Updated Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 01:51 PM
It will be hard for Microsoft to come up with a new Xbox accessory that tops the futuristic Kinect motion sensor.
But it's trying, judging from a Microsoft patent application for a "laser-scanning virtual image display."
Conceptual drawings illustrating the system show a helmet that could be used for video gaming. It has a laser display system built into the visor, plus a microphone. Also depicted is a version built into glasses.
I came across the patent first at PatentBolt.com, a blog that noted Apple, Sony and Google have all researched miniature displays, headsets and visor systems.
Sony last year began offering a 3-D TV headset for $799, and Google reportedly is working on eyeglasses with data projected onto them. It could go on sale later this year.
Microsoft applied in September 2010 for a patent on the laser display system invented by Adrian Travis, a senior researcher in the company's Applied Sciences Group. Travis, who was previously at Cambridge University, is a noted optics researcher with experience in 3-D displays.
The patent application was published earlier this month.
It explains that the human eye can't focus on images less than a few centimeters away, so the display system provides a virtual image in a focal plane further from the eye. "One challenge in this field is to form such an image using a compact, robust optical arrangement, which also provides suitable image resolution and fidelity," it continues.
This display system "may be be coupled into goggles, a helmet, or other eyewear. These configurations enable the wearer to view images from a computer, media player, or other electronic device with privacy and mobility."
By displaying two different images concurrently, it may be used for stereoscopic, virtual-reality applications.
The patent describes how a pair of ordinary-looking eyeglasses could use this system to project a 16:9 aspect ratio image that looks to the wearer as if it were a 21-inch diagonal display viewed at arm's length.
The helmet version "may be used in applications ranging from video gaming to aviation."
Pretty soon you'll be able to squeeze a powerful computer into the same gear. Maybe your grandchild's Xbox will be a pair of funky eyeglasses or a shiny black helmet.