardware in much the same way. “With Project Evo, Microsoft and Intel will deliver all-new ways for devices to light up with the latest in advanced security, artificial intelligence and Cortana, mixed reality, and gaming,” Terry Myerson, the executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group, said in a blog post.
Specifically, Project Evo includes:
Far-field speech communications, so that users will be able to speak to their connected PCs from across a room;
Improvements to Windows Hello biometric identification (which currently includes fingerprint, iris, and facial recognition);
Security intelligence from both Microsoft and Intel;
Gaming innovations like 4K displays with High Dynamic Range, Wide Color Gamut (WCG), spatial audio, and the ability to broadcast games and e-sports;
Improved mixed-reality experiences through affordable PCs and head-mounted displays (HMDs).
What’s needed for VR PCs
Microsoft and Intel can really exercise their influence in head-mounted displays. Though they can’t control what components a Dell or an HP includes in these displays, they can suggest a minimum hardware specification for an enjoyable VR experience.
The HMDs from Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP and Lenovo will be available next year, Microsoft said. Developer kits, meanwhile, will be available at the Game Developer Conference beginning on Feb. 27, 2017. And by the end of 2017, hardware partners will begin building PCs that take advantage of the new HMDs. According to Intel and Microsoft, these are the minimum specifications:
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 2880×1440@ 60 Hz, or HDMI 2.0 or DP 1.3+ with 2880×1440@ 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
“Windows is the only platform unifying the mixed reality ecosystem, providing inside-out tracking for HMDs, a single platform and standardized inputs for developers, and a consistent interface with a single store for customers,” Myerson said.