Oculus Rift owners can now play Xbox games in virtual reality (VR) thanks to Microsoft's new Xbox One Streaming app (opens in new tab). As the name implies, the app works by making Xbox One and backwards compatible Xbox 360 games playable in the Rift HMD, but this isn't a true VR experience by any stretch. Microsoft is merely allowing people to play Xbox games on a large, virtual screen that floats above the ground of the digital environment of their choice.
Xbox One Streaming was announced in November. The app is part of Microsoft's partnership with Oculus, which ships an Xbox controller with every Rift headset, and it's designed to give people a chance to experience VR gaming for themselves. Here's the rub: Xbox One Streaming requires a Windows 10 PC to function. Rift already supports Windows gaming, and Windows 10 has native support for Xbox controllers, so what's the point in using this app?
That's part of what makes Xbox One Streaming feel like a half-measure to appease gamers who are curious about VR. Between requiring a PC, using the expensive Oculus Rift HMD, and limiting the VR "experience" to a virtual screen floating within a screen, Microsoft is offering the bare minimum required to say that Xbox One offers a VR experience. Compare that to Sony's dedicated VR console, the PlayStation VR.
Microsoft seems to be biding time for "Project Scorpio," which should debut in 2017. That console is expected to include an eight-core CPU with six teraflops of GPU power, as well as backwards compatibility with all Xbox One games, to enable "true 4K gaming and high-fidelity VR." Yet we don't have a firm release date, price, nor sense of how exactly Microsoft plans to offer those "high-fidelity VR" experiences when Project Scorpio launches.
Project Scorpio will by all accounts be more capable than its console competitors. Nintendo's Switch is designed around the gimmick of being a hybrid portable and home console, and Microsoft is said to have made Project Scorpio more powerful even than Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro. (Sony also made the baffling decision not to include a 4K Blu-ray optical drive on the PS4 Pro; Microsoft did not make the same mistake with Project Scorpio.)
The problem is waiting for Project Scorpio to arrive. People can only purchase so many game consoles in a two-year span, especially because this generation made its debut just a few short years ago. Nintendo's Switch probably won't cost that much--it's likely to reflect its design and straddle the price range between portable and home consoles--but many people might already have splurged on the PS4 Pro and PSVR to get their gaming fix.
Which leads to Microsoft releasing Xbox One Streaming. The app was originally supposed to debut in 2015, but few people cared that it wasn't available. Yet here we are now, after Sony released PSVR to a warm reception from many gamers, and the best VR experience Microsoft has available to Xbox One owners is a virtual display. The company has big plans for VR that are worth keeping an eye on, but this particular app seems like a stop-gap at best.