Is Kinect 3 Windows MR?
At a Windows event last October Microsoft revealed their VR (virtual reality) technology which they are licensing to 3rd party manufactures such as Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo and 3Glasses to create VR HMDs (head mounted displays). Then at their Build conference last month Microsoft revealed motion controllers for their VR tech, the trailer for which you can watch above, and announced that both the VR HMDs and their AR (augmented reality) HMD HoloLens will be branded “Windows Mixed Reality” or just Windows MR for short. Windows MR is the new name for Windows Holographic.
(Click on pics for larger images.)
There is a potential issue with the motion controllers though, since the HMDs only have sensors on the front and the controllers can only be tracked while in the field of view of the HMD’s sensors. Hopefully this will be fixed by either adding more sensors on the HMDs when they’re finally released at the end of this year, or including extra sensors with the motion controllers that can be attached to the HMDs.
The only price announced so far for a full Windows MR VR system (HMD + motion controllers) is for Acer’s, which will cost $399 for their bundle. Their HMD alone will be $299. You will of course also need a PC with good enough specs to support, it unless Acer’s VR system is also compatible with Xbox Scorpio, which I will talk about later in this article.
Now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with Kinect, as Microsoft has so far never mentioned Kinect in regards to this new VR technology? Well, these VR HMDs use what is called inside-out tracking, which means instead of requiring exterior cameras, sensors or projectors, like PSVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive use, they instead use tracking sensors embeded in the HMD to track the environment around you as you look and move around in order to establish your head’s position in 3D space and can also track the position of the motion controllers. (And possibly your actual hands, although it was unclear whether all or even any of the VR HMDs will be able to do this.) As far as I have been able to currently establish, these are the same tracking sensors used in HoloLens and its creator Alex Kipman (who was also Kinect’s creator) confirmed in an interview after HoloLens’ Build 2015 presentation that those sensors are “next generation Kinect” sensors!
This brings us to what I’m sure most of you are wondering about: Xbox. Since Microsoft have already announced that their next console, Xbox Scorpio, will support VR and that Xbox Scorpio will be fully revealed at their E3 conference on Sunday June 11th, I’m 99% sure that they will also reveal their own Windows MR system for it using the tech I’ve just been taking about. My guess is that the Xbox Windows MR system will either be called Xbox VR or Xbox MR or possibly even Kinect VR/MR. I don’t know whether Xbox Scorpio will keep the codename “Scorpio” or be changed to something else, like Natal was changed to Kinect.
It’s also possible that all the 3rd party Windows MR systems, such as Acer’s, will be compatible with Xbox Scorpio. There’s even been speculation that Xbox Scorpio could support any 3rd party VR systems such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but that is just pure speculation that has been lessened somewhat since the Windows MR systems were revealed.
There is also the slight possibility that current Xbox Ones will also support either all Windows MR systems or whatever Microsoft reveals at E3, since recently Microsoft said Windows MR would be “coming to the Xbox One family of devices”. They could just mean Xbox Scorpio, as Microsoft consider it an Xbox One device since it’s actually a massively upgraded Xbox One that’s compatible with all previous and upcoming Xbox One software and accessories. (But requires the Xbox Kinect Adapter for Kinect 2 just like Xbox One S does because like that console it bizarrely doesn’t have a Kinect 2 port!) However, if they did just mean Xbox Scorpio then why not just say that rather than “Xbox One family of devices” which suggests all Xbox Ones? If Windows MR is coming coming to all Xbox Ones then I’m sure many here who want to play VR games but may not be able to afford both a new console and a Windows MR system will be happy!
So is Kinect 3 Windows MR? Well, not necessarily, even if Windows MR’s sensors are next-gen Kinect, because Microsoft Research said last year that VR really needs full body tracking. Therefore it’s possible that Microsoft are working on a proper “Kinect 3” for Xbox Scorpio and VR. However, for VR Kinect 3 would have to be at least a 2 or even 3 piece system for 360 degree body tracking as it would need to be able to track you whichever way you’re facing. If it was just a 1 piece system like previous Kinects then you would only be able to play forward-facing VR games with it. If there is a Kinect 3 then I hope it will be bundled with all Xbox Scorpios, but given Microsoft’s epically disasterous decision to unbundle Kinect 2 from Xbox One and not even reverse that decision after losing over 25 MILLION sales to PS4 (coincidentally about the same number of sales that Kinect 1 had, so has almost everyone but me jumped ship to Sony?) maybe that’s too much to hope for? We’ll see very soon at E3.
The future of Kinect 2?
So where does that leave Kinect 2? Well, when it comes to VR maybe Kinect 2 can be used for forward facing VR games, but I don’t know if Kinect 2’s latency is low enough to work perfectly with VR. Although there are some PC VR games in development that are supposed to at least optionally support Kinect 2 and it has been used for various VR demos in the past. Also, there is a possibility that Microsoft’s VR motion controllers could also be used without VR using Kinect 2 (or Kinect 3 if there is one) since Kinect 2 could track the markers on them the same as the Windows MR HMDs do. I think they’re little LED markers, but I’m not sure, that’s just what it looks like in photos and videos. This would allow even more advanced controls for Kinect games as the controllers also have internal motion controls for 1:1 directional movement precision, i.e. the angle that you’re holding them at. The markers are just for tracking the controllers’ postion in 3D space. It would also allow developers to make at least certain motion-controlled VR games playable for people who haven’t got an HMD, either because of the cost or if they’re one of the small percentage of people who simply can’t use VR as they get VR sickness instantly, not just motion sickness in some games and/or using free locomotion.
Developers are still making Kinect 2 games, even though not exactly in the quantity us Kinect fans would like, so don’t worry just yet. But when Xbox Scorpio is released it will have been 4 years since Kinect 2 was released with the Xbox One, which is 1 year more than the time between the release of Kinect 1 and Kinect 2, so it won’t be too surprising if there are even less Kinect 2 games as Kinect technology evolves towards MR (VR, AR etc.) games.
VR, then eventually MR, is the future!
I’ll end with a huge piece of good news about all this. If you’re worried that Windows MR (or Xbox VR/MR or whatever it will be called) might end up as neglected as Kinect 2 I’ll just point out that there are already hundreds of developers making VR games and hundreds of VR games either available fully finished on PSVR and PC or in Early Access on PC and I expect many if not most of those to be released for Xbox Scorpio (and possibly current Xbox One, if it gets VR). So even if for some bizarre reason Microsoft decided to only release a couple of VR games themselves then not bother to make anymore, like they seem to have done with Kinect 2, there would still be more than enough 3rd party content to make up for it.
By the way, don’t listen to anybody who claims VR is a “gimmick”. They most likely haven’t experienced VR, let alone played any VR games, or if they have then maybe only mobile and not high-end motion-controlled roomscale VR like HTC Vive. I’ve actually got a Vive along with loads of games and can tell you that it’s incredible. Remember how magic Kinect felt the first time “you were the controller”? Well times that by 10 as you are literally inside the game with VR! With most games being first-person perspective as far as the character you’re controlling is concerned. Maybe take off a few points as only your head and controllers are tracked (plus your voice via a built-in mic), but they achieve totally lag-free 1:1 movement. Plus full-body-tracking will come eventually, hopefully very soon if there is a Kinect 3.
Are you looking forward to VR/AR/MR coming to an Xbox console? Would you be happy with the next generation of Kinect technology just being embedded in Windows MR HMDs or do you also want a proper full-body-tracking external Kinect 3? Let us know in the comments below or create a discussion in our All Other Kinect Topics Forum.