While Google Glass might be the darling of the augmented reality wearable market, other companies like Vuzix and Epson have had skin in the game for much longer than the folks in Mountain View. One such firm to have caught the AR bug early is Optinvent, which debuted an early version of its ClearVu head-mounted display way back in 2009. Fast forward to 2013, and Optinvent is ready to move on to the final production stage of what it's now calling the Ora, which it hopes will give Google Glass a run for its money, not just with superior optics but a softer blow to the wallet as well. We had a chance to sit down with CEO Kayvan Mirza at the Glazed conference in San Francisco, where we learned more about the Ora and had a chance to try it on ourselves.
One of the first things Mirza told us was that the Ora offers "true AR," which overlays the entire display in front of your eyes much like a heads-up display unit. This is unlike Glass, which he says offers more of a "companion display" where you have to look up to view it. Don't be concerned about the Ora completely blocking your sight however, as it has a very unique feature we've yet to see in wearable optics. It's called Flip-Vu, and it lets you pivot the display downward into what's called dashboard or glance mode so that it's now more of a companion display rather than one that dominates your entire field of vision (You can see a demo video of this after the break). Mirza says glancing downward is a much more natural position than looking up, as we tend to look down at our phones and other devices anyway.
Optinvent OraSee all photos
Mirza also claims that the Ora's display is about three times the size of the one on Glass, with a 24 degree field of view and a 4:3 full landscape mode that results in the equivalent of an 85-inch television floating in front of your eyes. The actual display is only 4mm thick and is essentially a piece of molded plastic. In fact, the entire device is made out of injection molded plastic, which Mirza says is key to manufacturing the product on a large scale. The display also boasts an incredibly 3,000 nits of brightness, which almost seared our eyes when turned up to the max as we were trying it on.
The Ora that we wore is strictly a pre-production edition that's not exactly designed for primetime -- and frankly, it showed. We thought it was quite a clumsy and bulky affair that weighed a bit heavily on our face. It also took a bit of practice before we were able flip the display up and down. That's because this version was made from rapid prototyping or 3D printing technology and not the injection molded plastic that will be in the final version. Still, we were impressed by the clarity and brilliance of the display, even if it was a tiny bit choppy at times due to how far out the glasses were on our nose. The glasses are outfitted with photochromic lenses that dim in bright sunlight. According to Mirza, there'll be a version of the Ora that can be detached and mounted on existing glasses too, though we're not sure yet on how that'll look like.
To the right of the display is the main guts of the Ora. It houses a camera and an ambient light sensor, while a noise-canceling microphone is located near the right handle. The battery compartment is on the left and contains a roughly 800mAh battery that apparently lasts eight hours on a "normal day" and about four hours under constant use. Also packed in the Ora are WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, an accelerometer and a 9 axis motion sensor. As far as software goes, it runs on Android Jellybean 4.1.2.
Optinvent has partnered with Wikitude to come up with an SDK for the Ora, which it hopes to get out to developers this year. Indeed, interested devs can go ahead and pre-order a unit right now from the company's website for around 700 Euros, which is roughly $951. Mirza tells us they hope to ship the dev units by December of this year, and if all goes well, a cheaper and more streamlined consumer version in a year's time. We're not sure if Optinvent will get its AR glasses down to the sub-$200 mark as was mentioned all those years ago, but you can go ahead and enjoy the hands-on pics above and promo video below in the meantime.