Home > embedded, Life, Linux > Augmented reality, I don’t think so

Augmented reality, I don’t think so

The world used to be a big place, but having worked around europe for a few years – and lately in the US, it appears to me much smaller. But the fact of the matter is, that different nationalities have different tastes and interests.

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The world is not as big as it used to be

In the US right now there is a strong interest in virtual-reality. The interest was so strong that Sony jumped on the VR bandwagon early, offering a full VR kit for the Playstation 4. This has been available for two years already (or is it three?). Here in Scandinavia though, VR is not that hot. People buy it, but not in the same volume we see in the US. It is expected to pick up this fall when the dark period begins; Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are largely without sunlight most of the year – and during that time people use indoor hobbies more. But right now, VR is not really a thing up here.

In parallel with VR, Microsoft picked up the gauntlet that Google threw away earlier, namely that of augmented reality.  You probably remember the Google Glasses craze that hit California a decade ago right? Well Microsoft have continued to research and develop the technology which is now available for pre-order.

The problem? Microsoft Holo-lens II is a $3500 gadget that is presently aimed at business only. With emphasis on industrial design and medical applications. I don’t know about you, but forking up $3500 for what is ultimately just a curiosity is way out of my budget. There are much more important things to spend $3500 on to be frank.

Asia, the mother of implementation

While America and Europe are hotbeds of invention, it is ultimately Asia that implements, refine and eventually perfect technology. Some might disagree with that, there are always exceptions to the rule (3d printers and VR systems are very much American made), but what im talking about are “traits and inclinations” in the market. Patterns of commerce if you like.

What usually happens when something new is made, is that it costs a fortune. To push prices down companies move production to Asia, and there materials etc. are swapped out for cheaper alternatives. Some re-designing takes place — and before you know it, a product that cost $3500 when made in the US or the EU, can be picked up for $799 on Amazon. After some time, production volume has reached it’s zenith and the device that once cost an arm or a leg, can now be bought $299 or $199.

But, there are exceptions! When there is a technology that is wildly popular, like augmented reality and VR, Asia is quick to produce their own take on the technology early – trying to get a piece of the proverbial pie. This is often a good thing, especially for consumers. It can also be a good thing for the US and EU based companies – because mistakes and design-flaws they haven’t noticed yet are taken care of by proxy.

With that in mind, I ventured into the Asian markets to see what I could find.

Banggood and Alibaba

Having searched through an avalanche of cheap VR glasses for mobile phones, I finally found something that could be worth looking into. The advert was extremely thin, citing only augmented reality in english – with everything else in chinese (I presume, I must admit I would not spot the difference between chinese, japanese and korean if my life depended on it. Tibetan I can spot due to my Buddhist training, but that’s about it).

When I ran the string of characters through google, it returned this:

“VISION-800 3D Glasses Video Android 4.4
MTK6582 1G/2G 5MP AC WIFI BT4.0 2060P MIC”

Looking at the glasses they have pretty much everything you expected from an Augmented reality setup. There is a camera up front, lenses, audio jacks on both sides, a few buttons and switches – and the magic words “powered by Android  Wearable”. The price was $249 so it wouldn’t break the bank either.

glasses

The Vision 800 in all their glory

I should also mention that websites like Banggood and Alibaba have pretty good return policies too. These websites are actually front-ends for hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller, local outlets. The outlets gets a place to sell their goods to the west, and Alibaba and Banggood takes a small cut of each sale.

To manage this and make it viable, they have a rating system in place. So if one of the outlets scams you – you can vote them down. 3 complaints is enough to get the outlet kicked from either site, which I presume is a dire financial loss (considering the volume these websites push on a daily basis). So there is some degree of consumer safety compared to direct order. I would never order anything directly from a tech cornershop in mainland china, because should they rip you off – there is nothing you can do about it.

Augmented? I don’t think so

When the glasses finally arrived i was surprised at how light they were. You might expect them to be top-heavy and tip forward on the ridge of your nose – but since the weight is actually the lenses, not the circuitry, they balance quite well.

But augmented reality? Im sorry, but these glasses are not even in the ballpark.

The device is running a fork of Android – but not the fork adapted for wearables! The glasses also comes with a stock mouse (cordless), and you are in fact greeted by a plain desktop. The cordless mouse does work really well though, but I thankfully had the sense to order a $5 air-mouse (read: remote control for android devices) or I would go insane trying to exit applications properly.

What you can do is download some augmented reality apps from Google Play. These will tap into the camera on the glasses, and you can play a few games. But that’s really it. I noticed that the outlet had changed the title and text for these glasses a few days before they arrived here, so the whole deal is a little bit fishy. Looking at the instruction leaflet, these glasses have been sold as “movie glasses”. I would even go so far as to say they have nothing to do with augmented reality.

Media glasses

Augmented reality aside, there are interesting uses for glasses like this. If the field of view is good enough, they could make for a novel screen “on the road”. I mean, if you plug in a hybrid USB dongle that gives you both keyboard and mouse, there is nothing in the way of using the glasses as a monitor / travel PC. You have the same apps that you enjoy on your phone; a modern browser that gives you access to cloud services etc.

The glasses also have an SD card slot which is super handy – and 2Gb onboard storage. So if you are taking a flight from Europe to Australia and want to tune out noise and watch movies – these glasses might just be the ticket.

glasses2

The audio works well

I must admit it was fun to install NetFlix on these and kick back. But this is  also when i started to have some issues.

The first issue is that there is no focal lense involved. You are literally looking at two tiny screens. And if you use regular glasses like I do, watching without my ordinary glasses is a complete blur. I had to use contact-lenses (which I hate) to get any use out of these. But if your eyesight is fine, you will no doubt have a better experience.

For me being 100% dependent on my regular glasses, it actually makes more sense to buy a cheap, second-hand Samsung Galaxy Edge, which were designed to be used as a proper VR display, and then permanently fixing it to a set of cheap Samsung VR casing. Even the most rudimentary VR casing offers focal lenses, so you can adjust the focus to compensate for poor eyesight.

The second issue has to do with display resolution. If you have 20/20 eyesight then high resolutions is wonderful. But in my case I would actually see better if the resolution was slightly lower. Sadly the devices seem fixed to what I can only presume is 1600×1024 (or something like that), and there are no options for changing resolution, offset display or skew the picture. Again, these are factors that only become important if you have poor eyesight.

Audio

The way they solved audio is actually quite good. On each arm of the glasses you have an audio-jack out. And the kit comes with two small earplugs. And again – if you are on a long flight and just want to snuggle up in your own world – this works really well.

If you have ear-pods like I do, you can use them via the standard BT interface. But I noticed that there was a slight lag when using these; no doubt the CPU had problems handling audio when playing a full HD movie. The lag was not there when i used the normal jack – so the culprit is probably the BT device cache.

Gaming?

I’m not a huge gamer myself, I mostly play games like Destiny in the Playstation. On the odd occasion that I jump into other games, it’s mostly retro stuff. And I have a house pretty much packed with Amiga, Silicon Graphics, and more arcade hardware than god ever intended a person to own.

Having said that, the device is capable of both native Android games – and emulation. I had no problem installing UAE (Unix Amiga Emulator), and it’s more than powerful enough to emulate an A1200 with AGA (advanced graphics architecture).

I didn’t test the casting option – because the device can display-cast to your living room TV. But somehow it seems backwards using these as a casting source – when you already have a supercomputer in your pocket. Any modern phone, be it a Samsung or Apple device, will outperform whatever is powering these glasses – so if gaming is your thing, look elsewhere.

Final words

glasses3These glasses have potential. Or perhaps better phrased – the technology holds a lot of promise. If they had opted for focal-lenses and a wider field of vision, they would have been a fantastic experience. I have no problem imagining this type of tech replacing monitors in the near future – at least for movie experiences.

I must admit it’s really tricky to hammer down a verdict. On one hand they are really fun, you can install NetFlix, browse the web and watch movies if you copy them over to an sd-card (the glasses come with a 16Gb sd-card). You have mouse control, BT and i have no problem seeing myself on a flight to hong-kong enjoying a movie marathon wearing these.

But are they worth $250 ? I would have to say no. A fair price would be something in the $70 region. If they corrected the lenses I would have no problem buying a pair at $99. And if they expanded the field of vision to cover the width of the glasses – I would absolutely pick them up at $150. But $250 for this? Sadly I can’t say they are worth the money.

I was also surprised to find pornhub as a pre-defined shortcut in the browser (I mean, who does that?). It made me laugh first, thinking it was a cheeky joke – but as a parent who could have bought these for a child, it is utterly unacceptable. It’s not the first time I have found smut on a device from Asia. But yeah, a bit creepy.

So, I would have to give them a 3 out of 6 verdict. If you have money to burn and a long flight ahead, then by all means – they will give you a comfy way of watching movies during the flight. But the technology is (for the lack of a better word) premature.

As for augmented reality – forget it. You are better off stuffing your phone inside a $100 Samsung VR casing. The official Samsung Galaxy Edge casing probably cost next to nothing by now. And for $250 you should have no problem sourcing a used Galaxy Edge phone too. Which will be 100 times better than this.

I started this post citing the inherent differences between nationalities in what they enjoy, but I must admit that through these, I can see why VR holds such potential. I can’t see myself strapping on a full suit, helmet and gloves just to play a game or do some work. But glasses like these (but not these) is absolutely in the vicinity of “practical”. Just a damn shame they didn’t do a full width LCD with focal lenses; then I would have promoted them.

Right now: a fun curiocity, good for watching the odd movie if you eyesight is perfect – but for the rest of us, it’s just not worth the dough

 

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