Virtual Reality is something we’re seeing a lot companies invest into recently. Facebook recently bought Oculus, the company behind the hyped Oculus Rift Gaming Helmet. Sony also announced Project Morpheus for PlayStation 4 back at CES 2014. It’s something that may become a standard of entertainment in the future so it’s important that Microsoft enter the market at the right time. Not too early and not too late. I’ve seen a lot of articles about Microsoft’s Virtual Reality plans for 2015 and many people predict we will see it revealed at E3. While that’s possible, Microsoft may use another event, either before/after E3 to showcase the product. This would be a similar approach to the Xbox One reveal so Microsoft can ensure the games are kept for E3 and the hardware is showcased at a separate event. While I expect Microsoft to announce the product this year, I don’t expect consumers to actually get their hands on with it in 2015, I’m expecting a general release in 2016.
We know Microsoft have been working on wearables for quite a few years now and that the wearables team at Microsoft consists of people from the Xbox and Surface hardware divisions. There is currently two major projects in development. One of them is released and that’s the ‘Microsoft Band’, a fitness band that tracks your heartrate, footsteps and alerts you to phone notifications. It works across all three major smartphone operating systems; ‘Windows Phone’, ‘IOS’ and ‘Android’ with Cortana Voice Recognition being exclusive to Windows Phone. The Microsoft Band was code-named ‘Project K’ internally and was/is being worked alongside ‘Project B’ which I believe is Microsoft’s Virtual Reality Technology that it will use for Xbox One and possibly even on Windows PC’s. Veteran Microsoft watcher, Mary Jo Foley also believes Project B is coming and the same was also reported by CNET way back in 2012 when the patent files were first discovered.
Patent for Microsoft wearable glasses and gaming helmet dating back 2012. Image courtesy of Patentbolt.
Project B will be a gaming helmet/glasses like technology, I believe a mixture of both in a sense. It has patents from Microsoft dating back to 2012 and has apparently being worked on since quarter three of 2010. I think it’ll use and require the Kinect 2.0 sensor which Microsoft will use to track your head and even gesture movements. So while all the VR will be covered by Project B, the Kinect will be doing the majority of the work for movement tracking. I believe Voice may also play a huge role in experiences that use Project B and once again those will rely on Kinect for Xbox One. Project B could also be related to Illumiroom, another technology that also uses Kinect and a projector to blend the lines between your TV and furniture/walls to create a large virtual environment in the living room. Illumiroom was revealed at CES 2013 but wasn’t meant revealed as a product for consumers but as a Microsoft Research project to show what’s possible in the future. Somehow, Project B might be able to achieve what Illumiroom was but something like won’t happen for a few years most likely.
It’s worth noting Microsoft has confirmed they’ve experimented with VR, in a statement back in March, Microsoft’s Head of Xbox; Phil Spencer told IGN ; “I think the technology is really interesting, and it’s definitely something we’ve been playing with for quite a while.” It’s also worth mentioning that Phil Spencer mentioned on Twitter only a few days ago that 2015 will be a big year for Kudo Tsunoda as he returns to the stage for Microsoft again. Kudo worked on Project Natal which was announced at E3 2009 as it’s code-named and confirmed to be Kinect at E3 2010. Kudo was Creative Director of Kinect and later become Creative Director of Kinect Games. That position has changed since then and I think Kudo is playing a huge role in Project B and it’ll be him who will announce it. Whenever they choose to announce it in 2015.
There’s many games and experiences that Microsoft could use to showcase Project B. Forza Motorsport is an immediate candidate I immediately think of. Imagine driving a McLaren P1 on the Nurburgring and thanks to VR being able to physically use the hold and touch the steering wheel, adjust the gears and move your head around the interior of the car. In Forza Vista, picture being able to walk around the car and put yourself right up to the cars features. It would be a game-changing experience and could be a major leading experience for the next Forza Motorsport. Remember that the controller could be used just as well alongside the Kinect in Project B experiences. The Forza Motorsport is an idea I came up with myself and with Forza Motorsport 6 expected to launch this fall, it’s always possible they could integrate the technology in the franchise. However, I also don’t expect Project B to ship until next year. So does that mean Forza could skip a year to suit Project B is the game is going to use the technology? Or would they add it a year later as a huge update? Anything is possible and this stage I’m making huge guesses. Many of Microsoft’s AAA games could use the technology, even Halo, Ryse, Fable, Forza Horizon and of course Minecraft, a game recently acquired by Microsoft. We believe Microsoft have shown the technology to many developers, including the head of Take Two studios. We also believe Developers have got their hands on the technology for use in their games. 343 Industries and Turn 10 being the obvious two with Lionhead, Rare, Soho and Mojang also very likely candidates.
So there you have it, why I think Microsoft’s Virtual Reality will be announced in 2015. Phil’s tweet about Kudo, the patent files, the wearables team and Project B code-name is why I believe we will be seeing Project B this year. If not this year, 2016. But I think we’ll be seeing it this year and released next year.