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Epson’s new augmented reality glasses can plug into your phone

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Epson Moverio BT-30S glasses Epson Moverio

Epson has a new pair of augmented reality glasses on the market — and while they’re not meant for everyday wear, they’re still supposed to be more convenient than their predecessors. The Moverio BT-30C glasses connect to an Android smartphone or a Windows PC over USB-C, unlike earlier Epson Moverio products, which plugged into a custom Android controller box. They cost $499, and they’ll ship in June of this year.

Moverio is a relatively old augmented reality brand; its BT-100 glasses launched in 2011, before Google Glass or the Microsoft HoloLens. The BT-30C glasses couldn’t pass for normal eyewear — they’re chunky and still heavy at 95 grams. They also aren’t as technically sophisticated as the HoloLens or Magic Leap One, which project semi-realistic images into real space. The glasses essentially pin screens in mid-air and let you control them with a phone.

In my brief demo, however, they perform this task well. I got a sharp, bright image, albeit with the field-of-view restrictions I’m used to finding in AR headsets. (The glasses feature a 23-degree FOV, which is small even by those standards.) The BT-30C also seems to feature better fit options for small heads than Epson’s old glasses, which slipped straight off my face.

Epson Moverio BT-30C augmented reality glasses Epson Moverio

And they’re not just projecting a single app. You can load three apps on three different screens, switching between them by turning your head — so you could put a web browser on one side, watch Hulu on the other, and... load a spreadsheet on the third, maybe? Look, this isn’t a product I’ll be buying any time soon. And Epson is prepared for that reaction.

Epson Moverio product manager Eric Mizufuka doesn’t see AR as a mass-market industry just yet — and Epson isn’t banking on mainstream adoption within the next three to five years. Like many AR manufacturers, it sells a lot of its glasses to businesses, which use them as hands-free computing devices for workers. But it’s pushed to reach a broader audience as well. Its glasses are popular with drone enthusiasts, who use them to see a point-of-view video feed for flying. The National Theatre in London lets patrons with hearing loss reserve a pair of Epson Moverio glasses, projecting subtitles for plays. Even if people don’t personally buy glasses, they might encounter them in a theater or a guided museum tour.

Now, Mizufuka says Epson wants to “get our foot in the door” of consumer markets with the BT-30C glasses. It’s pitching them to people who want a portable, private screen that runs off a familiar phone or PC. And it’s offering them at a cheaper price than existing products like the BT-300, which costs $699. That still doesn’t make the BT-30C glasses a mainstream product, but it could definitely make them a little more appealing to the average person. It could also provide a preview of how other companies will approach consumer AR — a field that Apple, Google, Facebook, and many other tech giants see as the future of computing.