Microsoft patents the future via head-mounted display tech

One of the things I love about covering personal tech is how the gadget blogosphere will catch wind of a story and run with it, passing it from site to site with everyone trying to add to the story. (Like I’m about to do.)

Such was the case yesterday. Actually the story starts on Monday when PatentBolt unearthed a Microsoft patent for a head-mounted display. Yesterday Engadget picked up the story, followed by Joystiq and others, but everyone seemed to be treating the story gingerly, as if they weren’t sure how seriously to take it. Then Ars Technica jumped in and cited several game developers who’ve mentioned they’ve been working with similar hardware, apparently coming from eMagin. So maybe there’s something going on here.

The big question, of course, is how serious is Microsoft about this? Head-mounted displays aren’t anything new (I remember playing Dactyl Nightmare in an arcade back in the early ’90s) but of course the tech is always improving, getting lighter and offering a higher resolution image. The Microsoft patent doesn’t specify resolution but says the image would appear as a 16:9 aspect ratio, 21″ diagonal monitor at arm’s length. The game devs mentioned they were using 1920×1200 pixel displays.

Ars Technica seems to think a head-mounted display like this would be the perfect complement to Microsoft’s Kinect sensor since it would mean you could move around naturally and always have the screen in front of your face. The patent suggests that the glasses would be translucent which would help prevent you from knocking over lamps or tripping over the coffee table. Sounds great, right?

Except I don’t see it ever taking off. Now don’t shoot the messenger, those Dactyl Nightmare sessions were $5 or $10 for 10 minutes, and I thought they were totally worth it! I think I’d love a system like this.

But considering how resistant the public is to adopting 3D TV because they “don’t want to wear those goofy glasses” I just can’t imagine that same buying public strapping on a head-mounted display in order to play video games. Can you?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe if the glasses get light enough and cheap enough and stylish enough, they could catch on. And if they did I think it’d lead to quite a revolution in computing. It’s easy to run with the science-fictiony possibilities. Smartphones would ditch their screens and become tiny devices that pair with the head-mounted display glasses that everyone wears. Your car’s dashboard would be projected right onto those same glasses so you never had to look down. Eventually some brilliant engineer will figure out how to fit the technology into a pair of contact lenses and from there…it’s the future!

Hey, it’s fun to think about, but we have to walk before we can run. Do you think there’s a chance that we’re ready, as a society, to embrace the idea of a head-mounted display? Or is this just a case of Microsoft registering a patent as insurance for the future? Please leave a comment!

Read more of Peter Smith’s TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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