It’s no surprise that spatial computing was a theme of CES 2024, but the XREAL Air 2 Ultra AR glasses still managed to catch us off-guard.
Chinese brand XREAL (formerly Nreal) is no newbie when it comes to smartglasses, but its offerings to date have largely been virtual 100-inch displays for watching films through a chunky pair of glasses.
So I was unprepared for an excellent spatial computing demo at Pepcom in Las Vegas.
The Wayfarer-style smartglasses don’t look too different to a pair of regular specs. Yes, they’re a little chunky, but certainly on the more comfortable and wearable end of the AR scale.
The first thing to note is that they are wired, so you would need to plug into the device that’s powering the AR experience. The XREAL spatial environment supports Mac, Windows, and Android.
The Air 2 Ultra AR offers motion tracking with six degrees of freedom thanks to built-in sensors in the frame. You also have 52-degree FOV, and HD for each eye which is bust out at a decent 500nit.
It offers hand-tracking, too, which we’ll come onto shortly.
They’re designed for developers who are starting to tinker with spatial computing applications, and the XREAL Air 2 Ultra also supports Apple’s spatial videos, which can be viewed on the glasses without an Apple Vision Pro.
Using the Air 2 Ultra AR
XREAL laid out a demo with a set of cardboard controllers and patterns that could be picked up and recognized by the glasses.
This is the company’s AR environment launcher, Nebula. There were a host of different virtual environments you could choose from, and the physical controllers placed on the table enabled you to switch between them and select different options and menus.
I was able to view contacts, choose a video call, and switch between movies – all of which looked excellent.
It was the clarity of the on-screen visuals that impressed me. Each was vibrantly detailed, with what felt like a large viewable area. As you turned your head, it felt like you were immersed in whichever little world you’d chosen.
If you looked down your hands, the XREAL glasses would pick up and show a skeletal virtual version.
It was a little jarring, and the accuracy of hand gestures needed some work, but we could pinch on virtual elements and control them to some extent, and it worked far more accurately than I had initially expected.
Like so much of the current spatial computing scene, XREAL was able to deliver an impressive demonstration - and it did all still feel a bit far from something everyday people would use.
Yet, it’s so much more wearable than anything I’ve seen before - and it might have just got me dreaming that true spatial computing could be closer than I thought.
With the XREAL Air 2 Ultra priced at $699, too, it combines to create a much more compelling proposition than a lot of what we’ve seen so far from AR and mixed reality.
The glasses are set to launch this March. Watch this space.
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