The Hardware has arrived: Hololens and Meta 2 set to Shape AR

Colin McMahon
May 10, 2016

2013: The Oculus Rift developer kit (DK) 1 is unveiled and released at an incredible $300 USD price tag. One year later, the industry was introduced to the Vive and the first two “true” virtual reality (VR) headsets were set. From that point on in 2014, the VR hardware market was solid, instead of being a matter of speculation. Developers could get their hands on the exact technology to build their applications. Two years later and augmented reality (AR) has reached that moment – with the Microsoft Hololens and the Meta 2.

Source: https://mshololens.wordpress.com

Source: https://mshololens.wordpress.com

Microsoft first previewed Hololens last year, and released its developer kit in March. Developer kits of the Meta 2 are currently open to preorders, with a target release of Q3 2016. Both platforms aim to create a standard for AR, much in the same way that the Rift and the Vive have created one for VR. That said, the differences in the AR standard appear more pronounced.

There are technical deviations to be expected: the Meta 2 and Hololens each use a unique method of projection. The difference grows when field of view (FOV) enters the picture. The Hololens has a limited 30 degree horizontal FOV, meaning that the user will need to be looking the content practically dead-on at all times. The Meta 2, by contrast, boasts a 90 horizontal degree FOV. While still not one-to-one (average human FOV is a horizontal 180 degrees), the Meta 2 clearly leads its rival in this regard. The good news is that researchers at Microsoft are already working on “SparseLight” technology to combat the decreased FOV in VR/AR. The bad news is that this technology has currently not been applied to the Hololens.

The Meta 2’s DK entry price gives it a much stronger chance of maximum market penetration. The Hololens DK has been priced at $3,000 USD. The Meta 2 will ship for a mere $949 USD. While neither one is nearly as accessible as Oculus’ DK1, the Meta 2 is still below the $1,000 benchmark. While the Hololens price is not astronomical, its price point may restrict its market.

Large businesses will not be intimidated at the $3,000 prospect, but Hololens may lose in the independent (indie) developer market. This could matter if a killer AR app ends up coming from an indie source, as was often the case for the smartphone market. Furthermore, it is unusual to see the Hololens DK currently being pushed as a gaming platform – as the price puts it well out of video game console industry (a Sony PlayStation VR is only $399 USD plus console and camera). Again, larger game companies will have no trouble playing the $3,000. For much of the growing indie game industry, however, that price point is likely too high. The indie game industry (and indie industries in general) largely does not have the funds or revenue stream to make long-term investments.

All that said, the DK price is not the consumer price. The final price can, however, be an increase, such as the Oculus Rift’s initial $300 DK1 price becoming an eventual $600 USD for consumer version (CV) 1. This increase was met with negative consumer reaction, but it is still unknown whether it actually affected early Oculus sales numbers.

Hololens unique strength is in its portability. Unlike the Meta 2, the Hololens is “untethered,” requiring no additional PC to run. This greatly increases the range of application for the Hololens, as its user will not need to worry about dragging a computer everywhere they go – or tripping over a cord. It is likely that this technology is inflating the price point of the Hololens, as the idea of high-end untethered AR is new.

The AR market is slowly building and full of promise. Now that the hardware is in the hands of developers, it is only a matter of time before the consumer versions arrive. If the VR timetable is applied, the Meta 3 (or Meta CV – the device’s final name is still unknown) and Hololens CV will hit the market by 2018.

Neither device is perfect for customers yet, but developers created amazing applications with the Oculus DK1. Should the Hololens be able to lower its price point for its CV version, expect mass market penetration. As for the Meta, it may be the next Oculus. Its affordability at the DK level will put its device in the hands of many developers, who will be eager to take advantage of its superior FOV. Comprehensive TED talks are available on the Meta 2 and the Hololens.

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