China-based virtual reality headset maker ANTVR has decided to enter the augmented reality space, and to do so it's launching its headset on Kickstarter. The company claims that its new Mix AR device has a field of view that surpasses the Meta 2, the HoloLens, and others within a smaller form factor and at a fraction of the price. But there's a catch.
According to ANTVR, the Mix's 96-degree field of view is achieved by using dual-channel lens, which use separate optical channels for external light from the user's environment and internal light from the device's display module for AR content. The company claims that the method makes AR content clearly viewable in variable light conditions, appearing to be roughly three meters away.
With a retail price tag of $649, the Mix is available for as low as $449 via early backer discounts, with the device scheduled to ship by Dec. 2018. For that price, the company says the Mix is capable of displaying content at 2400 x 1200 resolution and 90 frames per second. It also packs Bluetooth connectivity, an HDMI 1.4 port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, a microphone, and sensors for detecting movement, orientation, and direction into its slim frame.
The Mix also has a sizable content ecosystem available with SteamVR support (sort of). The company is encouraging developers to adapt their existing VR apps for the Mix by setting clear backgrounds and applying a black skybox (the panoramic texture behind objects in a scene).
However, while the ANTVR advertises the Mix as more capable, more compact, and less expensive than current options, there are some caveats.
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Like the Meta 2, Mix is a tethered headset, so users will need to have a Windows 10 64-bit PC that meets system requirements for processor, memory, and graphics. So if you want to take this experience on the go, you'll need a backpack. By comparison, the Magic Leap One, also a tethered headset, will be powered by a wearable computer.
Furthermore, instead of building sensors for tracking position, hand gestures, and eye movement into the headset, ANTVR punts these capabilities to modular components. The headset comes with a 3DoF (degrees of freedom) controller, but 6DoF tracking requires a $100 module. If users want hand tracking, they will need to acquire a uSens hand-tracking module, which runs $100. Eye tracking is farmed out to another module, a $190 unit from 7invensun.
With all of the add-on options, the retail price quickly balloons to $1,328, and the headset adds significant mass due to the added components.
While Kickstarter campaigns can sometimes draw skepticism, ANTVR is not a fly-by-night company. The company boasts a pedigree of past successful Kickstarters and venture backing for its VR headsets, some of which have been rebranded and sold by companies like Lenovo, Motorola, and One Plus.
In the end, Mix manages to highlight all of the issues faced by the augmented reality wearables industry as it vies for mainstream acceptance. With current technology, a slim form factor device at a low price comes with compromises in capabilities. At this point, high-resolution graphics rendered in a wide field of view still requires computing power that adds more bulk to a wearable's form factor unless it is tethered to a computer.
So with its modular approach, ANTVR is letting users pick their poison as far as compromises are concerned. As of this writing, the Kickstarter campaign has already surpassed its $50,000 goal, but the campaign still has 30 days to go for those interested in snagging an early version of the device.