A New Hint for Project Scorpio’s VR/MR Guessing Game

Posted on March 2, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Games, Windows 10, Xbox One with 15 Comments

A New Hint for Project Scorpio's VR/MR Guessing Game

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 thingbefore 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. 🙂


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Comments (15)

15 responses to “A New Hint for Project Scorpio’s VR/MR Guessing Game”

  1. hchwa

    Your speculation make total sense! And I am predicting that the attendees at Build this year will probably get a MR device of some sort... MS need help from developer community to bring this new RM effort to a successful start.

  2. Narg

    By the time MS hits the market hard with VR, it probably won't be a thing any more.

    • ym73

      In reply to Narg:

      If it is not a thing anymore then it won't matter. The risk is with the 3rd party manufacturers making these headsets. All microsoft losses is the time it took to code the VR support into their OS.

    • MutualCore

      In reply to Narg:

      Gen 1 VR(1080p) won't be a thing, but Gen 2 will be. 1440p in each eye will be the new standard that MS is setting.

  3. Bats

    This is absolutely no surprise, despite being told that MS's VR strategy will be seen via their Windows partners. After all, MS has to do Virtual Reality due to the great success of the Playstation VR product, despite it's (IMO) heavy pricetag. Let's not forget the overwhelming success of Google VR solution as well. The reports of the number of Google Cardboards being sold is astounding. In addition, the overwhelming positive reviews of Google Daydream. Can you just imagine, if more Android handsets were Daydream compatible? Daydream isn't even expensive.

    The writing is clearly on the wall in BIG LETTERS, Microsoft obviously read it. It's just too bad that they are clearly not going to be the market leaders of this, because of Google and Sony's super success in this field. Then again...

    If I remember correctly, OCULUS RIFT has been a huge disappointment. If MS is going to be a serious competitor in this space, they will need to do two things: 1. Lower the price of both Xbox Scorpio and their MR headset and 2. Provide a rich library of games right of the bat.

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to Bats:

      Google reported 10 million Cardboard units shipped, not sold. The New York Times gave away at least 1.3 million. Assuming there were more given away (including Daydreams that were given away with Pixels at launch) maybe Google sold at most 8 million. That's not a lot considering the time frame (2.5 years), the price ($15-20) and number of compatible devices (>1B). Frankly, I'm underwhelmed.

      Not saying it won't be big, just that these shipment numbers aren't convincing. Tell me how many are in continual use 30/60/90 days after purchase.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to Chris_Kez:

        I haven't seen any resellers selling Google Cardboard viewers in brick-and-mortar stores, except for the high-end brands like the Viewmaster and such. Not a single *cardboard* version in a store. Besides that, you don't have 10 million units shipping to resellers that don't intend to sell them. And resellers wouldn't be reordering them if they hadn't sold initial lots. And then you have Google selling them online now. Google sells direct to customers.

        I don't know how anybody can discount these facts.

        • mjw149

          In reply to Waethorn: yeah, I just got a cardboard Cardboard at Target last night, $20. Just to play around with. It's spreading and anyway nothing is as good as it's hype.

    • jamiet

      In reply to Bats:

      "Great success of the Playstation VR product.... Google and Sony's super success in this field..."

      Lol. PSVR is stil very, very niche. It is not a success by any means. Considering the user base is around 50 million, and less than 1 million units have been sold, the PSVR is not a great OR super success.

  4. Chris_Kez

    This makes sense, but why doesn't Microsoft just explain this stuff clearly? Their current announcement leads people to assume Scorpio will not see this until 2018, which looks bad. Why leave it open to speculation for months?

    Paul, can you make a reminder to ask this question later next year? Maybe once the dust has settled they'll be willing to explain their communication strategy.

  5. Mark from CO


    Your conclusions about the direction of Microsoft and VR are very reasonable, if we are talking about reasonable companies.  In the consumer space, Microsoft has demonstrated over and over again that it is seemingly incapable of doing reasonable things.

    If this is indeed Microsoft's plan, why not just state it plainly?  It is sooooo obvious and reasonable.  But it is Microsoft that we are talking about.  We need to 1) hear Microsoft say what is so obvious and reasonable, and 2) then execute on it.

    Given how much technology has become fungible, I still say that Microsoft's road map is much too long and will end up at a dead end.

    Mark from CO

    • MutualCore

      In reply to Mark from CO:

      Weird double standard. You demand a roadmap from Microsoft on a consumer product, and Apple never gives one. They just announce it and it's ready for sale immediately and everyone loves them for that.

  6. Paul Burton

    I was thinking along the same lines... When they announced the 3rd party Windows 10 headsets that these would be supported on the windows 10 based Scorpio.

    What surprises me is that they will also be supporting MR/VR on Xbox one as well.

    I assumed MR/VR would be what differentiated Scorpio from Xbox one.

    So... How does Scorpio differentiate? What does it offer over and above Xbox one? Just raw power?

  7. jamiet

    It's nice that any VR headset could work with Scorpio, but I hope they still release VR/MR hardware that is Xbox branded

  8. MutualCore

    Honestly I'd rather a Q2 2018 release where it's highly polished compared to Sony's rushed PSVR. For years MS was blasted for rushing half-baked stuff to market(Band anyone) and now they're taking their time for once.