By next year, you’ll be able to play virtual reality games on your Xbox Scorpio, at least if Microsoft keeps its word you will.
“Our plan is to bring mixed reality content to the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio, in 2018,” according to a press release the company put out earlier this year.
And judging by the release of the upcoming console’s specs today, the company is certainly planning to do just that.
As Digital Foundry reports, every part of the new console’s hardware is a significant improvement from the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro. Most notably, for those of you into virtual reality rigs, the console has the guts needed to blow the minimum specs of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive out of the water.
But, that doesn’t mean either will show up for the system. Instead, Microsoft has been steadily pushing its own take on virtual reality and augmented reality, which it recently rebranded from Windows Holographic to Windows Mixed Reality.
Windows Mixed Reality
The key difference between what Rift and Vive use to run software and Microsoft’s approach, is that both third-parties have built a software suite that runs on top of Windows 10. Microsoft, with the release of the Windows 10 Creators Update next week, has embedded the technology into the base level of its operating system.
It is, as one insider told me recently, allowing developers to dig in closer to the metal of the operating system.
The downside of that approach, though, is that to use your headset with Windows Mixed Reality, the programs it runs have to be built in the somewhat controversial Universal Windows Platform. That’s a system that creators like Epic’s Tim Sweeney have decried as the first steps toward an unprecedented software monopoly for Microsoft.
From Microsoft’s perspective though, the company is simply building upon what it sees as a powerful operating system used by a lot of people.
Mixed Reality, for Microsoft, is meant to describe a number of a variety of different headsets from virtual reality to augmented reality, tethered to untethered. That means the phrase encompasses Microsoft’s own HoloLens and the half-dozen or so devices announced last year as coming to Windows 10 from the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell and HP. But the phrase is meant to even encompass VR platfroms that run on top of Windows like Rift and the Vive, as well as mobile platforms totally outside of its ecosystem like Samsung Gear VR or Google’s Daydream.
Acer Windows Mixed Reality
The most real of the devices created to work in Windows Mixed Reality and be available at a reasonable price is Acer’s blue headset, which I recently had a chance to check out.
The device, which is exceptionally light compared to most other VR headsets on the market, plugs into a computer with HDMI and USB plugs.
The headset drops users directly into a virtual environment known as the Cliff House. It’s basically a home resting on the edge of a cliff. As you wander from room to room with the use of an Xbox controller, you can interact with programs developed for full virtual reality experiences or simply check out “flat apps” which are essentially standard programs.
The software will automatically support any Universal Windows Platform apps in the Windows Store. So if you launch one of these supported games inside the Cliff House it will show up as what appears to be a flat television or painting mounted to a wall. You can adjust the size on the fly. And of course you can play the games, as if you were in a virtual house playing a game on a virtual television.
The Acer headset has six degrees of freedom tracking and, most importantly, uses inside-out tech to do it. That means there is no need for any external tracking devices like Vive’s lighthouses or the Oculus Rift camera(s).
Instead, all of the tech is built into the headset, similar to HoloLens. That makes set-up very quick. You simply plug in your headset, launch the app, and go through a couple of minutes of orientation.
The headset is expected to hit this holiday for about $300, making it very consumer friendly. But the more important thing, is that Microsoft is working to try and get the price down for the computers needed to run these headsets.
The biggest step in that direction is Microsoft’s belief that it can lower the system requirements from needing a dedicated graphics card to a discrete GPU built into a system. And they think they can do it this year.
Which brings us back to the Scorpio.
At the Game Developers Conference earlier this year, Microsoft said that the company plans to bring mixed reality content to the Xbox One “family of devices, including Project Scorpio, in 2018.”
At E3, Xbox chief Phil Spencer was explicit about his desire to get 4K and VR on the Scorpio.
"Because as we saw 4K gaming and really high-end VR taking off in the PC space, we wanted to be able to bring that to console,” he told The Verge. “Project Scorpio is actually an Xbox One that can natively run games in 4K and is built with the hardware capabilities to support the high-end VR that you see happening in the PC space today ... when it ships it will be the most powerful console ever built."
It’s abundantly clear that VR is coming to the Scorpio and doing so by next year. It’s also clear, judging by Microsoft’s discussion on how it views virtual reality through the lens of its Mixed Reality team, that any VR coming to the Xbox will do so through the Windows platform.
So that means devices like the Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset. That device is set to hit this holiday, which would be a good bet on when the Scorpio would arrive.
Another thing worth noting is that Microsoft has said internally that it wants to lower the price point of the sorts of computers needed to run Mixed Reality to $499.
Finally, Digital Foundry’s estimates for the still-to-be-priced Xbox Scorpio computer-in-disguise? $499.