Between HoloLens and its Windows Mixed Reality efforts, Microsoft has gone all in on virtual and augmented reality systems. But while VR and AR may be separate systems now, Microsoft is looking toward a future in which both will be combined in one headset.
A new patent discovered by German blog Windows United shows what at least a portion of this headset might look like. The patent describes a system that would allow you to adjust a VR headset's opacity, letting you switch between viewing VR content or the world around you on the fly. From the patent description:
A virtual reality headset system with an area configured to change its opacity. The virtual reality headset system is configured to provide an immersive experience, but also allow a user to see at least part of the outside world. The headset has a housing which partially encloses a display. The housing has an opening configured to cover the user's face. The housing has an area between the display and the user interface that is configured to change the degree of opacity.
Such a system could allow you to switch between viewing immersive VR content to the real world without taking off your headset. Microsoft already offers a more limited version of this capability with the Flashlight feature in Windows Mixed Reality headsets, which uses a combination of a headset's cameras and motion controllers to let you peek out at certain portions of the space around you while immersed in VR.
What would be impressive is if the system described in the patent could be used to seamlessly switch between VR and AR applications on the fly. For example, you could strap the headset on to interact with VR applications, but then change the opacity to display virtual objects on the real world. Microsoft's HoloLens chief Alex Kipman has already been pretty vocal about this being the end goal of mixed reality, allowing you to use one headset for both VR and AR.