Time and time again, we've seen and heard how difficult consumer-ready AR smartglasses are to build. They not only have to look and feel comfortable, but they have to pack a whole lot of technology onto a light frame. And they need an ecosystem of content.
ANTVR has a novel solution for this problem with its Mix AR glasses, available on Kickstarter now for $449. The glasses, which we first tested back at GDC, are compatible with SteamVR. Qin Zheng, CEO of ANTVR, tells Wareable that this enables Mix users to experience 200 pieces of content living on the Steam store.
Hands-on: ANTVR Mix AR glasses review
These are VR games optimised by developers to contain an AR mode, which essentially allows the background of the game to disappear and instead be filled in with your reality. For instance, we were able to use Tilt Brush just as you would in VR – but with our actual surroundings in clear view.
Zheng says that building in support for SteamVR opens up new possibilities and experiences for AR. It not only quickly creates an ecosystem of content for AR, but it also gives developers AR experiences by simply converting their games for the medium. Most AR is either smartphone-based or for businesses, so an actual headset with some actual content is a breath of fresh air.
The Mix has a 96-degree field of view, weighs 130 grams and is about as bright as wearing a normal pair of sunglasses. This is a little bit of a bummer, as what you're seeing through the headset isn't very bright, which can cause the visuals to appear a little muddy at times. Wareable has tried the Mix headset on two occasions and the performance felt a little better second time around. Zheng says the company has iterated further, and will show off a new fifth-gen prototype at Augmented World Expo.
As for using the headset, that's simple enough. You plug it into your PC and download ANTVR's software, which will then allow you to play games on SteamVR – though they will have to be games that developers have gone back and added an AR mode to. So don't expect something like Skyrim to be playable.
The Mix is another stop in ANTVR's ultimate goal of lightfield-based AR glasses. The technology, Zheng says, just isn't ready for the world yet. "Right now, AR isn't for everybody," he says, pointing to enterprise users as the main users of current AR headsets.
So the company is building toward a pair of AR glasses piece by piece. It started with VR headsets, which were also birthed on Kickstarter, and is now moving toward an AR headset. However, the Mix is true to its name. Due to how successful the Kickstarter has been so far – it's grossed over $150,000 with a goal of $50,000 – Zheng says the company is now throwing in a free accessory to backers.
"Right now we have the field of view of 96 degrees, that is very close to that of mainstream VR, so we have a free accessory called the VR Visor," he says. "When the user puts it on the goggles it will totally cut off the light and switch it back to VR."
As the company iterates on its hardware and builds up a cadre of developers and content that are compatible, it can slowly begin to work on a pair of true lightfield-based AR glasses for the future. But before it gets to the future, it must deal with the present.
A question so tough a crystal ball couldn't help you. ANTVR has experience with Kickstarter campaigns with its VR headset. Zheng says the company has sold "tens of thousands" of products since then, and was able to ship headsets to all previous backers.
However, he also acknowledges that the company had some manufacturing speed bumps along the way, and that its users were instrumental in improving the quality of the headset with the second and third generations. That ability to listen to backers and make changes is something it wants to continue with the Mix.
Zheng says the price of the headset on Kickstarter is very close to cost for the company, and that it's aiming to create a community via crowdfunding rather than making any profits (at least at first).
So if you're looking to be a part of a larger build-up to lightfield AR glasses with a company that has a track record of continually iterating its products, then the Mix may be a good crowdfund for you.
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