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Potential Nintendo Switch VR headset, touchscreen showcased in patents

A head-mounted Switch?

Nintendo Switch Nintendo
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

It might one day be possible to slot the Nintendo Switch handheld into a head-mounted unit for virtual reality gaming, according to newly published patents for Nintendo’s upcoming gaming system.

The patents, which Nintendo filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in June, were published today. They offer the closest look yet at the Switch and its possible uses, with detailed images of potential hardware configurations and schematic diagrams of the system’s innards.

The most interesting application seen in these patents is a marriage of the Switch’s handheld unit — the brains of the system — with an accessory that can be strapped to one’s head, a combination that could offer VR gaming. We should note here that as with everything in patents, this is merely an example of a possible use case for the Switch, not proof that Nintendo is planning to support VR; all the devices and situations described in the patents are subject to change.

While the relevant patent doesn’t specifically mention virtual reality or augmented reality, the latter seems unlikely in this case because unlike the HTC Vive, the Switch unit does not appear to have a rear-facing camera to provide a pass-through image. However, these patents (and previous ones) do mention a possible AR situation: The bottom of the right Joy-Con controller features an infrared camera that can detect hand movements and gestures.

Here’s a look at figure 60, which illustrates the VR setup:

Nintendo Switch VR accessory
A possible VR accessory for the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

As you can see, the Switch unit would slide into the top of this accessory to form a head-mounted display; the setup would function similarly to Google’s Daydream View headset or Samsung’s Gear VR, both of which support smartphones. A user would view the Switch screen through lenses meant to expand the viewing angle to increase immersion, and the console could warp the image accordingly.

The patent says that the current design of the Switch includes acceleration and angular velocity sensors, which the console could use in this configuration to calculate the position and movement of a user’s head — a key aspect of bringing a player into a virtual world. The filing also notes that since the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers can be used wirelessly, a player would be able to slot the display into this accessory, strap it to their head and then interact with a game using the controllers.

Today’s patents also corroborate previous filings that mention a touchscreen display on the Switch unit. Nintendo has yet to confirm the type of screen that the Switch uses, but one of the filings indicates that the current design uses a capacitive multitouch display, rather than the single-input resistive screens featured on the Wii U GamePad and Nintendo’s handhelds.

As for the Switch’s docking station, the patents indicate that the device performs image processing in order to format the console’s video feed for output to a television. Currently, the unit outputs video and sound to the cradle via a DisplayPort signal, and the dock converts the feed into an HDMI signal that goes out to a TV. The cradle also functions as a USB hub, offering three USB ports — no word on whether they’re of the modern USB 3.0 standard.

Network connectivity is briefly discussed in the patents. In the images that Nintendo has released of the Switch and its dock, there does not appear to be an Ethernet port anywhere on the system. But since the handheld unit is designed to be portable, people have been wondering about wireless internet options. A patent says the current iteration of the hardware includes a Wi-Fi chip, but notes that other versions could support mobile networks instead of or in addition to Wi-Fi.

Hopefully, Nintendo will confirm these details and provide many more during its Switch presentation next month, which will be livestreamed from Tokyo starting at 11 p.m. ET on Jan. 12.

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