Imagine a video game that’s not just confined to your TV screen or the six different ways you can flip your wrist to move the controller. Microsoft gave us a taste of the possibilities of a more immersive gaming experience with Kinect, a smart slab of plastic that turned your body into the remote control. A newly approved patent, though, shows us that the company’s not even close to finished innovating. The company’s calling the new set up an “immersive display experience,” and it looks awesome.
The best way to understand Microsoft’s new display technology is to imagine your entire living room (or bedroom or wherever) is the screen. Microsoft calls this an “environmental display,” and it’s essentially a really sophisticated projector capable of producing an image that “appears to surround the user.” That means that things could be happening all around you during the game, and you’d be able to turn around to see the action. If you’re playing a first person shooter, and a zombie comes running at you from the side, you can just whip around to the right and blast him away.
This set up does raise some basic questions about functionality. How, for instance, does the projector deal with all of the furniture in the room? It incorporates it into the landscape, according to Microsoft’s patent. The environmental display is smart enough to adjust the image so that it looks natural on any surface in the room. You don’t need to worry about getting projector light in your eyes either. The projector automatically cuts out a small portion of the displayed image — a so-called “shield” region — for your face. And yes, this will all work with stereoscopic 3D glasses.
Microsoft isn’t the only company taking these advanced interpretation of 3D to a new level. Apple also recently filed some patents for a more immersive interface experience. It’s essentially a multi-dimensional desktop that essentially recreates Microsoft’s living room-sized, 3D display and confines it to your computer’s desktop. So rather than dealing with a flat surface to store your icons, it’s almost as if you have a whole room to maneuver. It’s not unlike an actual workspace, where you can tuck things away in the corner, stack files up on the floor or hang something on the wall. Combined with the 3D eyeball-tracking interface that Apple is developing for gaming and the iPhone, the possibilities of this innovative take on an OS are endless.
As cool as these interfaces look, they’re only as useful as the software that developers build to work within them. So even if the technology is ready to go, it could take years for a proper suite of software to be built. In the meantime, it looks like you’re stuck pushing buttons and shooting at screens.