Tech Transformers

Could the next PlayStation be a glove and a visor?


Sony has been awarded a patent for a glove which can interact with games in virtual reality (VR) and outlined plans for a cloud-based gaming system, which could be a competitor to its own PlayStation consoles.

The Japanese electronics giant was granted the patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on February 25 and it outlines how a "glove interface object" with sensors on it to track the movement of the hand, could connect with a processor and head mounted display. The hand would be rendered in virtual reality with a user able to see it via the headset.

"A growing trend in the computer gaming industry is to develop games that increase the interaction between the user and the gaming system. One way of accomplishing a richer interactive experience is to use wireless game controllers whose movement is tracked by the gaming system in order to track the player's movements and use these movements as inputs for the game," Sony's patent said.

Sony's concept is similar to the "Power Glove" released by the Nintendo in 1989, which could be used to control games on a screen. It had several buttons on it.

This is only a patent so it doesn't necessarily mean Sony will be making the product. But it does highlight the company's intent to try and innovate in the VR world against competitors such as the HTC Vive and Facebook's Oculus Rift.

'Cloud gaming'

Sony is set to release the PlayStation VR headset this year which will be an add-on for its PlayStation 4 console. It clearly has scale for the venture to be successful, with a PS4 install base of 36 million. But its new patent highlights a different direction for the company, one in which the headset could be a standalone product.

The image shows a "cloud gaming" module which connects to a network, then to the computer and then to the headset and gloves. But Sony's patent says that the computer could be a "network device, such as a router", meaning that a person could access game via the cloud on the headset and gloves without the need for a PlayStation console.

Sony currently has a subscription service called PlayStation Now which allows users to stream games on-demand without owning the disk or downloading a copy of each title. Experts said that if Sony's patent becomes a reality, the standalone headset and gloves could use PlayStation Now as the cloud platform for users to access games. A console won't necessarily be required.

Would PlayStation suffer?

But this does have the potential to cannibalize future PlayStation sales, whereas the current PlayStation VR offering is an add-on to consoles. So why would Sony want to bring this to market?

"You could argue, why should they establish a competitor to its already existing and well running PlayStation business, especially in the current generation? Sony is clearly winning against its rivals," Serkan Toto, chief executive of game industry consultancy Kantan Games, told CNBC by phone.

"But PlayStation Now is already a competitor to PS4 as it can be used on the PS4, but also on the PS3, PS TV and on a lot of Sony TVs out there. They already have two different platforms and ways to entertain people," Toto said, explaining that the console and cloud gaming system could work together if it comes to market in the form of the glove and new headset.

Of course, for this to be a success, Sony will need to vastly improve the games available on PlayStation Now. Most of the titles featured are older games from the PS3 and PS2 and none are compatible with VR.

"The content has to be tailor made for this new device which Sony is apparently looking at. The catalog that PlayStation Now has is mostly old titles and not compatible with the power glove device."