Floating holograms. Space-age goggles. The Magic Leap One, the mysterious augmented reality headset, has been promised for so many years, it started to seem as unreal as the worlds it supposedly creates. We’re here to tell you: Magic Leap is a real thing. Its debut headset is now available to buy, but at $2,295 with availability in only a few cities in the US, it’s hardly a mass market product.
But we’ve finally tried it for the first time. And while it’s a big step forward for augmented reality, it’s not a leap.
CNET visited Magic Leap’s headquarters in Plantation, Florida, near Fort Lauderdale. We met CEO Rony Abovitz and a dozen other executives, toured the facility, and saw the factory where it’s manufacturing its unique light field-based lens-displays. And we wore the Magic Leap One, the first product made by a company that’s had over $2 billion in funding.
In “Magic Leap is either brilliant or BS,” we take a deep dive into how Magic Leap came to be called one of tech’s most secretive startups. And Abovitz explains why job No. 1 for the Startup Growth is to “prove to everybody why we have a reason for being.”
In “I finally tried Magic Leap and I have mixed feelings,” we share impressions from out first hands-on with the Magic Leap One.
We also got a chance to check out the 2012 comic book that inspired the Magic Leap One design.
The Magic Leap One is a standalone device with its own wearable computer and head-mounted display and is chasing the market for AR along with Microsoft, Apple and others. Here’s what you need to know.
Cost: $2,295 (but you may have to pay extra)
No, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, the name of this first Magic Leap hardware system, isn’t cheap. The price of this standalone AR headset is well above any consumer VR on the market, including the HTC Vive Pro. The two-year-old Microsoft HoloLens costs even more, though, at $3,000.
For an extra $495, there’s a “Professional Development Edition” that includes an extra “hub cable” and a service called RapidReplace, “a resource designed to provide a replacement device within 24 hours.” It’s unclear what that means, but it sounds like a service to offer continual support in case of a headset breaking or malfunctioning. We don’t have a review unit here at CNET, but we got to look at the hardware at Magic Leap’s offices.
The headset will only be sold in the US to start, and only in certain areas of the US where Magic Leap can arrange complimentary setup and delivery.
It’s only available in six cities
The headset will be sold on magicleap.com, Startup Growth but you have to be in one of these cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Bay Area), and Seattle. Magic Leap says that “many more” cities will be available this fall, but this should indicate that the launch for the Magic Leap One is limited indeed. If you enter your area code on the site and delivery isn’t available, you’ll apparently be able to reserve a headset until a time when delivery someday makes it to your city.
White glove service is required for setup
The Magic Leap One Creator Edition will only be sold via a service called LiftOff, made in partnership with e-commerce startup Enjoy, started by former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson. The service will personally deliver and set up the device for you in-home, ensuring a perfect fit. That’s something we’ve never really seen before. And yes, this reconfirms that Magic Leap One isn’t a product for normal, everyday people yet.
You can’t use your glasses (prescription lenses sold separately)
If you need glasses, like I do, know that the Magic Leap One won’t fit over glasses at all, while most VR headsets and Microsoft HoloLens do. Magic Leap will sell prescription pop-in lenses at an additional cost. But if your prescription is really bad, you might just have to get contact lenses instead.
Included: Headset, clip-on PC and controller
The Microsoft HoloLens is all contained in one visor headset. Magic Leap splits up its components: a lighter-weight pair of goggles is corded into a disc-shaped Nvidia-powered micro-PC running a Tegra X2 processor that clips onto your pants or into an over-the-shoulder strap. A one-handed wireless controller, similar to those shipped with VR headsets, has a trigger button, a shoulder button, a home button and a circular touchpad with a ring of LED lights, and it has haptic vibrating feedback.
Two sizes, lots of nose pieces
There are different fits for Magic Leap, and two sizes for different head sizes and eye distances. The system also comes with five swappable nose pieces and parts to make sure the headset, which weighs in at under 1 pound, fits properly.
Field of view: Bigger than HoloLens, Startup Growth smaller than VR
The Magic Leap One’s effective viewing area for virtual things feels a lot more limiting than what you’d get on a regular VR headset, for several reasons. The official Magic Leap One field of view (FOV) has a 4:3 aspect ratio that’s 40 degrees horizontal, 30 degrees vertical and 50 degrees diagonal. It’s like dangling a small glass rectangle in front of your face to see AR through. Microsoft HoloLens suffers similar limited field of view. Magic Leap’s viewing area is a bit larger, but smaller than what current VR headsets offer.
The other reason AR naturally feels limiting is that you can see everything else around you, with unobstructed peripheral vision. VR headsets blind things off like a windowless scuba mask. That was the HoloLens problem, and it’s the Magic Leap One’s drawback, too.
Magic Leap is trying to offset that limitation by emphasizing how objects seen in the headset can seem larger as the effective cone/pyramid of view extends farther back. The official term, viewing frustum, means that further-back objects could look best. Magic Leap says the 3D effects can start at about 14 inches away, and extend infinitely.
Specs: Nvidia Tegra X2 processor and more
The clip-on Lightpack PC has specs greater than a phone or the Nintendo Switch, and more on the order of a PC. It’s like a variant of the NUC portable computers Intel has made — but with an Nvidia Tegra X2 system-on-chip. There’s 128GB of storage, but only 95GB will be free to store downloads.
CPU/GPU: Nvidia Parker SOC
CPU: 2x Denver 2.0 64-bit cores, 4x ARM Cortex A57 64-bit cores (2x A57s and 1x Denver accessible to applications)
GPU: Nvidia Pascal with 256 CUDA cores. Graphics APIs, per Magic Leap: OpenGL 4.5, Vulkan, Startup Growth OpenGL ES 3.1+AEP
RAM: 8GM (4GB available to apps)
Storage: 128GB (95GB available for apps)
Audio input: voice (speech-to-text) and real world ambient audio
Audio output: speakers in headband, and 3.5mm headphone jack (spatial 3D audio)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11ac/b/g/n, USB-C
Weight: Lightpack (415 grams/14.63 ounces), Lightwear (325 grams/11.46 ounces)
Controller: Vibrating haptics, USB-C recharging
The included controller is meant to be held in one hand, much like the Oculus Go controller or Samsung Gear VR. It has a rear trigger and an above-the-trigger shoulder button on the front. There’s also a circular trackpad with a ring of 12 multicolor LED lights that can activate to indicate where to press in apps, and a home button below that. The controller has six-degree-of-freedom (6DOF) tracking like desktop VR controllers, a step up from the more limited controls on mobile VR headsets like Oculus Go and Google Daydream, which means it can move around and work with 3D AR seamlessly. (we had ours turn into a blaster gun in one game). The controller lasts for 7.5 hours on a charge and recharges with a 15-watt USB-C charger.
Battery life? About 3 hours
The Oculus Go standalone VR headset lasts about 2 hours on a charge. Same for Startup Growth Google’s self-contained VR headset, the Lenovo Mirage Solo. The Magic Leap One promises a little better, at up to 3 hours. That’s in the range of the Nintendo Switch.
The clip-on Lightpack has the lithium-ion battery inside, which recharges via a 45-watt USB-C charger. Magic Leap says, however, “Battery life can vary based on use cases.” Plugging the system in should keep the system constantly running: “power level will be sustained when connected to an AC outlet,” Magic Leap’s specs say.
Launch apps: What you can do
We only got to try some demos with the Magic Leap One, and haven’t yet unboxed a shipped version. But Magic Leap’s including some software in-box. It’s not much, but here’s what should be on board, according to Magic Leap.
Magic Leap World (an app for Magic Leap’s app store.)
Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders Preview (an icon indicating that the robot-shooting game from Weta Workshop is coming soon.)
Helio (Magic Leap One’s web browser, which supports 3D content. CNET briefly demoed Wayfair and the NY Times AR browser experiences.)
Social Suite (a toolkit for making avatars and supporting shared spaces. CNET tried a two-person avatar chat.)
Screens (a tool for popping multiple displays at once in a room and viewing media on screens.)
Create (Magic Leap Studio’s painting/art tool, which CNET tried a demo of.)
Tonandi (Sigur Ros’ music AR app, which CNET also got to try.)
Magic Leap’s other apps in Magic Leap World:
Abductor (a creator tool for helping scan or “mesh” a room and explore developer ideas for spatial computing, per Magic Leap.)
NBA Preview App (which CNET got to try a preview of; it’s a prototype of what the NBA will aim to explore in further ways down the road in AR.)
Magic Leap will also have a Creator Portal, a developer hub where a few extra tools will be available, including creative software called Magic Kit.
You can focus on objects at different depths, something VR can’t do
Light field displays can work with variable focus, something I didn’t see emphasized in my demos. But Magic Leap responded that “your eyes can focus on digital objects in the same fashion as they would focus on physical objects — both near and far.” It’s like how our eyes already work. VR doesn’t actually do this; current VR worlds are fixed-focus.
Magic Leap can track your eyes, but doesn’t always use it
Eye gaze tracking is “not always used,” according to Magic Leap. “However, individual applications can choose to use the eye gaze as a powerful input method.” Eye tracking is starting to be used in the next wave of VR hardware, and eye tracking could be used to make eye contact or interact with objects without using your hands.
The headset depth sensor works from ‘arm’s length’ to from 3 to 5 meters
The Magic Leap One’s room-scanning and meshing technology starts at around 14 inches away, and extends roughly 9.8 feet to 16.4 feet away. Scanning a whole room means moving close enough for the depth sensors to register the walls, floor and furniture. Apps could either keep remeshing (scanning) the room, or use a single room-mesh.
Way back, there was a Magic Leap comic book (!)
Magic Leap’s founder and CEO, Rony Abovitz, created a comic back in 2012 with comic writer (and Guardians of the Galaxy 2008 comic co-creator) Andy Lanning, after the company was founded in 2010. The comic, “Magic Leapers: Welcome To The Experience,” imagined kids discovering a Wonka-like factory where little bug-eyed flying creatures could extend their snouts and show doorways to magical worlds. This was way before Magic Leap even had a working headset. Those creatures, the Leapers, are what partially inspired the headset’s bug-eyed lens design.
And before it was a headset, it was a massive set of prototypes
The first Magic Leap demo hardware, called “The Beast,” is on display in Magic Leap’s headquarters. It looks like a nightmare version of eye-exam equipment. Its prism lenses only showed basic pixels at first. For more, watch our brief history lesson on Magic Leap’s AR dreams.