Augmented Reality Headsets for Consumers

Augmented Reality Headsets for Consumers

Consumer grade is somewhat of a misnomer for most of the current augmented reality (AR) hardware solutions you’ll find here (with notable exceptions like Mira, ARKit, and ARCore). Most of the current generation of augmented reality headsets focus their attention on enterprise-grade solutions. In addition, many of the current generation of AR headphones are sold in development mode, with pre-order kits available to developers but not extensively for mass consumption.
Even as you read this, the first generation of augmented reality devices will not be fully released. It’s still a moving target to talk about. However, all the devices listed in this section have at least reached a point in their development to be considered part of this first generation.
When looking for augmented reality devices, you may find many AR headsets released as beta kits or developer kits. This usually means that the headphones are not currently ready for mass consumption. Devices released in developer mode are aimed at developers, often to create a basic level of software before it’s released to consumers.
Manufacturers know that a large-scale release of their headphones without corresponding software is more likely to fail. The developer headset version allows manufacturers to not only work with professional users of their devices and solicit input from them directly, but also start building their market from the ground up with apps created by developers who receive early versions of their devices.
Augmented Reality Headset: Microsoft HoloLens
HoloLens is one of the top-tier head-mounted displays (HMDs) on the market, in part because of Microsoft’s marketing clout. But marketing aside, HoloLens has proven to be one of the most impressive first-generation HMDs and has gone a long way toward setting the standard for augmented reality headsets.
HoloLens is a standalone headset that does not need to be connected to a desktop or laptop computer. Its built-in sensors map the environment around you to create 3D holograms. Recognizes gestures and voice for user input. In the same way visuals are placed above the real world, HoloLens has a built-in 3D speaker system in place of headphones that overlays augmented reality sound over real world sound. This helps prevent the user from closing off from the real world. If set correctly, HoloLens also allows holograms of the digital world to be closed with physical objects in the real world. The 3D ball rolling under a real table can disappear from view, as if it were real.
Although the HoloLens is undoubtedly one of the standard headsets for augmented reality, there are still improvements to be made. The most common complaint about HoloLens is their field of view (FOV). The HoloLens’ tracking and visuals are very impressive, but a smaller FOV can sometimes interrupt the hologram you’re looking at, breaking the immersion in the experience. Aside from the field of view, the device is a bit bulky and not entirely accurate. Even with its size, it manages to be a comfortable experience, packing a massive amount of computing power into a wearable.
Microsoft has higher goals for its mixed reality hardware than most people can imagine. In an interview with Bloomberg, HoloLens inventor Alex Kipman claimed, “The phone is already dead. People just didn’t realize.” Kipman believes that a mixed reality device like the HoloLens will one day replace all cell phones. Given the current huge form factor and high cost of most AR headphones, this future can be hard to imagine. However, with a rumored independent device from Apple AR, Microsoft’s HoloLens, and Google’s exploration of mixed reality with ARCore, that future may be closer than you think.
Looking ahead, expect the next generation of HoloLens to dramatically improve the field of view. Microsoft has claimed that it already has a way to double the visibility of the current generation of HoloLens, bringing them close to being on par with the current generation of VR headsets. This would be a huge step forward in supporting what many consider to be the greatest weaknesses of the current generation HoloLens.
The future of HoloLens may be mass consumption, but the price of the current generation and FOV will be the main factors keeping it out of the hands of everyday consumers right now. However, HoloLens is a good choice for any enterprise level augmented reality experience. With Microsoft’s lofty goals in mind, don’t be surprised by a mass consumer release of HoloLens or a similar device within a generation or two.

AR Devices: Magic Leap
Magic Leap has long been in the shadows of the AR world, popping up every now and then to drop an impressive new teaser video of its technology. The company’s products were hidden from view for seven years, and in that time, Magic Leap showed investors enough to raise about $2 billion in funding and raise a company value of nearly $6 billion. However, not much was known about the final form factor of its product until the end of 2017, when Magic Leap revealed the Magic Leap One Creator Edition.
Magic Leap One consists of three separate components:
Light clothing: display goggles that are worn over the user’s head
Lightpack: Pocket PC for visual playback and input acceptance
Control: Six degrees of freedom (6DoF) controller to allow input and haptic feedback to and from the system
Magic Leap One is a standalone device that can be worn freely (like the HoloLens), but it still needs to be linked to a Lightpack computer (like the Meta 2). However, the Lightpack’s small size makes it clear that Magic Leap One is designed for a more independent mobile experience than Meta 2.
Similar to the HoloLens and Meta 2, Magic Leap One has a number of sensors built in to detect surfaces, planes, and other objects to allow for digital mapping of your physical environment. This should allow for strong object interaction with your environment (digital balls bouncing off physical walls, virtual robots hiding under physical tables, etc.). Input is provided through Control, but the Magic Leap system is also said to support a number of input modes such as voice, gestures, and eye tracking.
Partly because computing brains are worn on a user’s belt or pocket, the Magic Leap One headset is smaller than the HoloLens or the Meta 2. Visually, it looks more like the simple glasses many people imagine when they think of “future AR technology,” although the The size is still larger than standard glass. The Magic Leap’s FOV will likely fall somewhere between the smaller FOV for the HoloLens and the larger FOV for the Meta 2.
Magic Leap should be available to developers in 2018. Without a product release, it’s hard to say which market the first generation Magic Leap One might be suitable for. However, if you are consuming or developing augmented reality devices in 2018, Magic Leap is a device not to be overlooked.
AR Devices: Mira Prism
The creators of Mira Prism take a different approach to delivering an affordable AR experience. To avoid including other AR headsets for an onboard computer to power their goggles, Mira Prism will instead use a mobile device to power the AR experience. All you need is a compatible mobile device and a Prism headphone, and you are good to go.
Prism is a clever solution to the cost problem that plagues many current AR headphones. Most consumers don’t feel comfortable spending upwards of $3,000 on a first-generation AR with little to no consumer content available. Since Prism is powered by your mobile device, the headphone kit pricing is just $99, which is more affordable for regular consumers.
Many first-generation headphones dealt with this issue the same way to great success. Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream are all examples of VR headsets that offer low-cost headset hardware that can be played by a mobile device. Cardboard, Daydream, and Gear VR sales numbers far outpace those of their more powerful and more expensive counterparts.
Apple ARKit and Google ARCore
While they are not the sci-fi glasses most people think of when imagining augmented reality in the future, the way most users will experience augmented reality for the first time is through their mobile devices. ARKit and ARCore were Apple and Google’s AR platforms targeting the iOS and Android base, respectively.
The baseline features of ARKit and ARCore are similar. Both ARKit and ARCore provide motion/position tracking for their digital holograms, environmental understanding to detect things like horizontal planes in a scene, and light estimation to detect the amount of ambient light in a scene and adjust visuals for holograms accordingly. ARKit 1.5 updates include support for vertical surfaces (walls) and 2D images as well. ARCore is looking forward to doing the same. All of these features work together to allow 3D holograms to be placed in a space in a room and treated as if they were in the environment with you.

Placing a virtual chess piece on a real world table will make it appear (when viewed through your mobile device) as if the chess piece was on the table. Walk towards it, away from it, all around it – the virtual chess piece will still appear as if it were on the physical table.
Many current augmented reality headsets use some type of projection for their visuals. This can result in holograms that are never completely opaque but instead appear somewhat transparent to the viewer. Since ARKit and ARCore are integrated into your mobile device’s video feed, complete blackout for holograms is allowed. However, unlike many headphones, neither ARKit nor ARCore support a deep understanding of your environment. Blockage is possible on these devices, but it is far from perfect and requires more work to achieve.
Due to its tight control over both hardware and software, ARKit may have some advantages between hardware and software integration. Meanwhile, ARCore showed a small advantage in environmental mapping. ARCore has been able to store a much larger map data than its surroundings, which could lead to more stable mapping.
The decision between ARKit and ARCore will likely come down to the hardware you prefer or your target market. The features and limitations of both ARKit and ARCore are similar enough that neither currently has an advantage that can be distinguished from the other. If you or your market prefer Android devices, ARCore is the way to go. If you are inclined to Apple, then ARKit is the best solution for you.