Project Scarlett is the next big thing from Microsoft, and it’s in development behind closed doors right now with the release scheduled for Christmas 2020. While the console is still largely a mystery, Microsoft has teased a few details about the console, including the fact that it’ll be able to support an [email protected] gaming experience, sports a custom AMD chip and features solid-state memory as standard.

That all sounds pretty impressive, and also more than enough to power a VR experience, right? While it seems like the launch of Xbox Project Scarlett would be the perfect time for Microsoft to reveal the long-requested Xbox-compatible VR headset, there’s nothing on the cards – officially, anyway.  

VR is growing, but not quickly

Virtual reality was the topic of conversation back in 2016, following the launch of not only the Oculus Rift but the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR too. It was an exciting new way to play games and interact with the virtual world, and really was a transformative experience for those that got the chance to try it – especially the HTC Vive, which was by far the most advanced of the ‘big three’ at launch.  

There wasn’t a lot of great VR content at launch, and that’s because developers had to figure out how to design content for virtual consumption. But despite a lack of content, developers promised that AAA-quality, full-length VR titles were on the way. And as time went by, more and more VR games were released – not all great, of course – but the player base didn’t expand as manufacturers and developers expected.

You see, when you look at the overall number of sales from the major players in the VR industry, it’s not that impressive – even Sony’s PlayStation VR player base, which is the largest of any current headset, is only a small subsection of PS4 players. It’s a combination of things, from the fact that you need a decent PC or console to power the majority of VR experiences to the upfront price of the headsets themselves, that turned consumers away from the idea of VR.

That is changing with the release of new, upgraded headsets like the Oculus Quest and Oculus Go – two standalone VR headsets that require no external power or base stations – making VR more accessible to the masses, and the release of the Oculus Rift S, Vive Cosmos and Valve Index indicate that VR manufacturers aren’t giving up just yet.

In fact, even Sony is rumoured to be developing an upgraded PlayStation VR 2 headset for use with the PS5 when that’s released at the end of 2020.  

So, while the VR market is growing, it’s not growing quite as quickly as some had anticipated.

Microsoft has researched VR in the past

While Microsoft has yet to throw its hat into the virtual reality ring, it doesn’t mean the company hasn’t considered it – if recently discovered patents are to be believed, anyway.

Despite being filed in March 2018, the two patents were only discovered recently by Twitter user WalkingCat on patent website FreePatentsOnline. One patent describes a “six-degrees-of-freedom input device” while the other is described as a “virtual reality floor mat activity region”.

Both patents come with accompanying images that depict not only the VR headset in question, but the Xbox One console and the Kinect camera too. The VR floor mat is an interesting idea; it could negate the need for base stations or other tech for location tracking because the mat could be able to perfectly monitor your physical location and transmit that data to the console – be it wired or wirelessly.

What’s important is that the patents never specify whether these items are in development specifically for the Xbox platform, and we must also consider the fact that the product ideas never made it past the R&D phase of development.

The Xbox Boss has shut down all VR rumours

But while there are patents floating around, Xbox Boss Phil Spencer recently shut down all rumours about a Project Scarlett-compatible virtual reality headset when talking to Stevivor, stating that “nobody’s asking for VR”. The comments were in part responding to a remark Spencer had made back in 2016 in which he dismissed the VR content available at the time as “demos and experiments”.

Spencer made clear that he doesn’t want to diminish the work of VR manufacturers and developers, but he still has clear reservations about VR and the world of gaming:

“I have some issues with VR — it’s isolating and I think of games as a communal, kind of together experience. We’re responding to what our customers are asking for and… nobody’s asking for VR. The vast majority of our customers know if they want a VR experience, there’s places to go get those. We see the volumes of those on PC and other places.”

In a world where companies rarely rule anything out completely, the fact that an exec has gone on record to say that it’s not happening sounds pretty final to us. But, of course, considering one of the biggest factors holding Spencer back is the fact that “nobody’s selling millions and millions” of headsets suggest that stance could change in future – as long as the VR market picks up.

Until then, it looks like you’ll have to invest in a PC-ready VR headset or jump ship and pick up a PlayStation VR headset - we’ve got a list of the best VR headsets for those that are interested.