Nintendo has filed a new VR patent.
As reported by GameRant, the new patent closely resembles Labo VR, which seemed to be an ad hoc implementation of the technology.
For Labo VR, players had to assemble the VR glasses themselves, using a proprietary cardboard supplied by Nintendo. These cardboard glasses have an opening where players put in their Nintendo Switch consoles, without the JoyCons attached, and the Switch’s screen would adjust to become a VR display.
In the Nintendo patent, the display is described as “an image display system”. As you can see in the image above, that system looks like a pair of boxy goggles.
GameRant also points out that Nintendo uses these descriptions of the features of the device:
- Head-mounted heads-up displays
- Virtual cameras with changing parameters
- Multi-view video systems with image reproducers
- Mixed reality, incl. images for computer graphics
- Optical systems or apparatus with display position adjusting
- Input arrangements for transferring data
- Dynamically adapting virtual camera to keep a game object or game character in its viewing frustum, e.g. for tracking a character or a ball
- Data monitoring related to the user e.g. head-tracking, eye-tracking
Most interestingly, the patent has a priority filing date of March 20, 2019, marking the initial date Nintendo filed the patent. The Labo VR Kit itself was released as a product on April 2019.
So, it looks like Nintendo took the trouble of patenting their planned VR technology as soon as they had a product ready to bring to market. This patent looks like it was filed in anticipation of a potential future where VR had emerged as a major consumer technology.
Of course, that hasn’t quite happened yet. While VR is starting to stabilize as a market, the industry that has emerged is an upper class amusement, instead of something enjoyed by a broader, more general audience. The VR industry’s attempts to make their products cheaper and more mainstream has not led to the mass adoption that we have seen happen for the Walkman, Game Boy, or iPod.
The PlayStation VR 2 had infamously seen skepticism towards its financial success. Assuming that the product turned out to be profitable on its own, the low attach rate of PSVR2 to the PlayStation 5 – hardware that the PSVR2 needs to function – would seem to indicate that its fate is ultimately no different.
We could run down Nintendo’s history of exploring VR and AR technologies here, but why bother? This patent is not definitive proof that they will be releasing a VR product of any kind in the future. Sometimes the patent is just for protecting the idea. That’s probably the case here too, as Nintendo is unlikely to join the VR train until the industry proves that it is beyond feasible, and can actually be hugely profitable, at the level Nintendo is used to attaining.