With HTC Vive and Oculus Rift invading our homes providing new sources of entertainment through virtual reality, augmented reality is still slowly but surely catching up in its own way.
Microsoft HoloLens is the most well known device though it's far from the most accessible thanks to its hefty price tag and frankly, tiny field of view. But the HoloLens isn't the only AR headset out there making waves. Meta's second generation headset is getting closer to giving everyone a taste of what AR can really do.
Hands-on: Microsoft HoloLens review
The first Meta was closer in design to the Epson Moverio glasses or a less refined version of the ODG R7 smartglasses, where the Meta 2 employs a similar design to the HoloLen's headgear. There's a lot more going on in the front because of the 720p webcam, plus sensors that track your hands and location. On the back sits a nine-foot wire (like the one on the back of a Vive).
For how large the front portion looks on first glance, the headset is quite light. They're also the most comfortable I've worn since it accommodates for people who wear glasses. Rather than sitting on the bridge of my nose, on top of my glasses or taking the place of my prescription lenses, the Meta 2 simply sits over them in a slanted manner.
If you're turned off by the sound of yet another cumbersome device tied to a PC, trying the Meta 2 may change your mind. The display has drastically improved from the first headset. The field of view and resolution are now 2560×1440 (1280×1440 per eye) resolution and 90 degree diagonal field of view, compared to the 960×540 per eye resolution and 36 degree field of view of the original.
This all makes for the most immersive AR experience I've had yet. Where HoloLens has a tiny field of view and Magic Leap shows videos showing people reaching out and grabbing objects, Meta 2 actually let me do it.
Granted it wasn't a perfect experience - the sensors and tracking were shaky and didn't capture my hand movements completely. Still, demos of reaching out to pull a shoe from an Amazon webpage to see it in 3D right in front of me or moving videos around the room were impressive.
The gestures were also ones that are familiar. Pinching and zooming with both hands in a fist and pointing out in space to select were again wobbly, but produced the desired effect in the end.
Another demo of a video call was something I hadn't previously experienced. In theory, the Meta 2 will be used in social settings where two people can view the same presentation, object, etc., but holographic calls are also possible. Specifically, video chats on the headset can bring up the person in front of you.
The applications for AR are pretty endless and while a tethered headset is limiting, the company is open to the possibility of an untethered device in the future. Right now, the developer's kit is a better, well rounded experience for creators to tinker with. The Meta 2 has built its platform on Unity and already supports Spotify, Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office.
At $949, the second-gen unit still remains expensive and considering the $500-$700 VR headsets are already a hard sell, it's questionable whether the company will be able to ask that much if it maintains, or even ups, that price point.
Related read: CastAR wants affordable AR for all
Figuring out affordable costs seems to be a problem for many AR headsets right now, but at least Meta 2 has the field of view down. That's something the others are still trying to figure out. Now, all it needs is improved tracking and perhaps an untethered headset to firmly secure the spot for top AR device.
You can expect the Meta 2 to start shipping out in Q3 to developers.
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