Magic Leap 2 shows improvements, but HoloLens 2 has some advantages

Magic Leap 2 isn’t available yet, but when it hits the market later this year it will compete directly with Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. While Magic Leap 2 beats its rival in several key places, the underlying design still leaves HoloLens 2 with some advantages.

Magic Leap as a company has taken a wild ride since its inception in 2010, raising billions of dollars, an ambitious first product that failed to live up to the hype, and a near-death and rebirth with a new CEO.

The company’s latest product, Magic Leap 2, mirrors the “new” Magic Leap in many ways. It is clearly positioned as a business product, aims to provide support more open development, and it’s not trying to hype itself as a revolution. Hell-Magic Leap even (sensibly) calls it an “AR headset” this time instead of trying to invent its own vocabulary for the sake of differentiation.

After trying the headset at AWE 2022 last week, I got the sense that Magic Leap 2, like the company itself, feels like a more mature version of what came before – and it’s not just the sleeker look.

Magic Leap 2 Hands on

Photo by Road to VR

The most obvious improvement of Magic Leap 2 is in the field of view, which is increased diagonally from 50° to 70°. At 70° Magic Leap 2 feels like it is only start scratching that ‘immersive’ itch as you’ll have more room to see the augmented content around you meaning less time spent ‘searching’ for it when it’s out of your line of sight.

Although I suspect that many new Magic Leap 2 users with a ‘wow, the field of view is so good!’ response… it’s important to remember that ML2’s design (like its predecessor) is a bit ‘cheating’ when it comes to field of view. Like the original, the design blocks a significant portion of your peripheral vision in the real world (intentionally, as far as I can tell), making the field of view appear larger than it actually is in comparison.

Photo by Road to VR

This is not necessarily a bad thing if nothing but the augmented content is your main focus (I mean VR headsets have been doing this pretty much since day one), but it’s a questionable design choice for a headset designed to integrate your real world and the augmented world. Thus, real-world peripheral vision remains a unique advantage that HoloLens 2 offers over both ML1 and ML2… but more on that later.

Unlike some other AR headsets, Magic Leap 2 (like its predecessor) has a fairly soft bezel around the field of view. Instead of a hard line separating the augmented world from the real world, it seems to fade slowly, making it less jarring when things go off-screen.

Another immersion bonus compared to other devices is the headset’s new dimming feature, which can dynamically dim the lenses to reduce incoming ambient light so that the added content appears solid. Unfortunately, this was part of the headset that I didn’t have time for in my demo to actually try it out, as the company was more focused on showing specific content. Another thing I haven’t been able to compare properly is the resolution. Both are my top priority for next time.

Photo by Road to VR

Tracking remains as good as ever with ML2 and comparable to HoloLens 2. The content feels perfectly enclosed in the environment as you move your head. I did see some noticeable blurring, especially during positional head movements. ML1 had a similar problem and it was likely carried over as part of the headset’s underlying display technology. In any case, it usually appears hidden during ‘stand in one place’ use cases, and affects text readability more than anything else.

And while the color consistency issue across the image is more subtle (the ‘rainbow’ look), it’s still pretty obvious. It didn’t seem as bad as ML1 or HoloLens 2, but it’s still there, which is a shame. It doesn’t really affect the headset’s potential use cases, but it does slightly reduce the immersion of the image.

While ML2 has improved almost across the board, there is one place where it steps back… and it was one of ML1’s most hyped features: the mystical “photonic light field chip” (aka a dual-focal-plane display). ) – is no longer. While ML2 has eye-tracking (probably improved thanks to doubling the number of cameras), it only supports a single focal plane (as is the case for pretty much all AR headsets available today).

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