HoloLens, Microsoft's futuristic AR helmet, has a bright future bringing mixed reality into the mainstream. But it's not quite the Xbox One VR headset that many gamers are waiting for.
With PlayStation VR shipping in October and pre-orders already underway, the old-fashion Xbox vs PlayStation battle looks pretty one sided when it comes to virtual reality accessories and games. Microsoft hasn't even confirmed it is working on a VR headset yet.
Microsoft is involved with the consumer edition Oculus Rift, with the company confirming that Xbox One gamers will be able to stream games to the VR headset.
Still, the hints that a Microsoft headset is on the verge of becoming official are getting stronger and stronger as June's E3 gaming show approaches. Developers and retailers are beginning to let details slip and a launch next year looks likely.
Hmmm. Let's look into this a bit more....
Xbox VR to launch in 2017?
The Xbox VR rumours had gone quiet for a little while in early 2016 but in May a developer told Ars Technica that it is working on a Xbox VR title that will be shown off at E3 (which starts on 12 June) and launch in 2017. Ars won't name who it is but says it is a "major developer" and a "European studio" who shared the information as part of pre-E3 planning. The game's working title contains the word VR but it is also set to launch on PC and PS4.
Using our powers of deduction we'd guess that if Xbox VR games are launching next year, a headset will probably launch in 2017 too. Will we see Microsoft unveil a second piece of futuristic headgear at E3? Or will the game in question be demoed on PS VR or even Oculus/Vive at the LA gaming expo?
With the PlayStation VR not set to ship until the very end of October 2016, it is now in the realm of possibility that Microsoft could have an Xbox rival release within six or nine months of that, thereby keeping up with the Sonys.
A more powerful Xbox One console
One promising indicator that Microsoft is building a like-for-like PlayStation VR rival is the rumour of a new, more powerful Xbox One. This console is set to be announced at E3 alongside a new version of the PS4, despite the fact that PS VR is compatible with the existing Sony console.
GameStop CEO Paul Raines told Fox Business that we will see "some new consoles come in" at this year's E3 event. And at the end of May, Microsoft starting discounting the current Xbox One. This was amidst whispers that a new, 'Slim' console was about to drop with a beefier model, codenamed Scorpio and with a GPU that could support 4K gaming and (in theory) the Oculus Rift, for 2017.
And, 'Virtual reality Xbox One' was listed on the official E3 website alongside developers Maximum Human and Rebellion.
Our US editor Lily Prasuethsut will be reporting live from E3 from 12 June so head back to our VR channel for news, interviews and hands ons from the show floor. Microsoft's event kicks off at 9.30am PT on 13 June.
Oculus Rift compatibility
However, it's not the full-on, immersive, Halo action or 360-degree Forza that you're hoping for, it's simply your Xbox One games streamed to a virtual theatre within the headset. At least, yet.
It's still exciting that Microsoft is officially on board with Oculus. The fact that the system is Windows 10 compatible, and that Xbox streaming is already being explored can only be a good thing.
Which brings us nicely onto Project Helix. This is the codename for all of Microsoft's efforts to converge Xbox and Windows 10 gaming and has also lead to speculation that native support for the Oculus Rift might come to new Xbox One consoles.
We're expecting news on Project Helix at Microsoft's E3 event, which includes the rumoured hardware, so we'll keep our eyes peeled for relevant VR news.
Way back in March 2014 the Wall Street Journal's Ian Sherr wrote that, “Microsoft has developed 3D virtual-reality devices, and it has filed at least one patent for it so far".
“The software company has been developing the technology concurrently with a project known as 'Fortaleza,' or 'fortress' in Portuguese," he said. "The effort has been discussed as an attempt at creating a suite of experiences unique to Microsoft's Xbox products, people who have been privy to discussions say."
The company also filed a patent titled: “Multiplayer gaming with head-mounted display," in early 2012.
Essential reading: Sony Project Morpheus: Release date rumours
However, these patents point more towards an augmented reality experience – which mixes the real world with virtual elements – rather than a full VR experience, and it's likely much of Fortaleza has ended up as HoloLens and Microsoft's, Windows 10 based, Holographic platform.
Also in March 2014, Microsoft bought Osterhout Design Group, a smartglasses specialist. ODG has remained a separate company but again, the patents and IP are likely to be more on the augmented/mixed reality side.
AR vs VR
Following the announcement of HoloLens last year, Xbox boss Phil Spencer was keen to point out that the new headset was a standalone device, and not one utilising the power of a console or PC. However, he hinted that there was room for an entirely different Xbox-driven experience.
"To me, there's not a successful consumer electronics device on the planet where gaming is not a primary form of kind of app category on the thing", he told Polygon. "I think HoloLens will work out the same way. I think gaming will be important.
"I think you'll see that it's kind of different than VR," he added. "VR is, in my mind, kind of a completely immersive block out the rest of the world."
At the launch, Spencer also referenced what the rest of the industry is focusing on: "I love the virtual reality stuff that's out there, Morpheus, Oculus, I think they're doing great work and I've said it over and over, I just love that our industry continues to push innovation forward. I've always applauded Sony and Oculus and what they've created. I think this is something different."
Be sure to check back on Wareable for all the latest updates on any possible Xbox One VR devices at E3 and beyond.
Additional words by Sophie Charara.
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