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Reality check: Your guide to digital headsets

Kelly Duggan 0
“Augmented Reality” breaks out of its shell

This past summer, the world proved it was ready for augmented and virtual reality technology. Pokémon Go! shook consumers by combining the Ninendo classic with each individual’s surroundings, an example of augmented reality (AR) done right.

Ever since Google tried (and failed) to make digital eyewear a trend back in 2013, tech companies have stayed far away from the concept. However, with the new appreciation for AR, developers are realizing its potential…and by “developers”, I mean Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and, yes—Google again. It looks like digital glasses/headwear are about to be big, so here’s your guide to current products, as well as what’s in the works.

Microsoft HoloLens

mixed reality

The HoloLens brings users into what Microsoft calls “mixed reality”: your normal perception of the real world with added “holographs”, or 3D visuals.

Users can manipulate their experience with gaze, gesture, and by speaking to Cortana (Microsoft’s version of Siri and maybe also a nod to Halo fans out there?). The device’s content is driven by apps. HoloStudio, for example, is a 3D design studio that eliminates that pesky real-life prototype building process.

The Windows store also offers Skype for HoloLens and a few gaming apps like Fragment. The difference between Microsoft’s product and other headsets is its real-life value. Unlike virtual reality, “mixed reality” incorporates itself into your everyday life, so you can go about your day wearing HoloLens (provided you don’t get a headache).

The device could be especially useful to designers, engineers, inventors, architects, or anyone of the like. Interested? The current development edition can be yours for just $3000!

Facebook Oculus Rift

virtual reality

The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift is a virtual reality-based device. This makes it a totally immersive experience, which is optimal for any of the many games the Oculus website offers.

Besides gaming, VR is great for intense movie watching and exploring programmed landscapes (West World, anyone?). Rift requires a high-functioning PC to install these programs, which makes less accessible than other headsets. However, Oculus and Samsung have come out with the much cheaper Gear VR headset for Samsung Galaxy.

Smartphone-powered VR isn’t quite as quality, but it’s more appealing to the general public. Rift goes for $599 ($798 including Touch controllers) and Gear is $99 (not including the cost of a Galaxy).

Google Daydream

virtual reality

An excellent redemption post-Google Glass, Daydream is a comfortable VR headset made from lightweight fabric. So far, the device only works with the Pixel smartphone.

Like Oculus, the device is geared toward watching movies and gaming, but also offers a virtual travel experience like no other with Google Street View. Reviews have deemed Daydream the simplest, most comfortable, and cheapest (at $79) AR/VR headset on the market right now, but not the best quality.

So…where’s our iPhone-compatible AR device? According to Bloomberg, it’s in the works. Rather than a full-blown headset, Apple may be considering digital glasses. An easier-to-wear, iPhone-friendly device could blow HoloLens, Oculus, and Daydream out of the water if Apple executes it well. Rather than gaming or designing, I’m envisioning an iOS interface, kind of like the retinals in Dave Egger’s The Circle. For now, I’m waiting on contact-lens friendly technology.

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