Nreal Light Mixed-Reality Glasses Can Now Run Off a PC Connection

Credit: NrealCredit: NrealThe Nreal Light mixed-reality (MR) glasses are set to see general availability in 2020 for $499 and ship to developers this month, and they can now be tethered to and powered by a laptop or desktop.  That means instead of the glasses having to connect to a separate computing unit or Android smartphone, they can be connected to any Windows 10 PC with a USB-C port for an even greater range of possibilities in terms of computing power and applications. 

Before today’s announcement, Nreal had shown off the Nreal Light as connecting to either an Android-powered smartphone or the included 170-gram computing unit, a block that contains a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. You also need to use the hockey puck-like controller for navigation via its touchpad and 3-degrees of freedom (3-DoF).

But by connecting to a PC instead of the computing unit or a smartphone, you get a greater amount of computing power, thanks to the more powerful CPU running in your system. Running a more intensive game or app like Adobe Suite becomes more feasible. 

Chi Xu, founder and CEO of Nreal, told Tom’s Hardware that connection to a PC means access to a greater variety of MR content, specifically productivity applications that are less common in smartphone form. The company sees productivity as core to the emerging MR hardware market's growth. 

“We think that productivity, as one of the major categories that should move the needle in consumer adoption, means that you'll be using your device at the office to run the sophisticated productivity apps, whether it's design software or crafting presentations -- projects you'd more likely to be doing on a desktop/laptop,” Xu told Tom’s Hardware.

On top of this, the Nreal Light should see better battery life when tethered to a PC instead of the Nreal CPU block or a smartphone, since your laptop or desktop will likely have longer battery life than your smartphone and / or be plugged in.

Will Nreal Light Find Its Niche?

When I went hands-on with the Nreal Light in January, it was running a football game at 1080p resolution per eye and 1,000 nits max brightness. I imagined it would hit the market as a consumer device. However, an enterprise MR headset makes sense, as Microsoft’s HoloLens and Lenovo’s recently announced ThinkReality are demonstrating, considering the general early adoption of emerging technologies by businesses and the impact XR (mixed, as well as virtual and augmented reality) has already made among businesses.

An Nreal spokesperson confirmed that the enterprise market is one that Nreal is “exploring” in addition to the consumer space.

“MR technology immediately offers value in verticals, including manufacturing, construction, healthcare and others, but the challenge has been getting MR technology into the hands of general consumers,” the spokesperson told Tom’s Hardware.

Nreal is also working with LG Uplus, an LG-owned South Korean telecom, on things like holographic video calls and entertainment.

But that doesn’t mean Nreal is giving up on the idea of people using Nreal Light in the comfort of their living room. Evidence is in the recently added ability to connect with the 5G-powered LG V50 ThinQ smartphone.

“Nreal's mission from the beginning has been to offer MR technology to the masses, including mass consumers, and it's been an unmet opportunity that Nreal has been tackling from the get-go. You can see this reflected in Nreal's ability to offer a truly immersive MR experience but in a compact form factor that truly resembles sunglasses,” the Nreal spokesperson said.

“And to add to this, Nreal was the first to introduce the tethering of MR smart glasses to both a smartphone and PC with the aim of making Nreal Light accessible to more people and more industries.”

THe Nreal Light developers kit ($1,199) ships this month, but starting today, devs that don’t have the kit can still get to work, thanks to the new version of Nreal’s SDK (NRSDK version 1.1 Beta). This gives MR devs access to a new emulator feature in Unity Editor that lets them build MR apps for the Nreal Light without actually having the glasses. Nreal also added multi-threaded rendering support that “renders several frames at once, all the while at a lower latency for an improved viewing experience,” according to Nreal. The SDK already supported spatial computing, rendering optiation and the ability to access raw data from Nreal Light’s sensors, such as the RGB camera, for integration with third-party SDKs.

Hopefully for the company, this is enough to ensure there are enough and quality applications for NReal Light to support when it becomes generally available next year. With the HoloLens, ThinkReality and pretty much every other MR glasses being too bulky and otherwise not meant for home enjoyment, the Nreal Light’s lightweight, sunglasses-like form factor and that crisp image quality I saw when watching a football game may help it wiggle its way into tech enthusiasts' homes. 

Nreal Light Specs

CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 845
Operating SystemAndroid OS
Field of View52 degrees
Degrees of Freedom (DoF)Headset: 6DoF

Controller: 3DoF
Image 1080p resolution per eye, up to 1,000 nits brightness
ConnectivityUSB-C
WeightHeadset: 0.2 pounds (88g)

Computing unit: 0.4 pounds (170g)

Detachable controller: 0.1 pounds / 23g
Battery LifeAbout 3 hours with computing unit