Here’s what happened to Microsoft’s Xbox VR gaming headset

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By Ian Sherr

Two months ago, Microsoft said it didn’t have specific plans to create an Xbox VR headset. What it didn’t say is that it had been working on a device, but put existing VR plans on hold until better technology comes along.

Microsoft courted partners over the past couple years to create games for a virtual reality headset designed to work with the Xbox video game console, according to people familiar with the matter. While the physical designs of the device weren’t widely known, the screen quality specifications were considered good — but not as good as those for Facebook’s rival Oculus Rift or HTC’s Vive headsets, the people said.

Earlier this year, however, Microsoft started telling partners it was putting its Xbox headset plans on hold. Two people familiar with Microsoft’s thinking said the company decided to wait until promising new tech like wireless headsets were more feasible. Today, high-end headsets like Sony’s $299 PlayStation VR, Facebook’s $399 Oculus Rift and and HTC’s $499 Vive rely on long and bulky wires plugged into their respective devices in order to work. Wireless adapters meanwhile, add about $300 in cost.

The move wasn’t much of a surprise to partners and those briefed on the device, considering Microsoft has largely stuck to a supporting role during VR’s recent renaissance, led by Sony, HTC, Steam game store owner Valve and Facebook’s Oculus VR. And you could argue it’s a smart strategy.

So far, the VR market has struggled to win over a mass market of consumers. Analysts believe Sony has sold the most high-end VR headsets, tallying 3 million PlayStation VRs soldsince that product’s launch in 2016. In May, Facebook released its $199 Oculus Go, a midlevel standalone VR headset. Though Facebook declined to disclose sales data, SuperData Research estimates it sold 289,000 units in the three months ended in June. That may not seem like much when stacked against the 41.3 million iPhones Apple sold during that same time, but the researcher said it’s better than what Facebook’s higher-end Oculus Rift did in the second half of 2017.

All told, VR today is a mixed bag. “Virtual reality may yet become a massive mainstream hit, but it’s not going to happen with this generation of tech,” CNET’s Dan Ackerman wrote in April. “It’s time to throw in the towel.”

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