Ars Technica points to a patent application filed by Microsoft that projects a "peripheral image" around a room, creating a 360-degree view of a virtual scene. Called "Immersive Display Experience," the application was filed in early 2011 but made public by the U.S. Patent Office on September 6.
Microsoft's patent application seemingly points to the next stage of the Xbox console's evolution, describing a peripheral capable of projecting a scene that surrounds the user. It won't replace the central TV display, but rather will serve as a secondary video output, providing a "peripheral image" that will "serve as an extension" of the primary display. This would seemingly indicate that a gamer, playing an FPS, would physically turn around and see an approaching villain.
In addition to the projector, the console peripheral will also feature a depth-sensing camera system – likely the Kinect – within the same casing. This portion may be a standard, two-camera, structured-light-sensing system like the current Kinect device, or be a more sophisticated model that could include "multiple image capture devices" to "stitch a panoramic image from a plurality of captured images" pointed in all directions around the room.
The depth-sensing camera, as described in the patent, will sense the layout and topography of the room. This information will in turn be used to provide color and distortion correction so that the projected images look correct even when projected against walls and various pieces of furniture. The camera will also determine the player's physical position and adjust the scenery accordingly so that the environment looks natural as the player moves about the room.
The patent application also suggests that stereoscopic 3D could be used, offering gamers an even more immersive, 360-degree experience. This seemingly points back to the "Fortaleza glasses" concept, the augmented reality display mentioned in leaked Microsoft documents back in June. There's even mention of a "Shielded" region in the projected image so that the light doesn't shine directly in the player's eyes.
Still, this concept makes you wonder what the function of the primary display will be. It's possible that it will contain only information about what's going on in the game such as score points, the amount of ammo, or some other HUD-like information. There's also a question as to how the user would move through this environment – would he/she walk in place and the depth-sensing camera would sense every step?
Even more, where would the console be placed? In the center of the room? Along a wall? One concept image shows the console and peripheral seated next to an HDTV sitting flush against a wall. On the screen is the gamer's virtual gun and virtual enfironment which of course flows over onto the surrounding walls. If the HDTV still serves as the main view, then the entire scenery will likely rotate as the player progresses through the shooter.
But if this device is meant to provide a stationary virtual environment so that the player can physically walk around the room, then it will require a specific group of games – maybe like a rail shooter where the virtual "car" stops so that the player can shoot enemies before moving on. It could also be used in RPGs and mystery games or perhaps the next SIMS title – it's all speculation at this point.
As Ars points out, this application may never be approved, but it seems that Microsoft wants to move one step closer to an actual Holodeck. To read the entire patent application, head here.