Peeking over the fence at all the onstage hubbub about Windows Mixed Reality devices at Build was 3Glasses, a Chinese company that, so many of us keep forgetting, is one of the few that has working HMD hardware for the Windows Mixed Reality platform.
Whereas the Acer HMD was the star of two fancy demos on the Build show floor, 3Glasses had its own little booth--a kiosk, really--and if you sneezed, you would have missed the passing mention of 3Glasses at one of the Build keynotes.
Yet 3Glasses has been on board with the Microsoft XR train as long as any of the companies making HMDs for it. At its Build booth kiosk, it was showing full demos from within the “home” area of the Windows Mixed Reality environment. It also already has its own (mostly) working controllers and tracking system, and it’s shipping a dev kit now (just like Acer and HP), with plans for a consumer headset in Q4. (The dev kit is $500; 3Glasses didn’t say how much the consumer version would cost.)
“Q4” is really just another way of saying “holidays,” and that’s when Microsoft is promising that its first batch of HMDs will reach consumers (in the form of the Acer bundle it announced this week). Thus, it seems that 3Glasses is running parallel to Acer and HP in terms of mixed reality devices, but it’s not part of the “in” group for some reason.
This is probably a good point in the article to note that we don’t have an answer for the above. It’s likely that only a few people in the world do.
One possible explanation is that 3Glasses is an outsider because it was an outsider. The company was already working on its headset when Microsoft announced its mixed reality platform. 3Glasses then made the effort to ensure that its hardware would meet Microsoft’s criteria. In other words, whereas (as far as we know or can tell) Acer, HP, and Lenovo began working in earnest on their HMDs as part of Microsoft’s venture in mixed reality, 3Glasses was already doing its own thing. It was, and possibly is, an “other.”
It’s also simply possible the 3Glasses hardware isn’t ready yet. We went hands on with the 3Glasses setup at Build, and not all the features worked. Even so, the company assured us that there is finished hardware in the offing.
Looking at the differences between 3Glasses’ HMD and controllers and the others in the Windows Mixed Reality stable is all the more pronounced when you see that the Acer, HP, and Lenovo headsets like virtually identical to one another. We also have specifications for Acer and HP, and there are almost no differences there, either.
The Acer and HP devices can do 6DoF, inside-out tracking from the headset itself; the 3Glasses HMD has 3DoF on the headset and 3DoF on an external outside-in tracker. (However, a 3Glasses rep assured us that the consumer version of 3Glasses will have inside-out tracking, too. He also hinted at future camera passthrough capabilities.)
The Acer and HP devices have an audio jack, but the 3Glasses HMD has built-in stereo headphones and a mic array. The headstraps are all also rather different.
All of these devices support gamepads for control, but 3Glasses was showing off a pair of motion controllers. And now, Microsoft has some controllers for the mixed reality platform, too. We know next to nothing about the specifications of either set of controllers, but there are some commonalities: both have a long shaft for a handle, a button on the side of the shaft, a trigger on the front, a button on the top that has a Windows logo, and a joystick. (The 3Glasses trigger and joystick are both analog, and the joystick is clickable.)
The 3Glasses controllers have another button to the left of the one with the Windows logo; the Microsoft controllers have a second button located next to the joystick. The Microsoft version also has a clickable touchpad--the 3Glasses does not--so you can alternate between the touchpad and joysticks with your thumb.
Whereas the 3Glasses controllers have a shiny end--what the PS Move Controllers would look like if you shaved them down and squared them off--the Microsoft controllers have an Oculus Touch-like ring. Thus, it would seem as though Microsoft, in making its own controllers, borrowed from both Oculus and 3Glasses.
|3Glasses Blubur S1 (Type 2) Suite||Acer MR HMD|
|Display||-2800x1440 (1440 per eye)|
-120Hz refresh rate
-Response time <10ms
|-2800x1440 (1440 per eye)|
-Up to 90Hz
|FoV||110 degrees||95 degrees|
|Audio||Built-in headphones||Audio out/microphone through 3.5mm jack|
|PC Connectivity||Single cable with DP1.2 and USB 3.0||Single cable with HDMI 2.0 (display) and USB 3.0 (data)|
|Controllers||Gamepad, 3Glasses wands||Gamepad, Microsoft wands|
|Tracking||Outside-in, 75 x 55 (WxH) FoV|
|Support||Windows 10, Windows Mixed Reality Shell||Windows 10, Windows Mixed Reality Shell|
So Close, And Yet...
3Glasses had us bumble through a full working demo of Windows Mixed Reality--but several features weren’t enabled on the controller, and I was given only one controller to use. (Why not two, as in the video teaser for the Microsoft controllers?).
We were assured that those features were forthcoming, just as we were told that the consumer version would have 6DoF tracking on the headset (no more outside-in tracker). For example, within the VR environment, you can open up Edge and punch in a URL--but then I couldn’t scroll down the page. That feature is coming. You can select objects in the virtual space and shrink or expand them or move them around--but I couldn’t drag them at all. That feature is coming but currently works only when you use the gamepad. We were also told that the two camera-looking things on the front of the HMD will at some point indeed be passthrough cameras. That may come with the consumer release.
That’s kind of a lot of features that don’t work, and quite a few promises of later-later-later. All of the above is a long-winded way of noting that it’s possible Microsoft hasn’t given 3Glasses much public love because the hardware isn’t ready. For what it’s worth, though, despite the feature omissions, the demo was fine, and the HMD, trackers, and controllers all worked flawlessly.
The remaining question is whether or not Microsoft wants an ecosystem of devices that are different from one another in some ways while still adhering to certain platform requirements, thereby giving OEMs and users more freedom of choice. If it does, 3Glasses is a case study, because it’s the lone standout from the crowd (and yes, three’s a crowd, hence the colloquialism) of Acer, HP, and Lenovo. If not--if Microsoft wants all these devices to be basically the same (and we don’t think the company does), then 3Glasses is the odd man out.