Microsoft is said to have abandoned development of a virtual reality headset for its XBox gaming console because of technological limitations, according to a report published Monday.
That may not immediately appear remarkable, since as CNet pointed out, Microsoft itself claimed it didn’t have specific plans to create a VR headset, though it didn’t also mention that it previously did but had canned the idea.
It’s not clear when Microsoft started working on a dedicated VR headset, but according to the report, the headset was so advanced that Microsoft had started to partner with a few developers to bring games to the system. Then it quietly advised partners it was putting its Xbox headset plans on hold “earlier this year.”
The problem, at least from Microsoft’s perspective, was that the device was reasonable but did not match the likes of Facebook Inc.-owned Oculus Rift or HTC Corp.’s Vive headsets, so Microsoft decided to wait until “promising new tech” such as wireless headsets were more feasible.
The decision to abandon its efforts comes as somewhat of a surprise given that Microsoft itself pitched the Xbox One X, the revised Xbox One it released in 2016, as capable of true 4K gaming and “high fidelity VR.” UploadVR pointed out that a video at the time included Bethesda’s Todd Howard talking about the VR version of Fallout 4 the studio was making for the platform.
The current state of the VR market also might have assisted Microsoft in coming to its decision. Despite years of hype about VR being the future of gaming, it has never taken off as many analysts predicted it would.
Sony Corp., the maker of a VR headset for the PlayStation 4 said in an investor call in May that headset sales had been below expectations and that up to December 2017, it had sold only 2 million headsets compared with more than 80 million PS4s. And Sony is currently the market leader in VR headsets.
“Virtual reality has failed to live up to its hype and mainstream consumers never really bought into the technology,” The Economist noted in December. “Even ardent gaming fans have been slow to embrace VR. No one can blame them.”
The reasons are twofold: dubious, expensive hardware and awful software. Headsets such as the Rift and Vive need to be tethered to a high-end computer, are bulky and cumbersome, and there has yet to be a single killer title that has gained the imagination of gamers.
Microsoft dealing itself out of the VR may be a wise move for now, since it can sit and wait to see where the market moves.
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