Oculus VR not only revealed the final consumer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset yesterday at its pre-E3 2015 press conference, but it also included a fair number of surprises. One of the most stunning (though some might call it disappointing) revelations is the partnership between Oculus and Microsoft. This deal means that Windows 10 will feature native Oculus Rift support, taking full advantage of DirectX 12, and the headset will ship with an Xbox One controller. Furthermore, games streamed from an Xbox One to a Windows 10 PC can use the Oculus Rift as a display for a unique experience. A demo of this functionality had a young girl playing Forza 6 using an Oculus headset, which had her inside of a virtual movie theater, so she was playing a game on a massive screen.
The virtual movie theater is super gimmicky, but it could prove to be an practical solution for those who don't have the money or the space for giant sized TV or projector setup. But, given the fact that Xbox One streaming is a feature built into Windows 10, chances are you won't necessarily need an Oculus Rift to get the same experience. You could probably use an HTC Vive, which deflates all the air from a demo that didn't have all that much to start with.
As for the Xbox One controller, it was clearly a setup for the games program, which includes titles like Edge of Nowhere and others built from the ground up to support the Oculus Rift. Additionally, it set the stage for the far more impressive Oculus Touch reveal at the end of the presentation. Although some might be disappointed that the plain Xbox One gamepad is the official controller to ship with the device, it makes sense that it would be. As stated in the presentation, it's a controller that most people are familiar with. Therefore, when you dive into these made-for-Oculus games, you can focus on the games instead of learning all-new controls.
For those that absolutely must have the Oculus Touch experience, who is to say that there won't be a premium bundle that includes it when the device ships in 2016? Not to mention, just because it ships with the controller, doesn't mean you have to use it. If you completely hate the Xbox One controller for whatever reason, you're free to use a different one, or use Lighthouse, which is not exclusive to the HTC Vive.
Furthermore, the controller ties back into the Xbox One streaming functionality. Remember, at the end of the day, all games that we know of that are releasing for the Xbox One are meant for a 2D screen. So, it makes sense to have a relevant controller to go with it. Xbox head Phil Spencer said that this was the start of a new kind of cinematic experience, which probably means doubling down on the virtual movie theater gimmick. Although this contradictory to the opening statement, where a clear line was drawn between a movie experience and a immersive virtual reality experience, but we might be able to let that go until more VR movies start releasing.
The bottom line is, those who remain fixated on the controller and the silly little virtual theater presentation could be missing the bigger picture: The Xbox One might have a VR headset.
It might be hard to gather, given the unimpressive nature of the partnership announcement, but as part of the unified vision between Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One, porting software between the two systems should be relatively easy. That might go for hardware too. What is the Xbox One if not a computer that is specially built to play games and deliver entertainment? Sony has Morpheus, which will be limited to use on the PlayStation 4. Up until yesterday, Microsoft's big show was the HoloLens, which relies on augmented reality, and won't offer the same sense of presence and immersion as a virtual reality headset. By partnering with Oculus, Microsoft can have it both ways: its own augmented reality headset, and a VR headset if the former doesn't catch on. All without having to invest in developing virtual reality technology on its own.
Maybe we can look forward to an Xbox branded VR headset, powered by Oculus, somewhere down the road. One that will plug directly into the Xbox One and use the Kinect as its controller. That's when we'll see more exciting announcements like a Forza or Halo VR Edition.
However, a headset that can be switch back and forth between a Windows 10 PC and Xbox One would be the a truly remarkable development. It could be the key to tip things in Oculus's favor when it comes to owners of both systems. Those who enjoy both console and PC gaming won't have to purchase two headsets.
That long term solution would be absolutely brilliant.
Steven Wong posted a new article, The Oculus and Microsoft Partnership: A Silly Start to a Brilliant Relationship