We were impressed with the Meta 2 augmented reality headset last year, even though we were just looking at prototype hardware. Now, the company is shipping out the final version of the Meta 2 to developers, which includes some useful upgrades. Most importantly, it now sports memory foam around the headset to make it easier to wear for hours at a time.
Meta has also been working hard on building out its custom operating system, as well as figuring out how to develop a new language of gestures for augmented reality. I had a chance to test out the shipping version of the Meta 2 at SXSW, and while it's still not perfect, it's the best AR experience I've seen yet.
Yes, it looks a bit awkward -- especially with its large curved screen jutting out from the front -- but the Meta 2 fit comfortably on my head. It's a lot more stable than Microsoft's HoloLens, mostly because there's actually some support on top of your head, instead of just relying on a single band around the sides of your noggin. The Meta 2's weight felt evenly distributed, and it was clear from the start that adding memory foam was a good move. It felt well cushioned around the sides of my head, which is where headsets usually end up feeling fatiguing if they're not padded properly.
The Meta 2 also feels like a more complete AR experience, compared to the HoloLens. The big reason for that: It features a wide 90-degree field of view, whereas the HoloLens only offers a thin 30-degree FOV. That means images from the Meta 2 fill up much more of your vision, rather than just offering a sliver of augmented vision. Of course, the Meta 2 also has to be connected to a computer, while Microsoft's headset is completely wireless. Personally, though, I'd rather have a better AR image than a portable headset.
I went through a brief Meta 2 demonstration which showed off different aspects of the human brain. The image was very clear, thanks to the headset's sharp 2,550 by 1,440 pixel resolution, and it did a decent job of letting me walk around the projected AR brain. There were points where the image started stuttering a bit, either because I blocked a sensor or the headset had trouble mapping the area around the room. The headset also had some issues recognizing when I was trying to interact with some AR components. I also got a quick glimpse at an AR presentation with the Meta 2, and while it felt a bit gimmicky, it could be a useful way to spice things up beyond a mere Powerpoint.
Sound is the biggest problem with the Meta 2 right now. It features four speakers, but they all sounded very tinny. Ryan Pamplin, Meta's VP of sales and partnerships, says the company is currently working on improving the audio quality with some software tweaks. But to my ears, Meta might need to look into entirely new speakers, especially since it'll be tough to wear normal headphones together with the headset.
There's not much you can do with the Meta 2 right now, but the company hopes that'll change as developers get their hands on units this year. And at this point, the Meta 2 serves as an effective monitor replacement. Pamplin and his team are already using the headset full-time at their desks, and the company is in the process of doing the same across more groups.
The Meta 2 is available for pre-order now for $949, and the company plans to fulfill all of its pre-orders in the coming months. If you're interested in the headset, though, you'd better get an order in soon. Pamplin says the Meta 2 will be "substantially more expensive" once it becomes widely available.
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