I wouldn’t blame you for tuning out VR news in 2017. There was no string of huge hardware releases, like last year’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. The medium’s limits became clearer. For some people, VR reached a trough of irrelevance — stories about it were no longer conceptually fresh and fascinating, but they weren’t relevant to daily life yet, either.
Despite this, 2017 laid exciting groundwork for VR’s future. The biggest advance was arguably Windows Mixed Reality: a VR platform built into Microsoft’s Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, supporting headsets that don’t need external cameras or markers. Mixed Reality headsets and motion controllers still aren’t very comfortable or stylish. But their tracking feels remarkably smooth and accurate, and setup is easy — you can basically just plug the headset into a computer and get started.
High-end VR also got cheaper. Buying a VR-ready PC costs much less than it did last year, and all three major headsets got price cuts. The Vive went from $799 to $599, the Rift (with Touch controllers) dropped from $798 to $399, and Sony started including the formerly $59 tracking camera in its $399 PlayStation VR bundle.
Motion tracking — once an added luxury — became a standard part of VR in 2017. Samsung’s Gear VR added a small motion-control remote, following Google’s Daydream View, which launched at the very end of 2016. There are still plenty of touchpad or gamepad-based experiences, but hand tracking has helped cement VR as something that’s truly more than a fancy screen.