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.
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.
This isn’t mainstream AR, but it could be getting closer
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.