3 years ago, I was blown away when I watched on Youtube a virtual gigantic whale diving in a sports hall. It was a concept video made by Magic Leap. A company claiming to have unique knowledge to create realistic immersive MR (Mixed Reality) using futuristic wearable goggles. The company created a hype around their upcoming product and it worked out. They received full attention of the tech press and were able to get a lot of funding from investors like Alibaba and Google. But last year, it became very silent around Magic Leap and some critics thought the product was fake and they were not able to deliver.
Magic Leap felt this pressure and on the 1st of July they finally announced their product to the public: the Magic Leap One, a best of its kind mixed reality (MR) headset. The product contained all the latest tech to scan your surroundings and project interactive 3D content on your walls, floor, sealing… all topped with spatial audio. The stakes were high because the release was a reality check: were the concept video’s faked, exaggerated or real?
There is just one way to find out, and this is by trying it out yourself. That's exactly what we did at The Reference. We received the "creator edition" that was distributed before it will be made available to the public. This gives developers the chance to make applications for the environment and be ready once it is out. Magic Leaps knows they need a lot of creative developer support to get some market traction and eventually sell their hardware. This is why they position the Magic Leap One as a development platform.
Will it be better than the “old” Microsoft HoloLens of which we were disappointed by the small view angle and immersive feeling?
The price is about the same as the HoloLens so we expect a stand-alone device with good build quality and interface. Well, the bad news is that it is still bulky. This is because the headset is connected to a small powerful computer (with a cable) that you have to put in your pocket. The interactivity comes from a heavy remote control with touchpad and buttons to hold in your hand.
But don't let it fool you. After exploring some demo’s we found that the product is well thought out, light weight, well designed and offers a nice immersive experience.
ComfortWe were impressed by the effort that has been done to make the headset comfortable. The system to stretch it around your head is ingenious, you can have different eye and nose pieces... and it feels very soft on your skin. When you are wearing glasses, it is very difficult to put the headset over your glasses (if they are more-or-less big ones). You can however, buy corrective lenses to be inserted natively in the headset.
The initial setup is quite heavy and time consuming, but the configuration wizard is well crafted.
First of all, you have to execute some tests to define the ideal position of the headset. Then you have to stare at white points at different distances and lastly you have to calibrate your head tilt eye differences to prevent eye strain.
As you finally think it is ready to go, you are not because the Magic Leap wants to scan your room first, so it can detect the walls, floors, doors etc. This is quite impressive because you really see dots on the scanned surfaces and a 3D mesh that is created around you. The more you look and walk around, the better the room is scanned. It is remarkable that Magic Leap can recognize the room you are in later on, so this scan procedure must be done only once if you stay in the same room of course.
Currently there are only a very limited number of (demo) apps installed / available:
- viewing pictures, movies and 3d models
- an idea how social linking could work aka Facebook
- sample game where you are controlling a flying sorcerer and have to beam-up some objects
- New York times web page enhanced with 3D experience
- an e-commerce scenario to buy and customize skirts
- 3D animations (whales, t-rex) to transform your room (after being scanned) to a live cinema experience
- NBA beta to make of any wall a big flat screen television.
Each application must be installed and the (commercial) app store idea is nicely integrated.
We found it difficult at first. There are several menus and you have to use 3 buttons on the controller all with a specific function. Sometimes you even see a pointer that you must control using the trackpad on top which contains 4 edge buttons also. At a certain moment you have even a virtual laser pointer coming out of your controller where you have to point at menu items.
Text entry is done by projecting a keyboard and then selecting letters via the remote control. This is tedious, speech recognition would be nice or the recognition of hand gestures would also be a nice way to go.
It is clear Magic Leap is testing out several interfaces and is looking at UX / developers to find the best MR interface.
Well, we are still not there yet. It is a lot better than the MS HoloLens but the viewing angle should be some degrees wider.
The device is now 6 years in development and the technology promises a true dept viewing experience (using the wave guide technology). The basic idea is to project the 3D objects in space with the same distance as the real world, this where traditional VR technology use an infinite projection. However, in the end they decided to only go for 2 planes. Your eyes are tracked (cross-eye detection) and one of the 2 planes is chosen to project the content. You can clearly see when the system swaps between both planes and this reduces the immersive feeling.
The image quality is great and has a high resolution and a high frame rate. The objects are not translucent and have vivid colours.
Keeping track of the location of the 3D objects was very well done too. If you walked around the object keep exactly at the location you placed it.
Spatial mapping and occlusion is not that accurate. Dark are transparent and reflective objects are not well mapped and create “holes” in your room mesh. This results in 3D objects that sometimes disappear or are sliced with no reason. The resolution of the room mesh must be better to create a real immersive feeling.
Spatial audio quality
The sound is very clear and can be set loud enough. The positioning is well done and really supports the immersive feeling. But because it is not using in ear headphones all people in the room must listen along with you.
After exploring the demo’s and wearing the device for several hours we don’t feel it as a big disappointment but we expected more for a device that comes 3 years after the Microsoft HoloLens.
It is clear that 2D interfaces are slowly being replaced by MR ones. The Magic Leap One is a step forward but not yet the promised game changer that is affordable and appealing enough for a big audience. We think it is suitable for a professional market of product designers, researchers, education and industrial and medical usage etc. The same target audience just like the MS HoloLens and Google Glass.
The developer community is still small and the development platform young but we believe this can grow quite fast if it receives enough attention and if it can fill in the initial expectations. But this can take years and even a Magic Leap Two and Three.
We wouldn’t be surprised that at a certain moment (probably 3 to 7 years), Apple or Google launches a similar capable device, with seamless technology integrated in "normal" glasses or even in contact lenses already supported by a huge fanbase and a developer community. So, our advice to Magic Leap is: hurry up! Improve and polish your product and content as fast as possible with the huge investment funds you have received.
Deliver us the immersive experiences and superb visual quality you showed us in your Youtube concept video’s 3 years ago.
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