Sony is the talk of the Game Developers Conference thanks to its Project Morpheus virtual reality (VR) headset designed for the PlayStation 4. Morpheus isn't the first mass market VR headset we've seen, but it is significant since it is the first such headset to be formally introduced from a major console maker--no, Nintendo's Virtual Boy doesn't count.
Not to be outdone by its rival, Microsoft is also said to be working on a VR headset for the Xbox, codenamed Fortaleza ("fortress" in Portuguese). The rumored headset, still in development, is designed to enhance a "suite of experiences unique to Xbox products," according to The Wall Street Journal.
That's some pretty scant information, but it's notable that Microsoft is reportedly working on a headset of its own. it's not entirely clear what would set Fortaleza apart, but one early prototype of the headset supposedly included an augmented reality feature, the Journal said.
Speculation gone wild
There's no telling what a VR headset meant to improve "Xbox products" could mean. The most obvious explanation is that the headset will be used for immersive gaming, likely with Xbox marquee series such as Halo, Gears of War, and Forza Motorsport.
Perhaps there will also be some sort of integration with Kinect to detect body movements. (Wouldn't that be cool?) With Microsoft morphing Xbox from a gaming system to a complete entertainment platform, perhaps the headset would also see uses outside of gaming.
The VR era
Thanks to dropping component prices, VR headsets are expected to go mainstream in the coming years. But when, exactly, that will happen is not entirely clear. The most well known VR headset in gaming circles is currently the PC-focused Oculus Rift.
The Rift is still in its prototype phase, but early developer kits that include headsets are currently in the hands of game makers. The Rift is expected hit store shelves sometime in 2014 despite recent component shortages for the developer kit, which uses lower-grade components than the eventual consumer model will. An exact launch date has never been announced, however.
Valve, the company behind Steam and popular games such as Half-Life, also showed off a prototype VR headset in January. But Valve's plans appear to be more about researching the possiblities of VR rather than producing a device on its own.
Like the smaller players, Sony is also being coy about when we can expect to see Morpheus headsets bundled with PS4 consoles.
Nevertheless, the development community is showing great interest in VR, and Valve is already providing a beta version of a VR-friendly Steam interface. Industry giants like Electronic Arts, Epson, Panasonic, and others recently launched the newly announced Immersive Tech Alliance to improve the technology behind augmented and virtual reality. Given all the attention, an Xbox headset going head-to-head with PlayStation's Morpheus seems almost like a no-brainer.