As augmented reality (AR) glasses continue to try carving a place among tech enthusiasts, we’re seeing another option hit mass availability in the US. In addition to selling the sunglass-like Nreal Air specs in America, Beijing-based company Nreal also announced today a version of its Nebula AR operating system that will work with Apple M1 and M2-powered MacBooks.
The Mac version of Nebula works with MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops with Apple silicon and is launching as a beta. Attaching the Air glasses to a MacBook won’t give you the same Nebula “AR Space” experience available to supported Android phones. AR Space includes a mixed-reality interface and games and other AR apps made for the glasses. Instead, Mac users will see a virtual UI that Nreal’s calling AR Desktop and projects up to three virtual displays at a time, an Nreal rep told Ars Technica. An Nreal rep wouldn’t specify when AR Space would come to MacBooks or iOS.
In a statement, Nreal co-founder Peng Jin said the company expects AR glasses to initially gain traction among consumers by serving as a display technology, so “the thinking behind Nreal Air is very focused on the aesthetics, display quality, and its connectivity with other hardware devices.”
Currently, you can attach Nreal’s Air to a Windows PC or iPhone, but only for screen mirroring, mimicking a 130-inch screen that’s 13.1 feet away (compared to a 201-inch screen that’s 19.7 feet away in AR Space mode).
Nreal also announced today the Nreal Adapter for iPhone, a bulky block that lets you attach an HDMI-to-Lightning dongle so that you can connect your iPhone. You can also use the adapter to attach the Nreal Air to a Nintendo Switch to feel like you’re playing on a big screen.
Even with the iPhone adapter, though, functionality is limited to screen mirroring. Still, it’s at least somewhat reassuring to see Nreal expanding support, even slightly. Although, having to wear glasses attached to a phone already feels cumbersome; adding a 2.42×1.79×0.88, 2.61-ounce brick to the mix only worsens matters.
The Air’s most robust AR experience remains reserved for supported Android devices. They will be the ones who can leverage Nebula’s updates announced today, including a new “borderless, curved wall design,” animated 3D icons, and a content-recommendation widget.
Nreal updated the Nebula web browser, Spatial AR, to offer two display modes (horizontal or vertical). It also added a few new “casual” AR games and experiences to Nebula, including Teleport, which lets users “jump through 3D models of real world structures scanned by their smartphones and leave photos, text, and voice messages for others users to see”—although, we don’t expect there to be a lot of other users here.
I tried some of Nebula’s AR experiences ahead of the release of its first glasses, the Nreal Light. Even at that early stage, the graphics came through pretty strongly and crisp, but navigation was far from intuitive, and the games weren’t detailed enough to warrant frequent playing. Things may have improved by now, but even the best AR gaming and experiences are far from mainstream, especially when compared to console and PC gaming.
Nreal’s Air claims 3840×1080 resolution, 108 percent sRGB coverage, 100,000:1 contrast, and a 60 Hz refresh rate with its Micro OLED displays. A scaled-down version of the pricier ($600) Light, the Air has a 46-degree field of view (FOV) compared to 52 degrees for the Light, and 3 degrees of freedom (DoF), compared to the Light’s 6-DoF tracking.
We’ve yet to try Nreal’s Air, but reviews from sites like Tech Advisor and TechRadar pointed to stronger image quality but clunky navigation and limited AR functionality and phone compatibility. As of writing, the only apps AR Space supports are Amazon, Cycling, Google, Message, PhotoGun, Pupup, QB Planets, Teleport, YouTube, Yahoo, Wikipedia. And Nreal says battery life is limited to up to 5 hours of video streaming.
Enthusiasts have few options regarding true AR glasses for consumers, despite companies like Meta and Apple showing interest. One potentially strong competitor for the Air is the upcoming Lenovo Glasses T1. Unlike with the Air, functionality is expected to be the same across Android, PC, iOS, and macOS products (iPhones will require an adapter). The glasses are specced with 1920×1080-per-eye resolution, Micro OLED panels, a 60 Hz refresh rate, and 38-degree FOV. They’re supposed to start coming out next year with pricing expected to stay under $500.
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