THE RACE for space on your face will get serious this year.
Google has bailed out of the smartglasses battle for now, but a new fight is emerging between the likes of Microsoft and Samsung, as well as promising newcomers like Oculus and Epson.
Consumers will not just be asked to choose a company but a technology, as virtual reality faces off against augmented reality.
Microsoft started the newest technological skirmish at its Windows 10 event when it revealed a project it had secretly developed below the visitors’ centre on its Redmond, Washington campus.
The HoloLens prototype looks like an oversized, futuristic pair of sunglasses.
It features transparent lenses, “advanced sensors,” speakers to deliver surround sound, and two processors.
Microsoft described HoloLens as the world’s first “untethered holographic computer” as it requires neither wires, nor a connection to a computer or smartphone to operate.
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella says the device will deliver “mind-blowing experiences”.
In a demonstration, a wearer created a three-dimensional drone only she could see in the spectacles, with the object appearing to form and remain suspended in midair.
HoloLens creations fall short of the dictionary definition of holograms, being “a three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser or other coherent light source,” but they fit the definition of augmented reality in which artificial images appear over those from real life.
Augmented reality has previously been used by gaming companies Nintendo and Sony to deliver animations that appear to come from real-world objects like playing cards, and in apps such as Google Sky Map and Star Map that draw constellations over real-world images as you point your phone at the sky.
But in introducing HoloLens, its inventor Alex Kipman ensured the augmented reality project was not confused with its virtual reality brethren.
“We’re not talking about putting you into virtual worlds,” says Mr Kipman, who also created Microsoft’s Kinect hands-free gaming system.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited about all of the progress being made in virtual reality, but virtual reality may not be for everyone. We’re dreaming beyond virtual worlds, beyond screens, beyond pixels and beyond today’s digital borders. We’re dreaming about holograms mixed into your world.”
The HoloLens will debut “in the Windows 10 time frame,” he says, which is expected to be late this year.
Samsung will launch its headgear in the more immediate future, however, with its Gear VR virtual reality headset primed to arrive in Australian stores this month.
The headset, priced at $249, will use the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 as a screen, with users installing the phone into the front of the headset before slipping it over their head.
The virtual reality goggles, created with Oculus, deliver 360-degree videos, with wearers able to turn their heads to see footage behind them.
Basic video games have also been created for the Gear VR, including space-themed titles in which users move their head and tap the headset’s touch panel to shoot spaceships.
Oculus also recently debuted its first virtual reality movie at the Sundance Film Festival, showing a film called Lost. Five more VR films are currently in the works from its Story Studio.
The company’s own first commercially available headset is due to launch some time this year.