It's no secret that Microsoft has ambitions to lower the barrier to entry for PC VR experiences through reduced PC hardware requirements and affordable tethered VR headsets. According to Tom's Hardware, the company has now released more concrete information regarding the specifications of these upcoming cheaper head-mounted displays, designated as "Mainstream HMD (Low End)," as well as a higher-end variant predictably named "High End." The main difference between the low-end sets and the more expensive units is the refresh rate, which has been reduced from 90 Hz to a potentially smearier 60 Hz.
The planned low-end headsets will reportedly have the same resolution as the Rift and Vive, at 1200x1080 pixels per eye, though they will rely on LCD displays instead of AMOLED screens. Meanwhile, Microsoft's high-end HMD tier will sport OLED screens at an industry-leading 1440x1440 pixels per eye. Other differences lie in included controls and integration of audio devices, as well as the cabling requirements. Tom's Hardware has a nicely composed table with the differences between HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and the two tiers of upcoming hardware.
All headsets from Microsoft's partners will use the company's Inside-Out tracking system. This method does away with markers and cameras scattered throughout a room and replaces them with a single camera and inertial sensors inside the headset to provide positional data for room-scale VR experiences. This "six degrees-of-freedom" functionality isn't usually supported in mobile VR platform and requires additional hardware from Oculus' Rift and HTC's Vive to work.
Microsoft expects low-end HMDs to start around $300, but has not released pricing information for the high-end units. Tom's Hardware expects Microsoft's hardware partners to show off HMDs at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.