AR Enabled Headsets You Need to Know About in 2021
Accelerated by the demand from enterprises seeking remote assistance and collaboration tools as well as media and entertainment that strives to enhance consumer experience, AR is expected to rapidly increase its integration pace. With over 7.3 billion mobile users predicted for 2023, the same year the global number of mobile AR users is expected to reach 2.4 billion. Even though today most of us use AR through our mobile phones, in the nearest future we can expect wearable devices to come as an alternative. It is still too early to predict which tech company will be the ultimate leader in AR hardware production, however at this point we can already identify some of the patterns that indicate the directions in which these companies will be stirring.
As the technology accelerates in both software and hardware directions, the buzz around a variety of AR glasses continues, with quite a few competitors like Vuzix, Lenovo, Snap Inc. on the market. Looking at solely AR headsets let’s not forget about the tech producers that develop Extended Reality (XR) and Mixed Reality (MR) headsets, that incorporate AR to digitally overlay real world objects, which could potentially make competition for the Augmented Reality hardware market share.
As the AR hardware landscape continues to expand with new players and devices, we would like to take a step back and look at some of the remarkable, purely AR or AR enabled, headsets. The devices that have been and will be forming the Augmented Reality marketplace up until today and further into the future, the hardware capabilities and their specifications.
Before we go any further it is essential to identify some of the key specifications and the reason behind their importance. Starting with FOV (Field of View) which indicates the range of visible environment while wearing the device, to eye-tracking that allow to detect users gaze direction and use it to control and navigate through experiences, as well as refresh rate which indicates the number of times the display refreshes per second and how smooth the visual part of the content will look. Let's not forget about the display resolution responsible for image sharpness, clarity and detail, also Wifi and its speed of connectivity which impacts the streaming bandwidth, and last but not least the weight of the device which is essential when it comes to ergonomics and prolonged usability. It is also important to note that some of the purely AR and AR enabled headsets can operate as standalone devices giving them the opportunity to be both mobile as well as work without any additional equipment required.
Magic Leap 1, launched in August 2018, is a powerful wearable computer powered by NVIDIA® Parker SOC, a Mixed Reality headset with AR capabilities. Equipped with both handheld and handsfree controllers, weighting 316g, Magic Leap 1 enables wide 76.9° diagonal FOV, 120Hz refresh rate, with 1.3M pixels per eye resolution and Wifi 5 compatibility. The high-fidelity graphics enable to build experience for both enterprise and consumer use, submerging users into immersive world-aware environments. However, as the price is still quite steep for average consumers ($2,295 - $2,995 USD) the device is more often used for enterprise focused experiences. As Magic Leap has announced its partnership with AMD, the high performance processors producer, we can expect the future devices to grow in performance and fidelity. It will be curious to see if Magic Leap manages to integrate some of the acquired new technology into the next generation Magic Leap 2 enterprise-oriented headset, promised to be available in early 2022. Nevertheless, the current Magic Leap 1 stands out due to its eye-tracking capabilities and advanced refresh rate.
HoloLens 2, launched in November 2019, is one of the heavier (566g) standalone self-contained Mixed Reality holographic device with enabled AR capabilities. Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 Compute Platform it comes with 2k 3:2 light engines resolution, 6DoF (degrees of freedom) tracking, 52° diagonal FOV, 1080p30 video and Wifi 5 compatibility. The device enables fully articulated hand tracking that allows to interact with holograms in a natural and intuitive way, supporting voice command and control as well as eye-tracking. Even though HoloLens 2 is originally positioned as an enterprise grade headset, with purchase price of $3,500 USD, it is rumored that the next generation HoloLens 3 will be consumer oriented to compete with tech giants like Apple and Lenovo who plan to launch their versions of consumer AR devices. We have still yet to hear the official launch date, however more resources report that we can expect it to be launched in March 2024. While we wait for the next generation device, the current Hololens 2 has its major advantages in being a standalone device with enabled eye-tracking.
Nreal Light, launched in August 2020, are lightweight (106g) consumer and enterprise aimed AR glasses. With 6DoF spatial tracking, 52° diagonal FOV, Nreal Light has a 1080P single-eye resolution display and combined light guide optics. The AR headset has integrated plane detection as well as image recognition, accompanied by dual speakers and microphones enabling spatial sound. Nreal Light includes spatial commuting cameras as well as ambient light and proximity sensor. The Computing Unit that comes with the Nreal Light Developer Kit, is powered by Qualcomm® SnapdragonTM 845, supporting Unity SDK it is aimed at developers, providing them with an opportunity to transform or re-develop their apps for the AR device. The AR headset was priced at the regional launch in Korean for approximately $586 USD, with Developer Kit previously shipped at $1,199 USD. Nreal Light glasses should definitely be noted for their high display resolution as well as light weight.
Oculus Quest 2, launched in October 2020, up until recently has been considered a VR only headset. However in July 2021 the coming of Passthrough API Experimental was announced, a new system that allows to expand device capabilities towards MR and AR. The system is promised to be available with the upcoming v31 SDK update. Oculus Quest 2 is an All-in-One VR headset with inside out tracking, 113° diagonal FOV and 6 DoF. Powered by Qualcomm® Snapdragon XR2 Platform, the device has 1832×1920px per eye resolution, 72Hz refresh rate, integrated audio as well as Wifi 6 compatibility. Priced starting from $299 USD, Oculus Quest 2 is positioned for both enterprise and consumer use. Even though Oculus Quest 2 has only started giving developers the opportunity to explore MR and AR, it is still a remarkable standalone device with high FOV, display resolution, refresh rate and next generation Wifi compatibility.
Varjo XR-3, launched in December 2020, is an Extended Reality (XR) headset that is considered amongst the top currently available immersive devices with highest visual fidelity, which also includes AR capabilities. The enterprise grade headset (weighting 594 g + headband 386 g) with full bionic display has 1920x1920px per eye focus area resolution, 146° diagonal FOV as well as 90Hz refresh rate. LiDAR powered depth awareness allows for 3D world reconstruction with pixel-perfect real-time occlusion. Photorealistic device comes with Varjo inside-out positional tracking and eye-tracking. The enterprise grade headset is compatible with a number of 3D platforms and software like Unreal Engine, Unity, OpenXR 1.0 and many more. Even though Varjo indicated the device to be compatible with a large variation of Windows 10 desktop computers, the device has complex system requirements in order to connect and operate as well as deliver stable results. Varjo XR-3 is available for enterprise purchase at $5,495 USD for the device and starting at $1,495 USD for a one-year subscription. Varjo is without doubt one of the most advanced capacity devices with both highest diagonal FOV and display resolution accompanied by eye-tracking.
Snap Next Generation Spectacles launched in May 2021, are wireless lightweight (134g) developer-oriented AR glasses powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 Platform. Leveraging 26.3° diagonal FOV and GPS capabilities, the AR glasses have 480x564-pixel per-eye resolution and incorporate hand, surface as well as marker tracking. Even though Snap Next Generation Spectacles are conveniently wireless, their current battery life is up to 30 minutes on a single charge, which could have posed a challenge if the AR glasses were aimed at consumers as well. Lens Studio expansive ecosystem integration allows for developer’s real time building and interaction with their creatives. As no plans have yet been announced to widen the device target audience to consumer use, we can only wait for more news to come to surface in the upcoming months. As the AR glasses are not meant for consumers, currently there is no known price for the device, the headset can only be requested by immersive experience creators. This standalone device is both low weight, has one of the highest refresh rates as well as is equipped with GPS.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3, available from August 2021, the enterprise aimed lightweight (130g) smart glasses that tether to a laptop or mobile workstation. The AR device was announced to be available in two editions, ThinkReality A3 Industrial Edition and PC Edition. Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 Platform, the AR glasses feature a stereoscopic display with 1080p per eye resolution, 47° diagonal FOV, voice, image and object recognition, as well as head and gaze tracking. The AR glasses aim to transform enterprise work environments and advance productivity, while delivering seamless user experiences. ThinkReality A3 could provide opportunities to access 3D visualizations or even immersive collaboration and training from any location worldwide. Currently available only in some parts of Asia, North America and Europe the PC Edition device is communicated to be priced at $1,499. ThinkReality A3 considering its light weight brings forward a fairly high display resolution.
Lynx R-1, anticipated to kick-start at the end of September 2021, is an all-in-one Mixed Reality (MR) headset that is expected to combine both AR and VR. Powered by Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ XR2, the device is promised to have 6DoF, gesture recognition and hand-tracking, 90° diagonal FOV, 90Hz refresh rate and 1600 x 1600 per eye resolution. The headset is expected to support Unity3D SDK as well as OpenXR and should be Wifi 6 compatible. The device is promised to have 2 integrated B&W cameras for positional tracking, 2 IR cameras for hand tracking as well as 2 RGB cameras. Promised to Kickstarter with the price of $499 USD, Lynx R-1 is still positioned as an enterprise level device, thus the previously communicated full price is expected to be around $1,500 USD. The stand alone device is worth noting also for its WIfi compatibility.
Rokid Air, estimated to launch in November 2021, are portable lightweight (85g) AR glasses that are promised to have 1920*1080 per eye resolution, 75Hz refresh rate, BridBath Optical display with 1800 Nits brightness, phone enabled gesture control as well as AI voice recognition. The device is communicated to come with a 43° diagonal FOV optical display, offering a 120'' immersive display which provides quite a FOV for AR experiences. Even though the AR glasses require to be tethered to a power supply, they are promised to be compatible with a significant number of devices including PCs, laptops, mobile phones as well as game consoles. The two HD directional speakers will provide for a more immersive experience. With initial Kickstarter price of $359 USD, Rokid Air Glasses retail prices are indicated to be $499 USD. Rokid Air combines a high display resolution with light weight.
Nreal Air, announced in September 2021 with the promise to be launched in December this year, are yet another pair of AR glasses about to appear on the immersive technology marketplace. The upcoming pair of smart glasses is promised to be lighter than its predecessor Nreal Light, weighting only 77 grams. Communicated to be a device that will have a large projection display, ideal for content binge watching, the degree is promised to have a 46° FOV, up to 90Hz refresh rate allowing for a smoother visual experience. As the main aim of the device is to aid its users in watching tv, the micro-OLED chip powered AR glasses are expected to have a 201″ virtual screen. The device does not include neither motion tracking nor inside-out tracking capabilities for privacy reasons, however, are equipped with an "Adjustable 3-Step Rake System" which can be used to adjust the angle of view. Promised to be available at first in South Korea, China and Japan, Nreal Air is a pair of AR glasses that will surely stand out due to their lightweight.
The pace of expansion of the AR market landscape doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, with tech giants and smaller players striving to develop and deliver next generation wearable devices for both enterprise and consumer use. We are bound to see AR hardware producers focusing more on visual-fidelity, connectivity and ergonomics of the next generation devices. It will be equally exciting to see how fast the technology will advance alongside with what additional capabilities and opportunities it will bring to its users in the nearest future.