You'll be able to play Steam games in Windows VR next week

I tried playing Steam VR games in Microsoft's Mixed Reality. You'll get a chance too, starting Nov. 15, but not all games will immediately make the cut.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

Samsung's higher-priced Odyssey headset looks sharp and feels as good as Vive's hardware.

Josh Goldman/CNET

Microsoft's own VR platform, which launched a few weeks ago, doesn't have a lot of software yet, which could be a dealbreaker for some. But a bridge to Steam's VR catalog could add some access to more games soon enough.

A Steam VR hook-in for Windows Mixed Reality, announced earlier this fall, is launching next week on Nov. 15 in a "preview" beta version. It's not a native way to play Steam VR games: it's a bridge, translating the apps into something Microsoft's hardware can use. But it ends up doing a better job than I expected. It's not an entirely complete link into Valve's VR catalog yet (it will be, eventually), but it should offer what Microsoft's Greg Sullivan says is a good amount of content.

I got to try the Steam VR bridge for a few minutes in a New York loft with Samsung's new Odyssey Windows headset. My experience was pretty good... except for how the controllers work. Basically, it's a launcher for Steam VR in Windows 10's VR environment.

The bridge launches Steam VR with the same interface that you'd get with an HTC Vive . Microsoft promises that all Steam VR apps -- except for Oculus and Vive-exclusive titles -- will work with Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets. A handful of plug-and-play headsets from Acer, Lenovo, HP, Samsung and Dell work functionally the same, tracking room motion in-headset without external camera sensors. Samsung's Odyssey has higher resolution OLED displays and better sounding integrated headphones, but also costs a bit more at $499.

Windows Mixed Reality Headsets blend real and virtual worlds

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I played Valve's VR game compilation, The Lab. I painted with Google's Tilt Brush, shot ducks in Duck Season and tried Job Simulator for a few brief seconds. The games all looked smooth and sharp. Microsoft's wireless controllers also worked, but had more than a few tracking and motion hiccups. Microsoft currently chalks that up to apps not being fully optimized yet.

Steam VR apps don't need to be optimized to work in Windows Mixed Reality, but Microsoft says it's recommended. Controls may not map properly, and some motion control might not feel right. But the preview of Steam VR definitely worked, and sometimes worked well. I was shooting little aliens in an arcade-quick part of The Lab and found it worked pretty seamlessly.

Along with the Steam VR bridge, the Windows 10 software update hitting Nov. 15 will also improve VR performance on Windows computers with integrated graphics, allowing more apps to run better.

Microsoft's Sullivan acknowledges that VR and mixed reality are a moving target. The eventual goal of Windows mixed reality is for the whole thing to feel like a seamless part of the OS. That may not be here yet, and this first generation of Windows VR headsets may not even do all that Microsoft's planning -- for instance, none of these headsets are built to allow more advanced camera passthrough to enable virtual and real objects to truly intermingle, as they do with the HoloLens

But if Steam VR apps really run well on Microsoft's hardware, it'll provide a much-needed app boost in the meantime.