Microsoft is transitioning to the OpenXR standard for future new features it builds in VR and AR.
A post by Alex Turner at Microsoft explains that “starting in Unity 2021, OpenXR will then graduate to be the only supported Unity backend for targeting HoloLens 2 and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.” OpenXR is also supported in Epic’s Unreal Engine and Microsoft formally recommends others using their own custom engines in VR and AR switch to using the OpenXR API going forward.
“HoloLens 2 and Windows Mixed Reality will continue to support apps that target our previous WinRT APIs as well, although new features may not be available in these APIs,” the post explains.
The OpenXR standard aims to “lets engines write code once that’s then portable across hardware platforms from a wide range of VR and AR vendors,” making it less expensive and time consuming for a developer to put a piece of software on multiple VR/AR systems. The standard has wide industry support from the likes of Valve and Facebook as well, with Microsoft pushing forward on the content side with Minecraft’s new RenderDragon engine implementing PC VR support using OpenXR.
This is still early days for the implementation of OpenXR. Unity is the most popular engine for making games but developers use many different versions of the software, so it may take some time before the version Turner mentions — Unity 2021 LTS — is the version used by developers releasing new OpenXR projects.
We’re curious to see how OpenXR implementation affects indie developers in the coming years. The majority of content out there was made in an earlier version of Unity and for some developers updating software to a new version might not make sense just to access future features platform makers like Microsoft, Facebook or Valve might implement. In other words, time will tell how OpenXR affects the VR and AR development ecosystem.