Today during the Microsoft Ignite developer conference, the company announced Mesh, a new cloud-based service which Microsoft says will streamline the creation of multi-user XR applications.
Soon to be offered under Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing arm, Mesh is a foundation for building multi-user XR applications. The tool will offer developers a framework for connecting users into shared instances which support spatial voice communication, cloud-based asset management, persistent scenes, and a common avatar system. While the service is primarily geared toward immersive applications, it can also support non-immersive access points like web browsers or smartphones.
The company compared Mesh to Xbox Live, which functioned as a toolkit for building networked multiplayer games in the early days of online multiplayer on Xbox. Like Xbox Live, Mesh is designed to accelerate the development of multi-user XR applications by providing ready-made solutions for common needs, like networking, spatial voice communication, and object synchronization & interactivity.
Fortunately, Microsoft says that Mesh will be a platform independent service, meaning developers that take advantage of it will still be able to distribute their applications wherever they’d like (be that on Steam, Oculus, HoloLens, or elsewhere).
To demonstrate its capabilities, the company has created a Microsoft Mesh demo application which will be available through the Microsoft Store. The application functions like a collaborative virtual workspace where users can come together to view, discuss, and annotate shared 3D assets. Users inside the app are represented by the Mesh avatar system which allows for avatar customizations to be shared between Mesh-enabled applications.
One such application is Altspace, Microsoft’s social VR app. The company says it has rebuilt the app to take advantage of Mesh, including the Mesh avatar system. That means if you change your avatar in Altspace, you’ll see the same changes seamlessly synchronized to the Microsoft Mesh example app as well. Microsoft says it plans to build Mesh-enabled immersive capabilities into Microsoft Teams and Dynamics 365 services as well.
Microsoft seized the opportunity to show off the new Mesh-enabled Altspace by hosting the Microsoft Ignite keynote fully in virtual reality for the first time, allowing users from around the world to connect remotely to see the immersive event live. During the virtual keynote, Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman at different times during the presentation appeared as both a chroma-keyed video cutout of himself as well as a high-resolution volumetric model.
We don’t know yet exactly when Microsoft Mesh will become available to developers, nor what the pricing model will be, though we’ve reached out to the company for additional information.