Apple’s Patent Gives an Inside Look at Spatial Video

The company’s filing gives a potential peek at what’s in store for the Vision Pro.

Photo of Apple's Vision Pro headset
Photo by Steve Zhang under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Apple wants to immerse its users into the silver screen. 

The company is seeking to patent its system for “spatial video capture and replay” that’ll be integrated into its Vision Pro headset. Basically, Apple’s tech lets users capture 3D video while removing the effects of “capturing camera motion,” effectively putting a user within the scene they captured.  

Here’s how the upcoming feature may work, according to the filing: When capturing video, Apple’s tech uses a “coordinate system” for static objects, meaning that it locks in their location within a space and only renders moving objects within a 3D video. For example, Apple notes, if you take a video of your family moving around the living room, the people moving around within the content will be rendered to move, but the static objects, such as a couch or coffee table, will remain in the same coordinates.  

Apple’s system makes adjustments to the 3D video during playback to remove the effects of device movement within the video (essentially, taking out shaky camera work and making it more stable). So when a user watches the video back while wearing the headset, there won’t be any glitches if they look around, putting the user within the video environment. 

The tech also allows for the “concurrent playback of multiple spatially related 3D videos.” meaning if two videos take place in the same scene, they can be played at the same time (For example: a wedding, a sporting event, a party, or anything else that could be shot in the same room at multiple angles.) 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Apple revealed the Vision Pro headset at its developers conference in June, touting spatial audio and video development as a primary feature. The headset is a strong first entry to the mixed-reality arena, with a sleek design and solutions to latency and passthrough issues common in other headsets. As Jake Maymar, VP of Innovation at The Glimpse Group, previously told me, Apple’s bread and butter is “deceptively easy-to-use experiences.” 

But Apple may be dropping this headset into a shaky market. For the casual consumer, spending $3,499 on the Vision Pro may seem like a stretch, especially with a predicted slowdown in consumer spending right around the corner. Meanwhile, Meta has been pumping out VR headsets at a fraction of that price for years now. 

While the steep price point may deter the casual Apple consumer, the company has targeted developers as its likely audience for initial adoption: Alongside the launch announcement came a brand new development kit to give developers the tools to create spatial experiences and content — which will probably help Apple sell more headsets in the long run. 

Plus, this is likely the first in a long line of headsets to come, Maymar previously told Patent Drop. While the $3,500 price tag may be a sticking point for now, it may come down as more iterations of the device come to fruition. 

As for this filing itself, Apple may be using the same playbook it has for spatial audio and gaze tracking and control: Filing as many patents as the company can for the tech in its headsets, aiming to get a grip on sought-after systems among mixed-reality device developers. By making this tech proprietary, Apple is able to offer something that other mixed-reality devices can’t – and could potentially make some cash licensing out its systems, too.