Magic Leap has developed a reputation for being one of the most mysterious tech companies in history. They have some of the most respected names in tech vouching for them, but have given us little else than teasers.
It’s actually pretty impressive how the company has managed to prevent any leaks, which suggests a staff complement that’s either terrified of litigation or full of the company Kool Aid.
The more cynical among us have speculated that whatever Magic Leap was cooking would either end up being vaporware or too hard to bring to market.
Except, too much money and too many credible people were behind the startup, so we simply kept waiting for something concrete.
Then the company announced the Magic Leap One. It was set to release for developers in 2018. It felt unreal, but there were pictures of the bug-eyed device there for all to see.
The Wait is Over
Now the Magic Leap One Creator Edition is available to those who can afford the princely sum of $2295, excluding shipping of course. That’s still cheaper than the mostly experimental Microsoft Hololens. It’s also not that far off premium first-generation VR headsets. Admittedly, at this price only developers and early adopters with deep pockets are likely to pony up.
The More You Know
With this release, we now also know way more about the headset than before. Magic Leap have opened up a bit more about what makes their product different.
We knew they were using light field technology, but the product description now tells us that the device mixes natural incoming light rays with “softly layered” synthetic lightfields. Which is why you brain should not be able to distinguish between real and synthetic projections on the retina.
This promises the perception of incredibly real imagery, but until we get to wear one there’s not way to convey what that would mean in words.
The Hard Stuff
We haven’t known much about the actual hardware until now. The One is absolutely packed with sensors. Of course, you can plainly see a bunch of them on the face of the device.
The actual brains of the system is in the “Lightpack”, which is worn at the waist. This contains the computer that drives it all. It’s a pretty interesting architecture, using the Nvidia Parker system-on-a-chip with a total of six cores. Two are Denver 2.0 cores and four are ARM Cortex A57 cores. What’s really interesting is that developers only get access to half of these. Which means one Denver and two A57s are open for application use. The assumption we can make from this is that the One’s operating system and all the software magic that makes things possible need those three processors dedicated to making it all work.
The graphics processing abilities are also pretty modest. The system sports a Nvidia Pascal with 256 CUDA cores. Heft in a mobile sense, but even mid range gaming laptops typically have 768 CUDA cores if they come with Nvidia hardware.
Although I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, it seems feasible for the lightpack to be upgraded at some points in the future. Where you keep the glasses, but have the option of buying new light packs as time goes by.
The CPU and GPU combo shares 8GB or RAM and after formatting and software is taken into account there’s 95GB of the 128GB storage available. Connectivity includes WiFi, Bluetooth and USB C. That opens the possibility of a tethered solution, but I haven’t seen anything to confirm that either.
Finally, the battery life is claimed at about three hours, but depends on the use case. So take it with a pinch of salt.
While the hardware is interesting, the real secret sauce is the software. The heart of the One is LuminOS. An operating system designed from the ground up to work on this weird architecture. The development of a new OS goes a long way to explaining why the One took so long to get to this point. It also explains how they can squeeze so much juice out of (relatively) modest hardware. Everything is optimized and purpose made for just this one job. So while other VR and AR products rolled out fast, they repurposed existing technology to do so. It seems Magic Leap took the long road.
The Impressions Roll In
As I write this there are plenty of non-Magic Leap people who now have a Magic Leap One. First impressions are positive. It seems the device works as advertised in terms of tracking and projection. It does need quite a bit of setup, which is why the asking price includes a real human being coming to your house and helping with it. This is probably also why you can only order one for delivery in the contiguous US right now. Apparently calibration is very important and whenever you want to give someone else a go, you’ll need to recalibrate.
Hopefully the consumer versions won’t be as fiddly. Or at the very least include user profiles. You can have that idea for free Magic Leap.
The Real Work Begins
Although there are a smattering of in-house apps to try for those who get the One right away, it will be up to developers to really unleash what’s possible. What the headset really needs right now is a killer application that makes it worth the high asking price.
It also raises questions about the consumer model that the company us surely working on like crazy. How will they make it more affordable? Will regular users also need the elaborate setup assistance? It’s clear that there are still some major design and production hurdles that have to be cleared before we get a consumer headset. Still, no there can be no doubt that the hype was real.