When Microsoft announced Xbox “Project Scorpio” last year, it said the coming console would support VR, but it provided no details. This week, however, we received an important clue about this support.
In my wrap-up about what Microsoft did say at the initial Project Scorpio unveil, I noted the following about the console’s expected VR capabilities.
“Scorpio will provide a virtual reality gaming experience. But there was no information about how that would be delivered: As part of the console or perhaps in partnership with an existing VR vendor.”
And that “how” has been the central question about Scorpio and VR ever since: Would Microsoft provide a VR headset with the console, making it even more expensive, or would it provide VR as a separate accessory?
This is a bigger question than is perhaps immediately obvious because there are two opposing forces at work here. On the one hand, Microsoft has the pressure of history working against it because of the poor start of the Xbox One when compared to the PlayStation 4, back in 2013. But on the other hand, adding a VR headset to Scorpio would raise the cost of what Microsoft has already said will be a premium console. Remember, one of the things that killed Xbox One out of the gate was its high price.
In a seemingly unrelated event in October 2016, Microsoft announced its strategy for enabling VR in Windows 10 PCs at the platform level: It would partner with PC makers like Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, and ASUS and other hardware makers to create an ecosystem of compatible third-party headsets.
Remember that Xbox One is essentially running a version of Windows 10, and that developers can target Xbox One when they create Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps and games. Remember, too, that Scorpio is not a new console architecture but is rather just another variant of the Xbox One, and will be compatible with all Xbox One games (and apps). Surely, I thought back in late October, those coming VR headsets for PCs would also work with Scorpio. Microsoft, of course, never mentioned this.
Flash forward to December 2016, and Microsoft is now talking up what it calls mixed reality (MR)—a combination of VR and augmented reality, which is the central HoloLens capability—at WinHEC in China. Those partner headsets will in fact handle MR, not just VR, and the first developer kits will head out coincidental with the Game Developer Conference in February.
That show is happening as I write this. And while Microsoft is a bit behind where we expected, it did expand on its plans a little bit. And now, it is talking about Scorpio and MR, too.
“Microsoft will take Windows Mixed Reality beyond the desktop and HoloLens and bring it to the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio, in 2018,” the relevant line of Microsoft’s statement reads.
OK, let’s recap.
Project Scorpio is coming in time for holiday 2017.
We know that Project Scorpio will support MR now, not just VR.
Microsoft never said how—or, crucially, when—it would provide VR (now MR) capabilities for Scorpio.
Microsoft’s hardware partners are releasing several Windows Mixed Reality headsets—yes, that name is now a thing—before holiday 2017. Remember, they only require the Creators Update, not some subsequent Windows version.
Hm. I think we all know what’s coming next.
Though Microsoft is curiously non-specific about this, it is clear that those Mixed Reality headsets for Windows 10 will work with Project Scrorpio. Are, in fact, the strategy for bringing VR/MR to that platform.
In talking through this on Windows Weekly yesterday, however, Leo put this notion over the top: Since Scorpio will arrive after those headsets start heading to market, gamers will be able to buy a headset for Scorpio on day one and use it for VR, as Microsoft vaguely promised last year. And then Microsoft will update Scorpio to support true MR via a later software update. Which is coming “in 2018.” So next year.
This schedule makes sense.
More to the point, it solves the central paradox of Scorpio’s VR support. Yes, VR will be supported on day one, and yes, it will happen via third-party devices. But Scorpio and those devices will support MR as well—more specifically, Windows Mixed Reality, what used to be called Windows Holographic—in 2018.
That’s my theory. And until I hear otherwise from Microsoft, I’m sticking with it. 🙂