Xbox and VR – is it coming, and when?

Almost all major gaming platforms have gotten virtual reality already, from Playstation 4 to PC. We’ve seen a number of headsets come out of this, based on PC in particular. Even Nintendo has hinted at the fact that the new Switch console may end up with the technology at some point, if it becomes mature enough to be used by kids without supervision in a safe way.

But what about Xbox? Microsoft also makes Windows, the operating system that powers a majority of the computers in the world today, so wouldn’t it make sense for the Xbox One console to get similar treatment as something like the Playstation 4? Though not a lot of concrete information is available quite yet regarding virtual reality in the future of the console, here’s what we know today.

Xbox One can play games with the Oculus Rift

Back in December of 2016, Microsoft and Oculus announced a partnership that allowed games from your Xbox One to be played in virtual reality. This isn’t really regular virtual reality, allowing you to move around and interact with objects, but rather a virtual space that projected a huge screen upon the wall of a rendered room. In this way, the Rift acts more like a replacement for your monitor, or rather a replacement for your monitor as well as your room. Any Xbox One or backwards compatible Xbox 360 games that can be played on the Rift headset using this game streaming method, which is aptly called the “Xbox One Streaming to Oculus Rift” app. It’s available for free on the XBOX One app store, so you can download it now if you’re interested.

Microsoft’s affordable VR/AR headsets could work on that Xbox One

While this has not been confirmed by Microsoft in any way, it would make a lot of sense. The new headsets manufactured by Lenovo, Asus, and the like are half the price or less than something like an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and are targeted towards seated experiences such as Skype or creative applications. Since Microsoft has already allowed Xbox One games to be played inside an Oculus Rift headset, it would make a lot of sense for them to make this same feature set compatible with Xbox.

In addition, many of the apps present on Xbox One are universal apps that were also made for Windows 10 PCs. For example, Microsoft could make something like Skype available to Xbox One with these new VR/AR headsets. A lot of the more creative applications may not work quite as well, as many of the building and painting demos Microsoft has showed off with these headsets used a powerful computer that was able to render these objects in space without much hassle. And while the Xbox One is not nearly as powerful as a high end PC, it could probably compete head to head with something mid-ranged. A lot of this will be based on the minimum specifications of individual applications, so we’re excited to see what Microsoft decided to to with these headsets once they begin to hit the market en mass later this year.

Microsoft’s new Project Scorpio is VR capable

While we still don’t know much at all regarding the specifics of Microsoft’s new Project Scorpio gaming console, we do know that the company is looking to shed the burden of console generations, and build something that can be iterated over time as new hardware hits the market. This sounds an awful lot like a PC, but will probably be easier for the general consumer to upgrade. And while the console may not ship with a virtual reality headset option, there is no doubt that the console will be capable of the technology, and that we will see something of that sort in the future. Xbox boss Phil Spencer says that while he isn’t yet sold on the technology for Project Scorpio, he’s sure that it will exist in the future of the platform. Spencer says that he wants for VR to mature to a much more seamless state before he is going to be comfortable releasing it on the new hardware.

In the long run, we need untethered solutions. You need to have the compute capability to not be wired to the display that’s on my head. That means I either have some kind of high-bandwidth wireless HDMI or I have compute here.

Says Spencer.

Spencer seems a lot more interested in the future of mixed reality experiences, which can switch relatively seamlessly between fully enclosed virtual worlds to AR experiences which mix virtual elements into the real world. He says that is much more versatile for consumers, and that there should be one device that is able to span both. This doesn’t necessarily mean that dedicated virtual reality hardware won’t be making its way to the Scorpio, just that in its current state, Spencer and many others at Microsoft are much more interested in the power of mixed and augmented reality.

While we don’t know very much about Scorpio as it stands right now, Microsoft has said that the new console will have a graphics card capable of 6TFLOPs and 320GB/s of bandwidth. For comparison, NVIDIA’s GTX 1070 GPU, which remains one of the mid ranged cards in its current line can output about 6.5TFLOP’s. This means that at launch the Scorpio should have the ability to play almost any title at 1080p 60FPS, and most games at 4k 30fps. This card is also more than capable of running something like an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, so if we ever do see dedicated VR hardware for the console, it should be able to run it without much hassle at all.

While we don’t know what exactly may be in the future of VR on Xbox, it’s always fun to speculate. Currently you can use your Oculus Rift headset to stream games in a virtual theater, but if you were looking for a much more full spacial manipulation experience, you’re going to have to look elsewhere for now. No matter what comes out of the technology in the next couple of years, you better bet Microsoft will be on the forefront of something quite exciting.

If we had to take a guess? More than likely the Xbox will end up supporting an existing (or upcoming) 3rd party VR headset, instead of making its own. After all, the Xbox is already basically a PC, and even runs a form of Windows 10. That means supporting an existing headset probably wouldn’t be all that hard. Again, that’s really just speculation at this stage.

What are you hoping to see from Microsoft in terms of Xbox VR support? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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