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The Xbox One won't support VR, because Microsoft broke its promise

A bummer for virtual reality enthusiasts.

xbox-one-x-e3-2017-7833-016

Josh Miller/CNET

Microsoft's plans to include virtual reality in Xbox game consoles are virtually over.

The software giant told GamesIndustry.biz it isn't working on VR support for its popular Xbox One console, despite the company's original promise (and later confirmation) that it would support the technology. The company also isn't adding support for mixed reality, a hybrid technology that allows digital objects to co-exist with physical ones.

"We don't have any plans specific to Xbox consoles in virtual reality or mixed reality," Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Mike Nichols told the website at the E3 video game convention in Los Angeles last week. "Our perspective on it has been and continues to be that the PC is probably the best platform for more immersive VR and MR."

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That's a stark difference from what Xbox chief Phil Spencer originally promised when he introduced the company's Xbox One X console, originally known as Project Scorpio, in June 2016. "This is hardware built specifically to lead the console industry into true 4K gaming and high-fidelity VR," he said at the time, adding the hardware would enable "premiere VR experiences without sacrificing performance."

One year later, Spencer told CNET again that the Xbox One X would still fully support virtual reality, after the Wall Street Journal reported that it wouldn't.   

But Spencer told CNET's sister site Giant Bomb something different in June 2017. In a candid interview with Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann, Spencer admitted he had misgivings about whether VR was ready, saying he was merely "long-term bullish" about the tech. "I worry that a couple years ago, we had maybe an over-exuberance around VR which put more interest in it than maybe the tech and experiences could deliver," he said.

You can hear Spencer's comments in the video above, starting at around 11 minutes, 50 seconds.

"My view is, kind of in the family room environment, we're probably a few years away from it being something that will really work. The cords are kind of an issue [...] it's really that family room environment that we're struggling a little bit with."

"We're saying OK, let's stay more on the PC where we're seeing action and developer interest -- until we really get the art form of what it means to create great MR [mixed reality] experiences, then it can go to more places."  

"We're somewhere in the middle, we're still learning, [VR] will happen," he added later.

Spencer had a point: VR still hasn't quite taken off yet. But people who bought the $500 Xbox One X expecting that feature may not have much sympathy for Microsoft's business decision.

Microsoft confirmed part of Nichols's new remarks in a statement.

"Because of the opportunity with Windows Mixed Reality, and because we believe the user experience will be best on PC right now, that is where our focus is," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email statement. "We have nothing to share about MR for console at this time."

CNET's Sean Hollister contributed to this story.

Originally published June 20 at 1:45 p.m. PT.
Update, June 21 at 8:40 a.m. PT: Added context from a Giant Bomb interview with Xbox chief Spencer last year.