Is Microsoft throttling VR for Xbox?

“When it ships next year we believe it will be the most powerful console ever built,” said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, adding that Scorpio would offer over six teraflops of power.

”This is the console to lead gaming into true 4k and high-fidelity VR.”

That was Phil Spencer at 2016’s E3, talking about the then just announced Project Scorpio (now revealed as the absurdly named Xbox One X). Yet this year’s Microsoft E3 presentation featured no mention of virtual reality for Xbox and the company in fact seemed rather determined to avoid talking about the possibility. So what has changed to turn Xbox away from VR?

Back in 2016, Xbox seemed determined to step into the VR field and even went so far as to say that a VR version of Fallout 4 (which previewed at this year’s Bethesda conference) would appear on the then still codenamed Project Scorpio. Exactly what they planned was unclear, as there was no mention of headsets at the time, but there were several options in front of the Microsoft team.

Having previously pushed hard about their partnership with Oculus, it would have been reasonable to assume that there would be a Rift attuned specifically to the Xbox One X on the way. Alternatively, with PlayStation having sold over a million units of PSVR, it was possible that Microsoft might try to compete by creating their own console virtual reality headset.

Yet this year, talking to the BBC, Phil Spencer said, “I don’t get many questions about console and mixed reality in the living room. I think there’s just issues with my TVs across the room, there are cables hanging out. When I do this on my PC, I’m closer to my PC, that seems to be a much more user friendly scenario today.”

The U-turn seems… strange. From boasting about the potential The Xbox One X had as a virtual reality machine to determinedly avoiding even saying the words ‘virtual reality’ (throughout the interview with the BBC, Spencer is very deliberate about always saying ‘mixed’ rather than ‘virtual’), it seems like word has come down that Xbox is to avoid even discussing console virtual reality.

Instead, the words mixed reality seem to put the focus on HoloLens, their holographic platform. The oddness here is that HoloLens is by no means a consumer product (the development edition retails at $3,000) and it’s almost certainly not a gaming platform. While they have somewhat more consumer friendly versions made by their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners, it still doesn’t really make sense as any sort of analogue for their VR competitors.

Again, Spencer talking to the BBC, “We are believers in mixed reality. Mixed reality on the pc is something we’re focused on and building first party games. Our mixed reality platform with our OEM partners continues to rollout, we’ll have more to talk about in the future.”

Images courtesy of Xbox

It certainly sounds like Spencer has been specifically told not to mention virtual reality in relation to Xbox. The question remains, though: why? You’d think a more standard response would either be that “we’re not working on it right now” or “we may have something in the works but we’re not ready to talk about”, not this weird divert into saying virtual reality doesn’t belong on console.

Whether or not they want to talk about it, console VR is a thing. Microsoft presumably has a plan here but it’s hard to work out what it could be, unless they’re saving some big reveal for another convention down the line. We best hope so because if not, they’re deliberately choosing to throttle their console’s ability to branch out.

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Stronger in old age: Stem cell research paves way for muscle-building medication

It could in the future be possible to take medication that will allow you to build muscle, even when you are in old age.

This is due to the findings of research at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, which found that large, and wholly unexpected, amounts of mutations in muscle stem cells blocks their ability to regenerate cells.

“What is most surprising is the high number of mutations. We have seen how a healthy 70-year-old has accumulated more than 1,000 mutations in each stem cell in the muscle, and that these mutations are not random but there are certain regions that are better protected,” said Maria Eriksson, professor at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Karolinska Institutet.

With this knowledge, researchers could develop therapies that would encourage such regeneration, and so allow older people to rebuild lost muscle.

“We can demonstrate that this protection diminishes the older you become, indicating an impairment in the cell’s capacity to repair their DNA. And this is something we should be able to influence with new drugs,” explained Eriksson.

The landmark research, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, involved the use of single stem cells, which were cultivated to provide enough DNA for whole genome sequencing – a medical first for this part of the body.

“We achieved this in the skeletal muscle tissue, which is absolutely unique. We have also found that there is very little overlap of mutations, despite the cells being located close to each other, representing an extremely complex mutational burden,” said study first author Irene Franco, a postdoc in Eriksson’s research group.

While a significant step, the research is now being expanded to look at whether exercise affects the number of mutations – a potentially vital factor in understand why and how these mutations occur.

“We aim to discover whether it is possible to individually influence the burden of mutations. Our results may be beneficial for the development of exercise programmes, particularly those designed for an ageing population,” said Eriksson.

The research is one of a host of projects being conducted across the world that have potential impacts on ageing, an area that was long ignored by much of the scientific community, but is now garnering increased support.

If many – or even a fair minority – of these findings eventually become the basis of therapeutics, it could be transformative for old age in the future, allowing people to remain healthier for far later in life and potentially even leading to longer life expectancies.