In the squabble between virtual and augmented - or mixed - reality tech, Avegant's founder and chief strategy officer Edward Tang is in the tank for mixed reality.
Avegant's first product, the Glyph, is a $699 wearable display for watching movies and playing games in private and looks like a pair of Beats headphones pulled over your eyes. But it's the (admittedly small) crisp and clear picture that's the star here - it is produced via retinal projection technology, processed by a series of two million micro-mirrors within the device. In short, it beams the picture onto your retinas. If only VR looked like this.
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"Everything is heading towards mixed reality," Tang told us at Web Summit 2016 at Lisbon. "It's the end goal, the next major milestone, for the industry. With virtual reality, there's going to be a great couple of years for VR but I see it as more of a transitional phase. When mixed reality is done correctly, VR becomes a subsegment of mixed reality."
Now Tang wouldn't spill on whether Avegant's next device will be its own second gen headset or a collaboration with a player in the virtual or mixed reality space. But he was clear on the huge potential for Avegant's technology.
"It's much higher resolution as we are not limited to traditional pixels," he said. "There's also much better performance. Latency has always been an issue for VR making people sick, these retinal projection displays are so fast.
"They're also very flexible in configuration. There's a lot of configurations we can have with different optics and display engines that can do things like transparent or opaque displays, displays with different fields of view, we're even looking at topics like light field, which is really exciting for multi focal displays."
Unpacking that a little essentially this technology could solve some key problems of virtual reality - such as motion sickness - and move it to the next stage with light fields, something Magic Leap is already exploring.
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In the near term, the Glyph is heading to retail stores in the US for the holiday season and with a recommendation from Oprah boosting interest. Avegant's also expanding distribution in China where the Glyph is sold with nosepads specific to nose, eye and face shapes there. Why China? "There's a lot of markets like China and Japan that are really accepting of more future looking technologies. There's even more early adopters out there."
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The headgear has seen some updates to 3D, Bluetooth and OTA updates throughout 2016 and Avegant's founder says we can expect these continue - though he wouldn't confirm the lifecycle of the first Glyph.
Thanks to head tracking, Glyph users are also expanding the uses of the headset. So, for instance, lots of users are picking up a Glyph to hook up and pilot their shiny new drone: "It's a really big market for us, the ability to be able to see from the sky, and you can integrate the headtracking so as you move your head, the drone will move around."
We'll be keeping an eye on Avegant - Intel is an investor and it's been steadily raising cash over the past few years. It's not clear precisely what's coming next.
"When you have a great mixed reality display, it should be immersive, it should be high quality, it should have the ability to block out the world when you want to," said Tang. "Whether or not we make something of our own or partner with companies to make something, I think is a little bit up in the air."
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