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Samsung, MS boosting partnership for 'mixed reality'

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Models try out games using Samsung HMD Odyssey, a headset that supports virtual reality and augmented reality, in this file photo. Korea Times file
Models try out games using Samsung HMD Odyssey, a headset that supports virtual reality and augmented reality, in this file photo. Korea Times file

By Kim Yoo-chul, Baek Byung-yeul

Samsung is expanding its strategic alliance with Microsoft as the Korean technology heavyweight is working on a powerful cordless headset that supports both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) given the company's intense focus over the past year on pushing "mixed reality" (MR) in its premium Galaxy line of devices.

The Samsung-Microsoft partnership has been controversial and complicated over the past few years mostly due to Microsoft's failed entry into the mobile phone market. Samsung, the world's biggest mobile phone supplier, once relied on the Microsoft Windows operating system with Microsoft taking billions of dollars from Samsung annually in royalties.

Samsung and Microsoft moved from "love-hate" to "wait-and-see" mode, as the Windows creator is leveraging its partnership ecosystem for the "mixed reality headsets" and high-end gaming PCs, which could be "win-win," if successful.

"Samsung Electronics is working on developing cordless and high-priced headsets supporting both VR and AR. Definitely, Samsung plans to use in-house application processors, OLED displays and sensors. But more importantly, Microsoft has lowered its demand for royalties as it is taking a multi-pronged approach to delivering a rich ecosystem of games and applications that will entice users," said a Samsung official by telephone who is involved with the issue.

Samsung has asked Microsoft to use Samsung-fabricated processors for Windows Mixed Reality and Windows Mixed Reality Ultra as one condition for its continued support for Microsoft's new businesses, said another official wishing not to be identified.

"VR was once tapped as the next hot technology. However, despite sizable investment in it, the technology failed to resonate with consumers. Now, Samsung thinks the mixed reality market is a bit more promising than VR or AR in wider usability and adaptability. As we achieved in the 'phoneblet' market, Samsung has stronger intent in the consumer market with the firm's new devices supporting mixed reality technology," said the official.

Samsung plans to display its new offerings at an upcoming IFA technology fair to be held in Berlin in late August.

Reports said Apple was also working on a wireless headset capable of running both AR and VR technology. Plans so far call for an 8K display for each eye, higher resolution than today's best televisions, and would be untethered from a computer or smartphone.

But what Samsung wants from its complicated partnership with its U.S. partner is more content developers to possibly join Samsung-led consortiums in relevant segments.

"It's premature to say how successful Microsoft will be driving a rich ecosystem which will in turn drive its adoption to mixed reality. But Windows MR is expected to boost the existing VR ecosystem. Because the market is extremely new, Samsung Electronics can understand how the markets go by partnering with Microsoft," said the second official, adding Microsoft is tasked with stabilizing its MR platform and driving the app ecosystem.

Bernstein Research, a top-tier market research firm, expects the entrance of Windows MR will boost the entire PC-based VR ecosystem as lower prices, easier setup and native Windows support will make more VR adoption likely.

"The increased VR-installed base will attract more game and application developers to develop more programs for VR, which in turn will help hardware sales and create a virtuous cycle. The Microsoft MR could significantly improve that," it said in a report to clients.

Kim Yoo-chul
Baek Byung-yeul


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