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As I've said, this is going to be the year that Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality technologies make a serious entrance into the mainstream developer market. I've already mentioned Magic Leap, Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and many other devices. Today the focus is on another Mixed Reality device, the Meta 2.
Meta, a company that has been around for several years, announced the Meta 2 device this week. While they announced the Meta 2 as an Augmented Reality device, I'd categorize as Mixed Reality since it allows you to work with graphical items (including holograms) overlaid on the real world. Like Microsoft’s HoloLens, it also lets you use gestures to interact with the graphics, and it can track what you are doing spatially.
Getting geeky, Meron Gribetz, Meta CEO, described a neuroscience-based interface design approach to computing. In short, they are trying to create an interface that operates like an extension to a person. In the real world, yo don't go around pressing buttons to get things to happen. Similarly, the Meta 2 interface makes an attempt to be intuitive so that the user does natural hand motions and interactions rather than focusing on past user interface paradigms like clicking buttons.
As mentioned, the Meta 2 is similar to the HoloLens in that it a head mounted display that allows you to still see though to the real world. Computer graphics are superimposed into what you see.
Figure 1: Launch video for Meta 2 (It is a marketing video, but shows the device)
When it comes to the realism of what you see, you can expect to see solutions slightly better than what is stated for the HoloLens. The Meta 2 appears to have over 3.6 million pixels of resolution (2560x1440) versus HoloLens' 2.3 million. Additionally, the Meta 2's 90 degree field of view is expected to be better than that of the HoloLens.The field of view is how much of the area you can actually see will include holograms. The smaller the field of view, the more you will have to turn or move your head to see things.
The biggest difference many people will note from the HoloLens is the price. The Meta 2 is being priced at $949 (US) versus HoloLens’ $3000 (US). This pricing is not a fair comparison though. The Meta 2 is a tethered device that requires you to have a Windows 8 or Windows 10 computer. There is a 9 foot cable that connects from the head mounted display to the computer. The HoloLens, on the other hand, is a completely independent system and thus a full-fledged working Windows 10 computer. This difference will quickly come to light when you try to take 10 steps while wearing either device. While you'll have no issue with the HoloLens, the Meta 2 will likely be ripped off your head when the cord goes taunt! Meta has stated that they are working on a portable batter and computer system that will likely be available in the future. We'll have to see how much the total price becomes when you add the wearable components to the display device.
Being that applications are the key to success for hardware, both Meta and HoloLens are releasing in developer editions first. Both can be ordered online now. For the Meta 2, you can order on the Meta site at www.metavision.com, and expect to see a product around third quarter of this year, which is when they are expected to ship. I’ve mentioned the developer kits for the HoloLens before. Those can be requested now and Microsoft is starting to take pre-orders for the first wave now. The HoloLens developer kits are slated to release March 30th, well before the Meta.
For building applications, both the HoloLens and Meta 2 use the Unity 3D graphics engine. Each also has an API that you can use to build applications. You can expect to hear more about this on Codeguru over the coming weeks and months!
I've tried a HoloLens and was excited about the potential. While I've not yet had the chance to use a Meta 2, it offers a wider field of view, a lower price point, and a lot of the same features that impressed me about the HoloLens. While being tethered will be an issue in some scenarios, in many it won’t be an issue at all. Plus, the tether means the device will draw power, which eliminates the 2-3 hour battery life issue that the HoloLens will suffer from.
All in all, between the Meta 2 and the HoloLens, it looks like there will be competition in the Mixed Reality mainstream market. When Magic Leap starts providing more details, this area could really heat up the market. With initial releases expected in 2016 for most of these devices, it will be an interesting year! For now, as a developer, it is time to boot up the Unity and get ready for the future!
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Video showing view through a Meta 2 device: