Nreal Air is available for US consumers. For those looking for more use cases for virtual screen display, the company has big news: major console support and betas for its YouTube AR app and the mac version of its operating system. nebula.
Plus, we’ve got a hands-on review of a long-awaited trial of the Nreal Air in action.
The road so far
Just two months ago, Nreal Air launched for US consumers. Nreal Air is a lighter model than the Nreal Light, a full-powered AR smart glasses product.
This means that Nreal Air has much lighter technical requirements (it doesn’t require some 5G networks and flagship phones, for example) and is significantly more affordable. It also means the product had less immediate appeal for consumers eager for a more robust AR experience, as Nreal Air is primarily a virtual screen solution.
What’s up with Nreal?
Until recently, that meant Nreal Air was largely a way to mirror a tethered phone to a head-up display. The device also worked with Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch. It was a boon for users of these devices, but it still left other players – a major market for this device – in the rain. Recent announcements change this game.
Nreal for entertainment
Nreal last week announced support for the latest version of SteamOS, Xbox Series S and X, and PlayStation 5. For PlayStation 5 users, that means getting your games on the Nreal virtual screen, which is pretty awesome on its own.
“AR glasses are a fantastic gaming companion, and serving the gaming community is a important strategy for us,” Nreal co-founder Peng Jin said in a statement shared with AR Post. “Users can now connect Nreal glasses to popular gaming devices to enjoy games on a portable 130-inch HD screen via mirror mode.”
For Xbox and Steam gamers, that means all of that plus on-device streaming through cloud services. The announcement also indicates that support for GeForce Now, Nvidia’s game streaming service, will arrive before the end of the year.
Nreal also announced a beta version of an AR YouTube app. To be clear, YouTube to Nreal was already possible via standard phone mirroring. It was an improvement, but still kind of a bummer because the phone itself had to be used as an input device. The YouTube AR app makes much better use of Nreal commands. But, more on that in the how-to section.
“We really appreciate the YouTube team for supporting this trial so much,” Jin said in the statement. “This beta is a small step towards defining space entertainment. We still have a
lots of ideas to explore in this area, and I hope people find this first experience
entertaining and easy to use.
Nreal for work
Last week’s announcement was important for gamers, but it wasn’t just for gamers. This is an important element for office workers who use Mac.
Nreal is not a super compatible device with Apple. For example, Nreal Air works with iOS, but requires an additional $59 adapter. This extended to working with the desktop – which has gaming apps, sure, but could really be important for office workers using AR to extend their workspace with virtual screens. That’s what makes the Mac Nebula beta so exciting.
“Working within the confines of someone else’s technologies is not easy. This release is meant to give people a taste of what’s possible. We want to bring everyday AR experiences to the mainstream market, so we’re excited to bring this solution to Mac users,” Jin said.
A hands-on review of Nreal Air
Nreal got a $379 pair of Nreal Air in my hands. I got a glimpse of Nreal Air at an exhibition before their mainstream release, but that was just a glimpse. This time I was able to spend meaningful time with the product in my own home, unsupervised. These are my honest thoughts on the device.
Device setup and day one shaking
Setting up the device was quite simple. At least, much less complicated than the initial configuration for a device like the Quest 2 (test). It also helps that the Quest app is a companion app for the headset, while the phone is a companion device for the Nreal Air, so doing things like confirming my email address went a lot easier.
I had a few hiccups the first day, when the display on the glasses would freeze and sputter, and I had to reconnect it. However, this seems to have been a one-time thing that only happened the first day I used the device.
See also: Nreal Announces Nreal Air Consumer AR Glasses
Most of the setup was software, but there are a couple of spots on the headset itself that you can tweak as well. For example, the buttons on the arms control screen brightness. The arms can also be manually adjusted up and down. That’s huge because the screen itself is angled in relation to your eye, so adjusting the arms can really improve the comfort of the experience.
While we’re talking about things like display and comfort, the lenses beyond the screen are tinted like sunglasses. This reduces ‘eye glare’ as perceived by others, but it also means that the glasses also work very well in bright conditions. Incidentally, your eye can also focus beyond the screen to see what’s going on in your surroundings behind your virtual screen.
Screen mirroring and apps
As mentioned above, screen mirroring works great, but it keeps the phone as the input device. So if you’re doing things that require a lot of activity on your part, you’re usually looking at the phone anyway. So this feature is handy for, say, navigating to a video file and then watching it, but isn’t necessarily a huge improvement for things like email.
Also, I found reading the fine print in the glasses a little taxing. For example, when browsing YouTube, I could read video titles just fine, but reading the smaller description text was more difficult. To be honest, I didn’t notice this issue when trying the Lenovo ThinkReality A3, but – despite having a similar form factor – it’s an enterprise device that costs a thousand dollars more than the Nreal Air.
Using real AR mode is another story. The phone is still the input device, but in its touchscreen capability. The phone projects a beam into your view of the glasses, then taps the screen to make selections. Scrolling on the phone’s touchscreen also scrolls through menus etc., and pinching the device controls the location and zoom level of your virtual screens.
Back on YouTube, but this time in the beta app, I found the controls much more organic, but I was also able to blow up the screen so I had a much easier time with this little guy . At this point, I pulled out some Looney Tunes shorts and handed the glasses to my brother so I could see what they look like in action.
From the outside looking inside
When the glasses are in use, reflections inside the lenses are virtually non-existent. Looking at the goggles as my brother wore them, I would have had a hard time telling if the light in the lenses was coming from the goggles in operation or just reflections from the surroundings. Anyway, I couldn’t tell by looking at the glasses from the outside what was going on inside.
Audio was a similar case. Nreal Air has built-in speakers in the arms. The audio quality is really good, and I assumed the volume would also be quite noticeable to others, but it’s not. As for the “eye glint”, I could tell that the glasses made noise while he was wearing them, but I couldn’t make it out. The loudspeakers are efficient and discreet.
I also noticed that while the lack of gesture controls was admittedly a little depressing to me, the use of the phone as input is also very unobtrusive. Instead of looking like you’re swatting imaginary flies to navigate menus, it’s a subtle touch to the screen – perhaps a slight movement of the phone itself. Someone in, say, an airport with the device would blend in.
See also: Nreal announced a partnership with Cinedigm in the latest app update
For all my contributions, my brother’s may have been the most impactful. He’s a more avid console gamer than I am, but has far less exposure to XR. After about 20 seconds of watching Looney Tunes on Nreal Air’s virtual screen, he asked me, “So we don’t need TVs anymore?”
Virtual screens for victory
There are times when you will always need a computer to do your job. There are times when you will always want a TV for playing games or watching movies. But AR glasses and virtual screens are gaining more and more ground. I’m happy to type this on a laptop. But, watching a video on my phone screen felt a bit silly after using Nreal Air. And it’s only coming to more devices.
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