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VR vs. Microsoft

Despite having no virtual reality (VR) headset of its own, Microsoft remains a consistent talking point within the VR community. That’s to be expected, given that the company is one of the biggest names in technology and its Xbox One rival, Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE) PlaySation 4, already boasts a headset of its own. Not to mention that many of us in the videogame industry would like to see the likes of Halo, Gears of War, Fable and more see VR experiences of their own in the future. The outlet is certainly in a position to deliver a serious competitor to both that headset and the Oculus Rift VR headset on PC, and its Kinect motion sensor holds promising potential for use with the technology, despite recently being removed from the Xbox One’s requirements.

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So will we ever see a VR headset from Microsoft? It’s certainly possible. Phil Spencer, the company’s new head of Xbox, has been quizzed on his thoughts on the tech on a number of different occasions since the reveal of Project Morpheus. His comments have revealed tantalising teases about work with the technology, confirming that Microsoft as a whole has been experimenting with VR for ‘a while’ and suggesting that it’s ‘really interesting’. Of course, the company undoubtedly has a range of ‘interesting’ projects in the works that won’t see commercialisation for quite some time. We’ve been hearing of Illumiroom, a means of stretching a videogame world across the walls of a player’s room, since before the Xbox One reveal itself, but are yet to see a possible consumer product.

That said, recent patents uncovered by VRFocus have again suggested the company is dabbling in the technology, although it definitely seems to be taking a backseat to that other type of reality, augmented reality (AR). Earlier in the year patents showing a pair of AR glasses from the company were revealed and heavily reported on. They’re thought to be more of a competitor to Google’s Glass headset than they are the Oculus Rift of Project Morpheus. Later patents have again hinted at a strong focus on AR from the company, with only passing hints at VR. Granted the publication of patents in no way hints at just how far Microsoft is with developing the technology, but it certainly seems better positioned to tackle AR than it does VR right now.

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What if VR proves to be the huge success that will all hope it will be, then? The PlayStation Move motion controller and, to a lesser extent, the Kinect sensor were both responses to the popularity of Nintendo’s Wii motion technology, surely the same would apply here?  As with many AAA videogame publishers, Microsoft’s involvement with VR could well depend on the technology proving to be a success first. In one sense, it’s a shame that the company won’t be working with the technology from the ground up as Oculus VR and SCE has done, but it also gives Microsoft a chance to iterate and improve upon both of those outlet’s offerings should it one day decide to join the race.

We don’t doubt that we’ll see a headset of some kind arrive on Xbox One sometime within the next few years. Just what type of technology that headset will side with is a different matter. We’d welcome a VR headset for the platform, if only to give it parity with the PC and PlayStation 4 markets it competes against. Indie developers are finding a new home on PlayStation 4 and Project Morpheus widens the console’s appeal to current Oculus Rift developers. As E3 2014 proved, Microsoft is dramatically gaining ground in this space and even bringing a few titles to its console that support VR on PC. VR’s arrival on Xbox One would be a true confirmation of the technology playing a major part in the videogame industry in the years to come. Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.