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In its early days, Magic Leap was the darling of the virtual reality/augmented reality community for years as its big ideas and splashy demos netted it more than $2.3 billion from investors like Google and Alibaba. But whispers that Magic Leap was more hype than substance started to swirl around the Plantation, Fla. company until it finally produced its first piece of hardware: Magic Leap One Creator Edition.
Almost a year to the day that the device was announced — and four months after its release — I finally got my hands on one. I’ve fallen into the role of GeekWire’s resident VR/AR headset tester extraordinaire, having tried everything from Microsoft’s HoloLens to the Oculus Go, so I was excited to give Magic Leap’s offering a go.
Magic Leap One Creator Edition is targeted primarily at developers and content creators, though anyone can buy one. At a price of $2,295, Magic Leap is on the high end of the price spectrum, comparable to HoloLens.
My demo came in context of the release of the new game Luna: Moondust Garden. Magic Leap invited GeekWire to try out the game at its mysterious Seattle outpost earlier this month. However, we didn’t get the full tour because of top-secret work happening there, including hardware research.
The office is in a warehouse that was the original Rainier Brewery in the gritty-yet-hip Georgetown neighborhood south of downtown Seattle. It’s a tough place to find if you don’t already know where you’re going. A security guard was posted outside an unassuming entrance around the side of the building, through which the company’s logo is slightly visible.
The Magic Leap team set up a mock living room, with a full complement of furniture, closed off from the rest of the office by temporary walls. There were a pair of Magic Leap One devices on a table.
Magic Leap One includes three main components. The “Lightwear” glasses have a unique look that stands out from other virtual reality headsets. The “Lightpack” is a pocket-size cylindrical computer that powers the device, allowing users a higher degree of freedom from most virtual reality headsets that are tethered to a computer. And the controller offers “six degrees of freedom” with trigger buttons and a control pad.
The device fit well and felt light. It didn’t give me a headache, an experience I’ve had in the past with a couple of virtual reality headsets. The Lightpack clipped onto my pocket and was lightweight enough that it wasn’t noticeable while walking around.
We had a couple hiccups with setup as I needed to swap out the nose cushion for a smaller piece multiple times, but overall it was a pretty simple process.
One of the common complaints from past testers was a limited field of vision that distracted from the experience. I didn’t notice that specifically, and I thought the headset refreshed pretty well as I whipped my head around the room.
Overall, the device was pretty simple to set up and use. The self-contained nature of the Magic Leap One is a big plus. It was comfortable, and Luna was a nice appetizer for what the technology can do.
In some ways, Magic Leap One is an improvement on what’s out there today. But, it doesn’t feel like a completely new paradigm the way the company has been hyped in its early years. Magic Leap One is just that, product number one from the well-funded company, so it will be interesting to see what comes next.
GeekWire first reported on the establishment of Magic Leap’s Seattle office in 2016. The company has been mostly tight-lipped about the office over the years, though tidbits have come out here and there.
The office is led by Neal Stephenson, the famed science fiction author who is now Magic Leap’s chief futurist and previously worked at Blue Origin and Intellectual Ventures Labs, and Brian Schowengerdt, a longtime University of Washington professor who is the company’s chief science and experience officer and co-founder.
The outpost is home to a group called SCEU, short for Self-Contained Existence Unit, a content-focused R&D squad led by Stephenson that works to push the limits on new things creators can build in virtual reality. Also known as Goat_Labs, the small team of about a dozen or has been tasked by CEO Rony Abovitz with sharing what they’ve learned with other developers.
The Goat_Labs moniker goes back to an attempt to transfer baby goat videos, which are extremely popular on YouTube, into mixed reality. The group’s learnings are not fully baked software development kits or anything like that, but they are sample code examples of the new frontiers Magic Leap’s R&D teams are exploring that other developers can replicate.
The Seattle office is also home to a developer relations team led by gaming veteran Tadhg Kelly. Tadhg manages relationships with key developers and creators across the Seattle region.