Unity has long been a public supporter of OpenXR—an industry standard designed to streamline VR development by making it easier for apps to support a wide range of headsets—but the company has yet to deploy support for the standard. As a key figure in OpenXR (owed to it being one of the leading VR game engines), it’s good news today to hear the company affirm its commitment to the standard and say that it’s accelerating work to bring OpenXR to Unity.

OpenXR is a royalty-free standard that aims to standardize the development of VR and AR applications, making for a more interoperable ecosystem. The standard has been in development since 2017 and is backed by virtually every major hardware, platform, and engine company in the VR industry, including key AR players. Earlier this year the standard took a huge step forward by announcing the start of certifications for compliant implementations.

Image courtesy Khronos Group

Facebook, Microsoft, Valve, Unreal Engine, and others have been making progress toward supporting OpenXR in their platforms and now Unity says it’s moving to do the same.

“We have been closely monitoring the development of the OpenXR standard. We’re at an inflection point now, where OpenXR 1.0 has been ratified and OpenXR runtimes by various vendors are reaching maturity. This inflection point has accelerated our efforts to enable OpenXR in Unity,” writes Matt Fuad, Sr. Technical Product Manager of AR/VR at Unity.

The company expects to have a preview version of OpenXR in Unity by the end of 2020 which will focus on platforms already supported by the engine (like Oculus, SteamVR, etc), and in early 2021 it plans to roll out experimental support for any conformant OpenXR runtime. Though Faud warns that wider support will take some time to be battle tested.

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“Given the unbounded combinations of possible hardware/software configurations, we cannot test or guarantee that all configurations will work optimally. As issues are discovered with runtimes, we will work to contribute conformance tests and specification changes back to the Khronos working group to help the community as a whole. We will also make sure it’s clear to developers which platforms have been fully tested and thus supported by Unity.”

Faud says that Unity plans to implement OpenXR as part of its existing XR plug-in framework so that developers can continue to use many of the engine’s existing development workflows while still creating applications which are OpenXR compliant.

“We’re excited about the progress that has been made and believe this is a significant step towards supporting open standards,” he concludes.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • kontis

    The problem with OpenXR is it still doesn’t have feature parity with OpenVR and Oculus SDK.

    For example: it doesn’t support layers, so something as simple as having twitch chat inside a game that every VR streamer uses is currently not possible with OpenXR.

    This happens when you have devs and pros working on standard and no real end users and people connected to how mainstream actually uses it.

    • benz145

      My understanding is that OpenXR supports vendor-specific extensions which could add things like overlays based on the vendor’s own runtime.

      • Ryan Pavlik

        Yes, as well as the fact that most implementations build on an existing runtime and api, so eg steamvr overlays still work over openxr apps on that runtime.

        There’s an experimental overlay extension that’s currently being tested and developed further by multiple vendors.

      • Ad

        Not supporting layers in house seems like a big deal on the AR side of OpenXR.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        Vendor-specific extensions are a two-sided sword, as we have seen with OpenGL. On the one hand it allows to implement technology faster without having to wait for the standard to catch up, and many extensions were integrated into later versions of OpenGL. On the other hand this defeats the purpose of a standard, developers again have to target specific platforms if they need certain features, and compatibility can be a nightmare. Also as seen on OpenGL, where your pretty much have to buy a rather expensive NVIDIA Quadro just for the guaranteed OpenGL support if you did anything serious with CAD.

        We hopefully will see a number of Quest 2 competitors based on the Qualcomm X2 SoC in 2021, and these absolutely need a useful OpenXR implementation to even get a chance. If basic functions are missing, developers will focus their time on the Quest 2 alone, even if the hardware would be fully capable of running their apps.

        UnityXR may interestingly come to the rescue here. While it is annoying that their internal API wasn’t OpenXR compliant in the first place, it allows them to implement features that aren’t specified in OpenXR yet. Vendors still have to come up with their own plugin for Unity, which now is usually OpenXR based, and can use vendor-specific extensions to support functions not yet in OpenXR, but already in UnityXR. A later version of OpenXR can then make these extensions part of the standard.

        This all looks like a rather abstract problem, but it is fact extremely critical for the future of Mobile VR, as OpenXR is pretty much the only chance to establish any kind of competition to Facebook with its almost infinite financial resources.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Who gives a rats ass about twitch etc? Yeah, it might be interesting for some people, but for most people it isn’t interesting. Ofcourse it would be nice if they added it, but if that’s one of the only features you’re worried about, it’s not biggie..

      • alkis05

        It is important, because it is good for devs if their games get free publicity in twitch. That helps a lot, specially indie developers. So if you want people putting more effort into making good VR games, supporting streamers is a good way to go.

  • Wait, there’s no official support yet? But I made a program in Unity with UnityXR over the summer, is there a difference?

    • ComfyWolf

      UnityXR is not OpenXR, from what I understand it’s not compatible with OpenXR

  • Nice! This is a very good news. It is just the start, but we need OpenXR to have better AR and VR

  • Rob Farthing

    This only got posted because I had a forum thread on Unity forum for months where all us devs were kicking off at the lack of OpenXR in Unity.

    • Ad

      And that dev on twitter who embarrassed them.

  • xyzs

    Can you accelerate your acceleration ?

  • TrumpSupporter

    implement or die