You can develop using OpenXR on a HoloLens 2 or Windows Mixed Reality immersive headset on the desktop. If you don't have access to a headset, you can use the HoloLens 2 Emulator or the Windows Mixed Reality Simulator instead.
With OpenXR, you can build engines that target both holographic devices (like HoloLens 2) that place digital content in the real world as if it were really there, as well as immersive devices (like Windows Mixed Reality headsets for desktop PCs) that hide the physical world and replace it with a digital experience. OpenXR lets you write code once that's then portable across a wide range of hardware platforms.
The OpenXR API uses a loader that connects your application directly to your headset's native platform support. This offers your end users maximum performance and minimum latency, whether they're using a Windows Mixed Reality headset or any other headset.
What is OpenXR?
The core OpenXR 1.0 API provides the base functionality you'll need to build an engine that can target both holographic devices like HoloLens 2 and immersive devices like Windows Mixed Reality headsets:
- Systems + sessions
- Reference spaces (view, local, stage)
- View configurations (mono, stereo)
- Swapchains + frame timing
- Composition layers
- Input and haptics
- Graphics API + platform integration
To target the full feature set of HoloLens 2, you'll also use cross-vendor and vendor-specific OpenXR extensions that enable additional features beyond the OpenXR 1.0 core, such as articulated hand tracking, eye tracking, spatial mapping and spatial anchors. See the Roadmap section section below for more information on the extensions coming later this year.
Note that OpenXR is not itself a mixed reality engine. Instead, OpenXR enables engines like Unity and Unreal to write portable code once that can then access the native platform features of the user's holographic or immersive device, regardless of which vendor built that platform.
Getting started with OpenXR for HoloLens 2
To start developing OpenXR applications for HoloLens 2:
- Set up a HoloLens 2 or follow the instructions to install the HoloLens 2 emulator.
- Launch the Store app from within the device or emulator and ensure all apps are updated. This will ensure that the OpenXR runtime on your HoloLens is updated to OpenXR 1.0. If using the emulator, you'll want to consult the emulator input instructions to help you use the Store app within the emulator.
Getting started with OpenXR for Windows Mixed Reality headsets
To start developing OpenXR applications for immersive Windows Mixed Reality headsets:
- Be sure you are running the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903), which is the minimum requirement for Windows Mixed Reality end users to run OpenXR applications. If you're on an earlier version of Windows 10, you can upgrade to the May 2019 Update using the Windows 10 Update Assistant. If you're not able to update your PC, it is also possible to develop your OpenXR app using Windows 10 October 2018 Update (1809), although you may experience lower performance or other issues.
- Set up a Windows Mixed Reality headset or follow the instructions to enable the Windows Mixed Reality simulator. After setting up Windows Mixed Reality, Mixed Reality Portal will automatically install the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime. The Microsoft Store will then keep the runtime up to date.
- Make the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime active by launching Mixed Reality Portal from the Start menu, clicking the ... menu in the lower-left and selecting "Set up OpenXR".
If you ever need to make the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime active again, repeat step 3.
The Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime will soon be set up automatically for all Windows Mixed Reality end users.
Getting the Mixed Reality OpenXR Developer Portal
To try out the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime, you can install the [Mixed Reality OpenXR Developer Portal app. This app provides a demo scene that exercises various features of OpenXR, along with a System Status page that provides key information about the active runtime and the current headset.
Building a sample OpenXR app
The BasicXrApp project demonstrates a simple OpenXR sample with two Visual Studio project files, one for both a Win32 desktop app and one for a UWP HoloLens 2 app. Because the solution contains a HoloLens UWP project, you'll need the Universal Windows Platform development workload installed in Visual Studio to fully open it.
Note that while the Win32 and UWP project files are separate due to differences in packaging and deployment, the app code inside each project is 100% the same!
OpenXR app best practices for HoloLens 2
You can see an example of the best practices below in BasicXrApp's OpenXRProgram.cpp file. The Run() function at the beginning captures a typical OpenXR app code flow from initialization to the event and rendering loop.
Select a pixel format
Always enumerate supported pixel formats using
xrEnumerateSwapchainFormats, and choose the first color and depth pixel format from the runtime that the app supports, because that's what the runtime prefers. Note, on HoloLens 2,
DXGI_FORMAT_D16_UNORM is typically the first choice to achieve better rendering performance. This preference can be different on VR headsets running on a Desktop PC.
Performance Warning: Using a format other than the primary swapchain color format will result in runtime post-processing which comes at a significant performance penalty.
Although this applies to all OpenXR runtimes, care must be taken to ensure the rendering pipeline is gamma-correct. When rendering to a swapchain, the render-target view format should match the swapchain format (e.g. DXGI_FORMAT_B8G8R8A8_UNORM_SRGB for both the swapchain format and the render-target view). The exception is if the app's rendering pipeline does a manual sRGB conversion in shader code, in which case the app should request an sRGB swapchain format but use the linear format for the render-target view (e.g. request DXGI_FORMAT_B8G8R8A8_UNORM_SRGB as the swapchain format but use DXGI_FORMAT_B8G8R8A8_UNORM as the render-target view) to prevent content from being double-gamma corrected.
Use a single projection layer
HoloLens 2 has limited GPU power for applications to render content and a hardware compositor optimized for a single projection layer. Always using a single projection layer can help the application's framerate, hologram stability and visual quality.
Performance Warning: Submitting anything but a single protection layer will result in runtime post-processing which comes at a significant performance penalty.
Render with texture array and VPRT
xrSwapchain for both left and right eye using
arraySize=2 for color swapchain, and one for depth.
Render the left eye into slice 0 and the right eye into slice 1.
Use a shader with VPRT and instanced draw calls for stereoscopic rendering to minimize GPU load.
This also enables the runtime's optimization to achieve the best performance on HoloLens 2.
Alternatives to using a texture array, such as double-wide rendering or a separate swapchain per eye, will result in runtime post-processing which comes at a significant performance penalty.
Render with recommended rendering parameters and frame timing
Always render with the recommended view configuration width/height (
XrViewConfigurationView), and always use
xrLocateViews API to query for the recommended view pose, fov, and other rendering parameters before rendering.
Always use the
XrFrameEndInfo.predictedDisplayTime from the latest
xrWaitFrame call when querying for poses and views.
This allows HoloLens to adjust rendering and optimize visual quality for the person who is wearing the HoloLens.
Submit depth buffer for projection layers
XR_KHR_composition_layer_depth extension and submit the depth buffer together with the projection layer when submitting a frame to
This improves hologram stability by enabling hardware depth reprojection on HoloLens 2.
Choose a reasonable depth range
Prefer a narrower depth range to scope the virtual content to help hologram stability on HoloLens.
For example, the OpenXrProgram.cpp sample is using 0.1 to 20 meters.
Use reversed-Z for a more uniform depth resolution.
Note that, on HoloLens 2, using the preferred
DXGI_FORMAT_D16_UNORM depth format will help achieve better frame rate and performance, although 16-bit depth buffers provide less depth resolution than 24-bit depth buffers.
Therefore, following these best practices to make best use of the depth resolution becomes more important.
Prepare for different environment blend modes
If your application will also run on immersive headsets that completely block out the world, be sure to enumerate supported environment blend modes using
xrEnumerateEnvironmentBlendModes API, and prepare your rendering content accordingly.
For example, for a system with
XR_ENVIRONMENT_BLEND_MODE_ADDITIVE such as the HoloLens, the app should use transparent as the clear color, while for a system with
XR_ENVIRONMENT_BLEND_MODE_OPAQUE, the app should render some opaque color or some virtual room in the background.
Choose unbounded reference space as application's root space
Applications typically establish some root world coordinate space to connect views, actions and holograms together.
XR_REFERENCE_SPACE_TYPE_UNBOUNDED_MSFT when the extension is supported to establish a world-scale coordinate system, enabling your app to avoid undesired hologram drift when the user moves far (e.g. 5 meters away) from where the app starts.
XR_REFERENCE_SPACE_TYPE_LOCAL as a fallback if the unbounded space extension doesn't exist.
Associate hologram with spatial anchor
When using an unbounded reference space, holograms you place directly in that reference space may drift as the user walks to distant rooms and then comes back.
For hologram users place at a discrete location in the world, create a spatial anchor using the
xrCreateSpatialAnchorSpaceMSFT extension function and position the hologram at its origin.
That will keep that hologram independently stable over time.
Support mixed reality capture
Although HoloLens 2's primary display uses additive environment blending, when the user initiates mixed reality capture, the app's rendering content will be alpha-blended with the environment video stream.
To achieve the best visual quality in mixed reality capture videos, it's best to set the
XR_COMPOSITION_LAYER_BLEND_TEXTURE_SOURCE_ALPHA_BIT in your projection layer's
Performance Warning: Omitting the
XR_COMPOSITION_LAYER_BLEND_TEXTURE_SOURCE_ALPHA_BIT flag on the single projection layer will result in runtime post-processing which comes at a significant performance penalty.
Avoid quad layers
Rather than submitting quad layers as composition layers with
XrCompositionLayerQuad, render the quad content directly into the projection swapchain.
Performance Warning: Providing additional layers beyond a single projection layer, such as quad layers, will result in runtime post-processing which comes at a significant performance penalty.
OpenXR app performance on HoloLens 2
On HoloLens 2, there are a number of ways to submit composition data through
xrEndFrame which will result in post-processing that will have a noticeable performance penalty.
To avoid performance penalities, submit a single
XrCompositionProjectionLayer with the following characteristics:
- Use a texture array swapchain
- Use the primary color swapchain format
- Set the texture-source-alpha blending flag
- Use the recommended view dimensions
- Do not set the
- Set the
minDepthto 0.0f and
Additional considerations will result in better performance:
There are three kinds of OpenXR extensions:
- Vendor extensions (e.g. MSFT): Enables per-vendor innovation in hardware or software features. Any runtime vendor can introduce and ship a vendor extension at any time.
- EXT extensions: Cross-vendor extensions that multiple companies define and implement. Groups of interested companies can introduce EXT extensions at any time.
- KHR extensions: Official Khronos extensions ratified as part of a core spec release. KHR extensions are covered by the same license as the core spec itself.
By the end of the year, the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime will support a set of MSFT and EXT extensions that bring the full set of HoloLens 2 features to OpenXR applications:
- Unbounded reference space (world-scale experiences)
- Spatial anchors + storage
- Hand articulation + hand mesh
- Eye gaze
- Secondary view configurations (Mixed Reality Capture)
- Scene understanding
- Interop with Windows SDK APIs
While some of these extensions may start out as vendor-specific MSFT extensions, Microsoft and other OpenXR runtime vendors are working together to design cross-vendor EXT or KHR extensions for many of these feature areas. This will enable the code you write for those features to be portable across runtime vendors, just as with the core specification.
Here are some troubleshooting tips for the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime. If you have any other questions about the OpenXR 1.0 specification, please visit the Khronos OpenXR Forums or Slack #openxr channel.
Developing on Windows 10 October 2018 Update
If you're not able to upgrade your development PC to the May 2019 Update, you can set up your Windows 10 October 2018 Update (1809) PC for development by following one more step:
- Follow the steps above to get started with OpenXR on your desktop PC.
- To set the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime as your system's active OpenXR runtime, install the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Developer Compatibility Pack.
Although Windows 10 October 2018 Update (1809) can be used when developing your OpenXR applications, the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903) is the minimum requirement for end users to use OpenXR with Windows Mixed Reality. You may experience lower performance or other issues when running your OpenXR app on the October 2018 Update. It is strongly recommended that you upgrade your development PC to the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903).
OpenXR app not starting Windows Mixed Reality
If your OpenXR app is not starting Windows Mixed Reality when you run it, the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime may not be set as the active runtime. Be sure to follow the instructions above for getting started with OpenXR for Windows Mixed Reality headsets to make the runtime active.
You can also run the Mixed Reality OpenXR Developer Portal for additional troubleshooting help around the state of the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime on your system.
Mixed Reality Portal not showing "Set up OpenXR" menu item
Be sure you are running at least the Windows 10 October 2018 Update (1809). If you're on an earlier version of Windows 10, you can upgrade to the May 2019 Update (1903) using the Windows 10 Update Assistant.
The "Set up OpenXR" menu item may not be available if you have an older version of the Mixed Reality Portal app. Check for a Mixed Reality Portal app update to ensure you have the latest version.
Note that the "Set up OpenXR" menu item will not show up if the Windows Mixed Reality OpenXR Runtime is already installed and active. You can install the Mixed Reality OpenXR Developer Portal to determine the current status of the OpenXR runtime on your system.