Next-gen AR glasses in need of killer apps

Although there was no official involvement of Apple CES 2024 In Las Vegas, there was an entire area at the show that was still dominated by mixed reality technology. One of the most popular stands was none other than Xreal (formerly Nreal) who decided to ride on it Apple Vision Pro hype train and introduces the latest AR glasses Xreal Air 2 Ultra, in Las Vegas. The Chinese firm claims its latest headset makes an “affordable alternative” to the $3,499 Vision Pro, though it’s currently priced at $699 — up from $499. Meta Quest 3 — Xreal tries to attract developers to its ecosystem.

Unlike the rest of the Xreal Air 2 series, the Air 2 Ultra finally brings back 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) tracking – a first for the first time. Nreal Light. In other words, you can physically walk around the virtual space rather than being stuck in one place. 6DoF tracking is primarily an improvement over previous models, according to Xreal founder and CEO Chi Xu, and is driven by two front-facing 3D ambient sensors that are physically less obtrusive. Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses. As with the Light, the Air 2 Ultra supports hand tracking for direct interaction with virtual objects.

There’s also a slight upgrade in the display department, with a 52-degree field of view, up from 46 degrees on the Air 2 and Air 2 Pro. Otherwise, each eye should have the same Sony micro OLED panels with sharp 1080p resolution, up to 120 Hz refresh rate and up to 500 nits of brightness. Likewise, the Air 2 inherited the electrochromic dimming feature from the Ultra Pro, which offers two levels of shading to minimize distraction from the outside world.

Given the extra hardware for 6DoF and hand tracking, it’s no surprise that the Air 2 Ultra weighs a little more than the Air 2 Pro – 80 grams versus 75 grams, but it still feels like a pair of regular sunglasses, and I definitely wouldn’t . I’m thinking of wearing them in public. Xreal has done its best to minimize weight gain by using a titanium frame, and obviously, these glasses still require an external power source – smartphone or computer – via USB-C. I had about 20 minutes of hands-on time and never felt any discomfort, although there’s no telling if that would be the case if I continued for the rest of the day.

A third-person mixed reality screenshot of the Xreal Air 2 Ultra.A third-person mixed reality screenshot of the Xreal Air 2 Ultra.

Photo: Joel Chokkattu / Engadget

Given the current lack of third-party software (I miss it Angry birds demo in Nreal Light), Xreal can only offer a concept demo to showcase the Air 2 Ultra’s 6DoF experience. It basically consisted of a giant virtual desktop showing multimedia players, or a social media window showing the latest messages from my fictional friends, or a personal 3D movie theater with a library of three movies. On the left, a real-world smart light bar had a vertical slider to change colors. I was also given three hexagonal AR discs: one to switch between work profile and casual profile, one to switch between casual modes (contacts, social and movie), and one to display a virtual pet.

Overall room tracking worked smoothly even when I went to the large 3D avatars on my right, but things got a little tricky when it came to manual interaction. One-handed tracking looked fine (at least with the skeletons displayed on my hands), but I struggled to tweak the light bar’s color slider – resulting in incorrect hues a few times. Interaction with the AR cardboard discs was also sometimes laggy, although I enjoyed bringing my virtual pet close to one of the discs – I couldn’t pick a favorite between the dung beetle and the fiddler crab.

Xreal Air 2 UltraXreal Air 2 Ultra

Photo: Joel Chokkattu / Engadget

In response to the technical issues I encountered, Xreal’s Xu mentioned that his team had been experiencing the same thing since the show floor opened. Our demo unit also crashed once, but after restarting the smartphone everything was fine — moment Oppo Find X5, got uncomfortably hot right before giving up. This means that the Air 2 Ultra’s performance is only as good as the computing device it’s connected to.

Speaking of which, Xreal said that these glasses are compatible with Samsung Galaxy S22 and S23, Apple’s iPhone 15 and any Windows or Mac machine that can run the company’s operating system. Nebula environment. Xreal is also developing a special companion device to work alongside the Air 2 Ultra, though there’s no word on specs or a timeframe.

Xreal Air 2 UltraXreal Air 2 Ultra

Photo: Richard Lai / Engadget

Given the hiccups on the show floor, it’s only fair to revisit the Xreal Air 2 Ultra later in a less chaotic environment — especially when more developers are on board once it starts shipping in March. Still, we can’t agree that Xreal’s AR glasses can completely replace Apple’s Vision Pro, because only the latter – and any VR headset – can offer a fully immersive experience. Ultimately, if you’re looking for something that will boil down to a range of applications on each platform, but that you don’t want to wear for long periods of time, the Air 2 Ultra would probably be a better choice.

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