Nreal Unveils its New and Cheaper AR Glasses
Mixed reality company Unreal has finally unveiled its new cheaper and lighter augmented reality glasses which are iOS-compatible. They are known as Nreal Air and are set to ship in December 2021 across China, Japan and South Korea. Nreal didn’t reveal the price but stated that the smart glasses will cost “a fraction of the price” of the Nreal Light glasses which began selling last year for $600.
According to the China-based mixed reality company, the new Nreal Air mixed reality glasses share some core similarities with the Nreal Light glasses that the company launched in 2020. However, Nreal’s latest augmented reality glasses have been designed to look as normal sunglasses as much as possible. The company has pitched them as the perfect devices for projecting virtual big-screen displays in front of the wearer’s eyes. They are therefore designed for binge watching TVs, just like the Nreal Light smart glasses.
Both the Nreal Air and Nreal Light smart glasses leverage microOLED displays for their augmented reality optics. Finally, both mixed reality glasses are powered by a smartphone to which they are tethered via a cable. Both of these glasses are aiming at the consumer market rather than researchers, businesses and the military like other mixed reality hardware.
The feature set in the Nreal Air is, however, different from that in their Nreal Light predecessor. Like the Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap hardware, the original Nreal Light mixed reality glasses were capable of mapping the physical space around the wearer by leveraging a set of outward-facing cameras. The new Nreal Air mixed reality glasses do not have the outward-facing cameras feature. While the Air can display both video and phone apps, they are incapable of ‘seeing’ what’s around the wearer and, as a result, they do not have spatial awareness or hand tracking options like their Nreal Light predecessor. Users will be able to control the Nreal Air sunglasses via a smartphone app. This option is also available in the Nreal Light mixed reality glasses.
The Nreal Air smart glasses have the form factor advantage. They are considerably lighter than the Nreal Light sunglasses and weigh just 77 grams. Nreal Light weighs 106 grams.
Besides, the form factor has improved considerably. The Nreal Air mixed reality glasses look like ordinary sunglasses and do not have the bug-eyed look seen in the Light glasses. When seen through the product renders, the Air looks more like the Facebook Ray-Ban Stories without the front-facing cameras. The Facebook Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses have the front-facing cameras but do not have the display and weigh just 50 grams.
The Nreal Air smart glasses allow the wearer to tilt its lenses at three angles. This makes it possible for users to more easily get clearer images.
When the Nreal Light mixed reality glasses launched, they featured support for specific 5G Android phones. The Nreal Air, on the other hand, will be tethered to iPhones, iPads along with “most” Android devices.
The Nreal Air mixed reality glasses also have a higher screen refresh rate of 90Hz. The pixel density has also increased to 49 PPD. According to Nreal, these glasses will have a field of view of 46 degrees. The Nreal Light have a FOV of 52 degrees. The Air’s view is equivalent to that of a 130-inch screen from 3 meters away or a 201-inch screen from 6 meters away.
Through the Air’s viewing party option, the screen can be transformed into a shared virtual theater where they can all watch the same media with other viewers who have Nreal glasses.
Nreal is planning on expanding the rollout of the Air glasses in 2022. Although the company is yet to announce any plans to launch in the US market, its sights are set in that market.
The company will also be selling the Nreal Air mixed reality glasses in partnership with leading phone carriers. So far, the company has partnered with Korea’s LG Uplus, Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, and Japan’s KDDI.
An Nreal spokesperson stated that the company had built the Air mixed reality glasses upon the realization that most of its users were primarily using the smart glasses either to watch streaming videos (and browse the web to a lesser extent) or to build apps for the platform.
78% of users in Korea used the glasses to watch streaming content. Nreal is responding to consumer demand for lighter and “longer lasting AR glasses exclusively for streaming media and working from home”, according to the company’s founder Chi Xu. Nreal says that the absence of cameras in the Air is good for social acceptability as it will reassure bystanders that the glasses are not an infringement on their privacy.
Nreal is one of the handful of companies currently building consumer glasses. Its experience with the product so far might be a hint at what consumers are looking for when it comes to augmented reality headsets. While the company has been busy launching smart glasses over the past two years, it is yet to make a serious play for true mixed reality experiences that combine real and virtual worlds. Companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Magic Leap have been seriously emphasizing such mixed reality use-cases. Nreal, on the other hand, is taking the simpler approach by going for what people already love: binge watching videos.