Fans and hopefuls in the VR and AR spaces have long wondered when Magic Leap would finally reveal anything to cash in on years of hype and $1.9 billion in investments. Most people who saw the company's first product announcement on Wednesday may still be waiting.
The company has finally announced a product, dubbed the Magic Leap One, which includes a headset, a single wand controller, and a "lightpack" processing unit—the latter to be worn on your waist like a high-tech fanny pack. The kit is currently advertised as a "developer" device and has a vague launch window of 2018—which will hopefully be enough time for the company to actually show us the final, physical product. No price has yet been announced.
Wednesday's announcement, unfortunately, only shows a few static images of what the product will look like, and thanks to perfectly smooth details and a lack of realistically dangling cord connecting the headset to the lightpack, it's fair to assume that Magic Leap has only delivered a Photoshop render of its long-in-development product. No video footage of the device being worn was released on Wednesday.
The product description repeats promises we've heard before—that the headset projects lights near your eyes to convince users that digital objects appear in the real world as if they're actually there—and without the strain or brightness of a constant display. However, exactly how the system projects those images—and maps an entire room so that digital objects will remain in a proper position no matter when you put the headset on or take it off—is still entirely unclear. We get to see eight camera-like sensors on the front of the device, at least, but it's unclear whether Magic Leap One will contain rear- and side-facing sensors to help map unseen portions of a room.
Additionally, it's impossible to tell how comfortable Magic Leap One will feel to wear, as its opening render appears to be made entirely of a hard, plastic shell. The best part of a VR or AR headset is how it looks in action, but we received no previews of that functionality today. Instead, we just get to look at a bug-eyed headset render that might fit into an early '00s Spider-Man film.
A report by Rolling Stone's Glixel confirms that Magic Leap will introduce two different-sized models of the One headset—which even the biggest VR companies have opted not to do, choosing instead to make head-mounted displays that can adapt to any face size. The Glixel report also explains Magic Leap's engineering hook: it reduces overhead by only rendering a cut-down portion of a full light-field of view. According to Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz, the human brain only processes a cut-down amount of that data, much like how MP3s only require a cut-down range of frequencies to nearly perfectly recreate full-fidelity audio.
The worst news from Glixel's report, however, is that Magic Leap's "field of view" (FOV)—meaning, how much augmented effect appears when wearing the glasses—is only slightly bigger than that of Microsoft's similar Hololens. Glixel's Brian Crecente compared the augmented region to "a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended." Crecente also never confirms whether the headset he tested looks anything like the renders revealed to the public today.
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