Is Microsoft working on a multi-platform competitor to the Oculus Rift?
A patent filed by Microsoft that describes HMD devices was published on Thursday called "Multiplayer Gaming with Head-Mounted Display". Obviously the patent specifically points out multiplayer gaming as the focus, presumably connecting to the upcoming Xbox One and possibly rivaling the Oculus Rift. But TechCrunch has also noticed that several diagrams show the specs used outside. Last we checked, Microsoft's new console isn't quite that portable.
The patent was filed by Microsoft on January 20, 2012. It describes a series of head-mounted display devices that may include OLED displays, voice interaction, eye-tracking, facial recognition technology, three accelerometers and three gyroscopes to track the head movement of the wearer. It also mentions a possible design using transparent or partially transparent displays that sit on the user's face in the form of glasses.
"The HMD device may include an eye-tracking system that utilizes at least one inward-facing sensor," the patent reads. "The inward-facing sensor may be an image sensor that is configured to acquire image data in the form of eye-tracking information from a user's eyes. Provided the user has consented to the acquisition and use of this information, the eye-tracking system may use this information to track the position and/or movement of the user's eyes. The eye-tracking system may then determine where, and/or at what person or object the user is looking."
The patent states that outward-facing sensors would detect the wearer's environment, track the user's gestures, and locate other users in the same space. The patent has numerous mentions of a "time-of-flight depth camera" system similar to what's offered in Kinect 2.0. This may be used to scan the space to see what games are the most appropriate.
The patent also shows that although each person will wear one device, they can see information broadcasted by the other HMDs including multiplayer matches and so on. There are also provisions set in place so that users can toggle the amount of information being shared to other HUD devices. That said, is Microsoft creating its own AR-based StreetPass device?
As previously stated, one of the diagrams show several HMD users wearing the device outside. This signals that Microsoft intends to use the resulting product on tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices in addition to Xbox One and maybe even Windows 8. Here's another detail yanked from the patent that hints the HMD will be used across different hardware platforms: "online multiplayer games are typically played across multiple hardware devices in various locations". That certainly kills any notions that Microsoft is working on a HMD specifically for Xbox One.
Backing up that notion is another diagram showing three components making the overall system work: the User HMD, a computing device and a network. The HMD portion doesn't seem to rely on its own SoC to pull up data, but consists merely of the display, eye-tracking system, optical sensor system, position sensor system, a microphone, a speaker and a transceiver.
As for the connecting computing device, it's either wired or wireless and described as "a desktop computing device, a mobile computing device such as a smart phone, laptop, notebook or tablet computer, network computer, home entertainment computer, interactive television, gaming system, or other suitable type of computing device." A server on a network would join the HMD wearers in a multiplayer setting.
Microsoft's patent is indeed interesting, and could prove to be more than a game peripheral if it's ever produced. Meanwhile, Oculus has already admitted that its team is more interested in expanding Rift to mobile than consoles.
"I love consoles but internally we’re a lot more excited about where mobile’s going to go, and being able to plug it right into a next gen cellphone," said Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe. "It’s the innovation, and how fast cellphones are now improving – where we’ll be with the next Galaxy or the next iPhone compared to where consoles are. Those things are almost doubling every year, compared to a console that’s just stuck it out for eight years."