Occipital’s Mixed-Reality Headset Could Be the Real Deal

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This week Occipital announced Bridge, a $399 mixed-reality headset. The product looks like a real competitor for both HTC’s Vive VR headset and Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-reality headset.

Bridge uses the iPhone as a display, and Occipital’s $379 3D structure sensor to track a user’s location and the position/direction of their head.

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Bridge is affordable. It’s also one of the first VR-ready headsets on the market that enables its users to move around without the use of external tracking hardware. Unlike many other VR devices, Bridge doesn’t require cords tethered to a computer, or cameras placed around the room. The system also offers obstacle avoidance, meaning that users can explore without fear of tripping on a chair and breaking their cool new headset.

Occipital’s decision to use their structured-light 3D sensor for tracking also means that it could offer one of the best mixed-reality experiences available. Many mixed-reality solutions take a video feed from the headset, analyze it, and lay digital information on top. That requires a lot of processing, and slows the software down. When a solution uses external hardware sensors for tracking, it enables the software to take a very quick read on where a person is looking, and place the holographic object precisely. As users turn their heads, the holographic objects remain still—just like real objects in the environment.

For context, Microsoft’s HoloLens also uses an external hardware tracking system (built on next-generation Kinect sensors), and currently offers the best tracking available.

If Bridge can match HoloLen’s performance–or even approach it–the lower cost could make it a very enticing option for commercial users.

“With Bridge,” Occipital’s website says, “all the compute you need is on the phone you already own. Bridge Engine effectively synthesizes data from the Structure Sensor’s depth sensing system and the iPhone’s color camera and IMU to deliver breathtaking mixed reality experiences.”

You won’t be using Bridge on a construction site any time soon—it’s not ruggedized, and may or may not be precise enough—but the product has a lot of potential.

Bridge seems like the real deal. It combines features from the most popular VR headsets with features from the most popular mixed-reality headsets. On the VR side, that includes the ability to bring your own phone, and a very low cost. On the mixed-reality side, that includes dedicated tracking hardware and a well established development platform.

For Bridge to reach its full potential, TechCrunch notes, the iPhone will need updates. It will need to include features like an organic LED (OLED) screen, and a VR optimization mode to reduce latency. But those are only minor quibbles, and likely to be fixed soon. According to journalists who have already tested Bridge, Occipital’s solution is already working very well.

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