Nreal’s upcoming augmented-reality headset projects high-quality virtual images in a package that looks like an ordinary pair of sunglasses
A pair of prototype augmented reality glasses won praise from industry watchers at last week’s CES conference in Las Vegas, with one analyst saying they were arguably the “star of the show”.
The Light glasses from Beijing-based Nreal resemble a pair of sunglasses and can link to an Android phone via a USB-C cable.
They run standard Android apps, and when users are wearing them those apps seem to be blown up to a giant size.
The image only operates in a 52-degree field of vision, but Nreal says it’s comparable to watching a 200-inch television.
The glasses include SLAM tracking cameras that map the user’s surroundings, so that the apps can interact with nearby walls and objects.
Users can change the size of the app’s window, move the window around and open other apps alongside it.
The smartphone can be used as controller for games or as a trackpad for other apps. The glasses also include speakers for 360-degree sound.
Users at CES said they were surprised at the high quality of the 1080p images and how intuitive the interface is.
Nreal has plans for AR-specific applications, but testers said they found the glasses worked well even with standard apps such as games or watching videos, turning them into huge, immersive displays.
The glasses were “arguably the AR star of the show”, said analyst Leo Gebbie of CCS Insight, adding that Nreal’s booth had “constant queues”.
“Impressive visuals, and even though experiences on offer are limited to basic games/video, still a good showcase,” he said on Twitter.
He added that they “nearly look like something you could wear in public”.
Unlike competing AR headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 or the Magic Leap One, Nreal relies mostly on the Android phone to carry out processing chores, meaning that the glasses themselves are relatively lightweight.
Nreal has done away with the separate, pocket-sized processing unit used by a prototype displayed at the beginning of last year. The decision means the Nreal Light offers less sophisticated features than a competitor such as the Magic Leap One, in exchange for added simplicity and a lighter weight.
CCS analyst Ben Wood said the polished operation of the Nreal Light was in part a “great vindication” for Qualcomm, who worked with Nreal on the hardware.
The company also points out that the Nreal Light can be folded up like an ordinary pair of sunglasses, unlike the headsets from Microsoft or Magic Leap, due to a specially designed hinge.
They are planned to sell for $499 (£384), compared to $3,500 for HoloLens 2 or $2,295 for the Magic Leap One.
The Nreal spectacles are to come with an option for prescription lenses at their expected launch in the second quarter of this year, the company says.
Facebook’s Oculus also makes headsets, but their virtual-reality design is immersive and doesn’t layer the virtual components onto the real world.
As Gebbie remarks, Nreal’s glasses aren’t perfect. They grew “very warm” during use and he found that the phone-based control system could be refined – although he said the glasses were still “ahead of other similar products on show”, some of which seemed to be “held together with sellotape, tinfoil and prayers”.
Nreal is also being sued by Magic Leap, who accuses chief executive Chi Xu – a former Magic Leap employee – of stealing technology and of using a design “strikingly similar” to Magic Leap’s devices.
In December Nreal denied the allegations and filed a motion to have the case dismissed.
AR is a hot area for tech companies, with Samsung and Apple having shown interest in the field, and some industry watchers have speculated Nreal could find itself simply acquired by a bigger firm.
At CES Nreal said it’s working with telcos including KDDI, China Mobile and China Unicom on new offerings, as well as other companies on online shopping and gaming experiences.
The company’s $1,199 kit is already available to developers.