Just add an iPhone to experience AR with Mira’s $99 headset

While mobile VR is a vibrant market these days, thanks to the Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View, the same can’t be said for AR. If you want to dabble in augmented reality, you’d better be prepared to shell out at least $ 950 on hardware like the Meta 2, and even more for a beefy PC to run it. Microsoft’s HoloLens, which helped to popularize the dream of AR, still costs a whopping $ 3,000. But Mira, a young LA-based startup, is hoping to make things simpler Prism, its $ 99 mobile headset. Just drop in an iPhone 7, and you too can view AR atop the real world.

Prism looks like a slimmed down version of the Meta 2, with a similar set of transparent, oversized lenses for displaying AR imagery. Similar to the Gear VR and Daydream, there’s a slot for for your phone (it only works with the iPhone 7 for now). Instead of pointing the screen right at your eyes, though, you position it away from you. A set of mirrors reflects what’s on the screen and repositions it on the front lenses. It might sound like a bit of a hack, but the result is a surprisingly clear set of holographic images in a relatively inexpensive device (not including the cost of the iPhone, of course).

I had no trouble putting on the Prism; even though looks a bit bulky, it’s significantly lighter and easier to wear than either the Meta 2 (which needs to be tethered to a PC) or HoloLens. Mostly, that’s due to the healthy layer of cushioning that rests on your forehead. The front lenses snap on magnetically, allowing you to easily remove them when you need to travel with the Prism.

Mira has also developed a small motion-sensing controller, which is curved and fits into your hand like the Daydream View’s. Most importantly, it also includes a trigger for your index finger like the Gear VR’s remote. That’s particularly useful for interacting with virtual objects. The remote also sports a touchpad on top, as well as menu and home buttons.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Even though I only had a few minutes with the Prism, I was impressed with what I saw. I’m used to trying on headsets that are too expensive for most people to buy, so it was a bit of a shock that it worked at all. Beyond the initial setup experience, I played a holographic game that involved maneuvering a character through a maze, which relied on the controller’s motion controls. Another game had me spinning around in my chair to destroy asteroids hovering all around me. I was particularly surprised how well Prism tracked virtual objects in AR, even though it doesn’t have any spatial mapping technology like HoloLens and Meta.

Mira says developers will be able to build both single and multiplayer experiences with its SDK. Your friends will also be able to see your AR adventures on their iOS devices using Spectator Mode. They can also take photos and videos of you interacting with virtual objects, which makes the Prism experience a bit more communal than VR headsets.

Of course, Prism will only be as useful as the software available for it. Mira says the initial release of the headset is targeted at developers, and it’s partnering with a few studios to build more AR experiences. (You can expect to hear more about those in the coming weeks.) The company plans to ship Prism to developers this fall, and it should reach consumers by this holiday season. Clearly, Mira has a long and difficult road ahead, but Prism’s low price and relative convenience could help it play an important role in the nascent world of AR.

Source: Mira

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Mixed reality comes to your iPhone thanks to the Bridge headset

There’s something more than a little magical about seeing the world in front of you being devastated by dragons or augmented with arrows pointing you to your next meeting. Alas, while mixing realities like that with our smartphones is already possible, the tech still is a long way off from reaching its potential — just look at early, disappointing efforts like Lenovo’s enormous Tango phone. Luckily, startups are chasing the mixed reality dream too, including one — Occipital — that has a solid track record of solving the tricky problems that pop up when blurring boundaries between worlds. That’s why the team’s new mixed reality, the Bridge, seems so impressive right out of the gate.

Oh, and another thing: it’s specifically for iPhones. For years now, most mobile virtual reality fun has been confined to Android, with cheap Gear VRs and Daydream Views making it easy to see what all the hype was about. While some VR games and apps exist for iPhones, Apple hardware historically hasn’t gotten the same kind of developer love as Android has. To Occipital, that smelled like an opportunity. The Bridge will go one sale to the masses for $ 399 starting in March, but developers and the adventurous can snag their Explorer Editions as soon as next week. To understand what you’ll actually get for your money, we’ll have to rewind a bit.

Three years ago, the company released the Structure sensor, a fascinating bit of depth-sensing tech that was originally meant to bring augmented reality experiences to the iPad. Mixed reality still seemed like a hard sell back then, but there no denying the sensor’s ability to measure the world around it was the real deal. To hear Occipital marketing chief Adam Rodnitzky tell it, the sensor eventually started being used by real estate agents, interior decorators and doctors, and after three years, the Structure was still excellent at its job.

So, with headsets being hawked alongside smartphones all over the place, Occipital decided to make their own — they took a Structure sensor, slapped a five-element wide-angle lens in front of it, and built a sturdy, balanced frame around it. Turning an existing product like the Structure into headset might seem like opportunism at its finest, but the end result has so much potential it almost doesn’t matter.

I played with one of the Explorer Editions recently, and it was more impressive — and elaborate — than I expected. You can pop an iPhone 6 (or newer, but no SEs) into the frame and a magnetically latched door keeps it in place. From there, you place the Bridge on your head as you would a crown, and use a dial in the back to tighten it. Yes, it sounds like a sort of torture device, but the system actually works like a charm. The only real problem I came across was that the lenses sit closer to your eyes than in most other mobile VR headsets — that meant they pushed right up against my glasses most of the time. It could’ve been worse, but Rodnitzky assured me future models wouldn’t smash my frames so noticeably.

Actually using Bridge was a much smoother experience. Occipital doesn’t have any launch titles planned for the Bridge’s debut, but it does come with a demo app that stars at adorable robot pet of sorts named Bridget. With the help of a Wiimote-like Bluetooth controller, I spent a good ten minutes tossing a virtual ball around the office and watching Bridget loop around coffee tables to retrieve it. Her understanding of the world around her was fueled by a depth-scanning session that only lasted a few seconds — once that was done, I had a mapped out a corner of our office with a level of precision that Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro wasn’t able to match.

That might not be the fairest comparison to make, though: for now, the Structure sensor’s software is only tuned to capture spaces of about 10 ft. by 10 ft., while Tango software usually tries to record whole swaths of a room at once. Structure’s scope might be more limited, but it does a much better job within those constraints.

After dropping that ball one time too many, Bridget was tired and needed to charge. The answer? To grab her power cord and connect it to something that lit up, like a lamp. This is what I so sorely missed when I played with Tango — I wanted to badly for someone standing next to a virtual dinosaur to be able to interact with it or to pluck a virtual domino off the ground. This was a pretty basic example, but the sort of object recognition the Structure can pull off was unexpectedly good for a headset.

Don’t think the Bridge is only capable of the usual augmented reality tricks, either: at one point, I was directed to drop a portal on the ground in front of me. Once I stepped into it, I found myself walking around inside a space station with a planet hanging lazily in the dark outside a hatch. A red mesh enveloped real-world obstacles, allowing me to dodge coffee tables and loungers as I (all too briefly) explored the station. After a few more moments of stumbling, that was that — demo over. I was just a little crushed.

With any luck, Occipital gets the sort of support from developers it’s been gunning for. The Bridge system isn’t perfect for a whole host of reasons, like the iPhone’s non-AMOLED display and the potentially big hit on the phone’s battery, but even the unfinished demo software was almost enough to make me toss the Phab 2 Pro in a desk drawer. The right kind of love could turn the Bridge into a must-have down the road — for now, I’ll just have to wait and hope.

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Homido’s V2 headset shows mobile VR doesn’t have to be basic

Virtual Reality’s main players might be household names (or owned by them), but scratch under the surface, and there’s a bustling bevy of lesser-known names jostling for your attention. Usually these fall into two camps, those with quirky features, or deluxe versions of Google Cardboard. Homido’s first headset was more the latter, with the distinction of having its own app hub for VR movies and games, and IPD (Inter Pupil Distance) controls, something even Gear VR doesn’t have. The French company’s back with a new version (called V2) that’s sleeker and compatible with more phones. What makes it interesting is the “family” of accessories that will complement it, including a Kinect-like motion sensor — making Homido’s little slice of virtual reality more than just a bourgeois take on bare-bones VR.

The good news is, the improved V2 costs the same as the original Homido VR headset. The less good news, if you’re on a budget at least, is that the original cost $ 80. Not the most expensive mobile VR headset, but still a jump if you were looking to get an upgraded cardboard viewer. The new design promises to be more comfortable, with better ventilation and a more premium feel along with an all-important capacitive button (no more pressing play, then quickly shoving the phone in the viewer). It’ll also support large phones including the iPhone 6s Plus.

Homido doesn’t want to just be known as a fancy phone holder, though. It’s Homido Center app might not be quite the same as Samsung’s Gear VR in terms of razzle-dazzle software stores, but it’s a start. Despite not having the influence of the Korean giant, CEO Mathieu Parmentier tells me his goal is to offer the best mobile VR experience possible. “We’re the only company to focus this hard on mobile VR and nothing else, and that’s how we’ll stay. We’re specialists.”

Parmentier also argues that making a headset that works well with many phones is actually more of an accomplishment. “It seems simple, no electronics etc., but actually the challenge is much harder than making a Gear [VR] for three Samsung smartphones, without adjustable IPD.”

The reveal of new accessories for the V2 is proof Parmentier wants to make Homido more of an ecosystem. The new additions include a 360-degree camera ($ 200), Bluetooth game controllers (Android/iOS costing $ 40/$ 60 respectively) and an as-yet-to-be-announced motion sensor. The controllers aren’t all that remarkable, but the addition of a 1080p/30fps VR camera plus app for converting videos into a Facebook or YouTube-friendly format (handy in its own right) would make Homido an easy entry introduction to VR video and photos.

As for the motion sensor, less is known. This would be something of a first for a headset at this price, though. Earlier this year, the company demoed it at MWC, allowing users to interact with games physically — like boxing with your fists. Rumours suggested the sensor might debut alongside the V2, but it looks like this might have been delayed. Once it does arrive, though, this would make Homido an unusually complete, if unconventional little VR ecosystem. That said, only the V2 is available now, everything else will follow “soon.”

Source: Best Buy

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