Introducing augmented reality headsets

htc vive

Friday, 3 April, 2020

Despite a constant battle for innovation and industry firsts, there’s a pack mentality among the big technology firms.

If they’re all investing in a new product or service, there’s a very high chance we’ll all be using it in a few years’ time.

And so it is with augmented reality headsets.

These wearable gadgets are still in their infancy from a consumer perspective, despite billions of dollars of investment from Google, Apple and others.

The augmented reality headsets market is also being contested by smaller innovators and disruptors like Magic Leap, who brought their eponymous headset to market 18 months ago.

They’re competing against products such as Microsoft’s second-generation HoloLens headset.

But what do these bulky headsets do, and is it worth investing in one now?

One giant leap?

Augmented reality headsets are designed to sit across the user’s eyes, projecting digital information onto transparent lenses.

They work rather like head-up displays in modern cars, overlaying key data across a view of the real world.

Headsets often have diminutive onboard speakers built in, but their main function is to display content within the user’s field of vision.

Some do this in flat two-dimensional mode like a conventional screen, while others project freestanding 3D holograms to create a sense of depth.

They can track eye movements and identify head movements in six directions, often responding accordingly.

Unlike virtual reality headsets, AR devices let you see what’s around you. At a football match, they could show live stats and replays while you watch the game.

However, there is more excitement around their potential as educational and gaming devices.

Workplace apps could help production line staff to identify parts, or flash up live patient data for medical professionals during health checks and procedures.

In terms of gaming, it’s easy to envisage how Pokémon Go would have been improved if you could play without staring at a phone screen and bumping into street furniture.

There are many other potential uses. Imagine standing in your home and ‘seeing’ whether a new piece of furniture would fit in, or how a particular wallpaper might look.

Location-based experiences could potentially replace tour guides with easy-to-translate visual and pictorial information.

Should I buy one?

Not yet, no.

The Magic Leap 1 isn’t on sale in the UK, and US sales have been so far below expectations that developers may feel reluctant to build apps for its bespoke operating system.

Throughout this sector, headset availability is severely limited at present – as are potential uses.

Microsoft is currently pitching the HoloLens 2 at businesses rather than consumers, promoting its own AI and cloud hosting services for training and product development.

Even if the technology sounds compelling, it’s worth waiting a couple of years to see if greater availability pushes down early-adopter price premiums and leads to more content.

We’re still waiting for a sufficiently lightweight and consumer-friendly device to achieve critical mass in this exciting new market sector.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!