What Are Mixed Reality Headsets and How Do They Work?

What Are Mixed Reality Headsets and How Do They Work

They are more than just souped-up iterations of virtual reality headsets. They are as lifelike as it gets. Read on!

With the inception of the metaverse, there is an increasing demand for devices that can provide users with an immersive experience that blurs the lines between the digital and physical worlds. This is where mixed reality (MR) headsets come in. 

From Apple to Samsung—renowned tech companies are trying to break into the industry to ensure they become the sought-after pick. Likely to be released in 2023, Apple’s MR headset will cost over US$2,000 and will work with features, such as FaceTime SharePlay, Apple Maps and more. 

Meta, on the other hand, has already launched Quest 2, costing between US$300 and US$400. It has also started work on another MR headset, Project Cambria, set to release this year. While Quest 2 leads you into an MR in black and white, Cambria will provide visuals in high-resolution color thanks to the more advanced cameras. Meta Founder Mark Zuckerberg is designing the Cambria headset with the business side of the metaverse in mind.

Based on our research of different MR headsets in the market, here’s your guide to MR headsets and what they entail.

What are mixed reality headsets?

MR headsets are a type of wearable computing device that combines aspects of both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). While VR headsets completely immerse users in a computer-generated environment, AR devices usually come in the form of a pair of glasses, with which users can augment or superimpose digital objects onto the real world. 

MR headsets sit somewhere in between these two extremes, providing users with a digital overlay of an app (e.g. a video, game, live concerts) or a location, among other things, while still allowing them to interact with their surroundings. They are a type of head-mounted display that allows users to not only view but also interact with virtual objects in the real world. 

How do mixed reality headsets work?

MR is not just one technology. It is an umbrella term that refers to any device that can blur the line between virtual and physical reality. 

Tracking user’s space and surroundings

MR devices use a variety of sensors and cameras to track the user’s location and movements. These sensors allow the device to map the user’s surroundings and place digital objects in the real world. For example, the Microsoft HoloLens can place a virtual TV in your living room, or the Oculus Rift can place you in the middle of a virtual battlefield.

This mapping technology is essential for MR devices to create realistic and believable experiences. However, it also comes with some limitations. Mapping technology is still in its early stages, and it can be inaccurate at times. This can lead to some MR experiences feeling less than perfect.

Display technology

This is what allows users to see the virtual world around them. Currently, there are two main types of display technology used in MR devices: stereoscopic displays and holographic displays.

Stereoscopic displays use two separate images to create the illusion of depth. These images are then combined by the headset’s lenses to create a 3D effect. Holographic displays, on the other hand, use light projection to create digital objects that appear to float in midair.

Both of these technologies have their own advantages and disadvantages. Stereoscopic displays are more common because they are cheaper and easier to produce. However, they can cause eye strain and can be difficult to update. Holographic displays are more expensive and harder to produce, but they offer a more realistic and immersive experience.

Accounting for sound

The final key technology for MR headsets is audio. Audio is crucial for creating a convincing and immersive experience. Currently, there are two main types of audio used in MR devices: binaural audio and spatial audio.

Binaural audio is the most common type of audio used in MR devices. It uses two separate audio channels to create a realistic 3D soundscape. Spatial audio is a newer technology that uses special algorithms to create a more authentic sense of distance and direction.

Binaural audio is more common because it is cheaper and easier to produce. However, it can be difficult to mix and can sound unnatural at times. Whereas spatial audio is more expensive and harder to produce but offers a more genuine experience.

MR headsets aspire to provide the most lifelike experience in the metaverse. What’s more? They have a range of use cases, from being used in teaching to sports coaching. As the technology gets more refined, we can expect to see MR headsets become more popular and accessible. 

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Header Image by Flickr


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