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Are augmented reality glasses finally a thing? I tried on a bunch of new ones.

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What’s next for augmented reality? Well, it could actually a bit of of rewearing history.

AR GLASSES
Google Glass from 2012 (right) and random AR glasses from 2018 (left).

The technology that overlays digital images over the real world was first truly popularized by 2016’s Pokemon GO. But before AR was taking over our phone screens, it came in headset form in 2012 as Google Glass, which displayed digital information right in front of user’s eyes while they walked around.

Now, Glass may have been a little too ahead of its time to succeed, but based on the collection of AR glasses I spotted at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, gadget makers sure seem to think that the tech’s moment is finally now. I tried on a bunch to see for myself.

Almost every pair I put on had a different purpose and contained different tech. The Vader glasses from Mad Gaze have a slim but heavy build, pack two glass lenses for image projection and are essentially meant to bring AR smartphone games right to your eyeballs.

Mad Gaze Vader

They’re probably not as elegant looking as Google Glass was, but they are going to sell for only $769 – or about half the price of Glass. And probably not meant to be worn as often, anyhow.

The Vader prototype I tried were a little laggy and didn’t have a very impressive image, but the company is still working out some bugs before launching this spring.

The AR headset from Hiscene were developed for educational or industrial use.

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HiScene HiAR

They're a bit bulkier and cost $2,500 a pop, but you’d be more likely to rent a pair and not buy your own, anyhow.

“You wear the glasses in a museum, you walk around and you can see the real story of the painting,” a spokesperson from the company told me, since the demo on hand was a little limited.

I ran through it and it had me gaze at a diagram of a building. Inside the glasses, a three dimensional structure popped off the page. It looked OK, but I’m not sure the experience would be worth carrying these on my face while walking through a gallery.

A bit more exciting are DreamWorld’s glasses, which use reflection tech to project AR images on top of two large glass lenses. It has probably the best picture of any AR headset I tried.

DreamWorld DreamGlass

They’re also the least expensive of the bunch, launching at $350 bucks or less this year, the company said. And though they’re definitely geared more toward entertainment, since they’re light and connect to your phone, it’s not out of the question that they could be the kind of glasses you’d wear out and about interacting with regular life. They’re almost normal looking.

Of course, the new Vuzix Blade pretty much have the AR-glasses-you’re-most-likely-to-walk-around-wearing category all locked up.

Vuzix Blade

They look like a set of sunglasses, a chunky set of sunglasses, but still not too far out of the ordinary. And while appearing a lot less cyberpunk than the old Google Glass, the Blade glasses provide a lot of the same hi-tech functions those did: show smartphone notifications through a single lens, take pictures, respond to voice commands (thanks to Amazon’s Alexa).

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And, sure, they even run some games.

Sounds cool, and they worked really well during my demo. But, I guess tossing smartphone notifications in front of my eye doesn’t quite feel like the most amazing use of augmented reality in 2018. And perhaps not worth $1,000, what the Vuzix Blade will run when released this year.

So, the outlook: This year, will AR glasses finally be good enough and mainstream enough of an idea to catch on? I guess I’m still not so convinced. And neither really are many consumer electronics experts.

“People will have to buy into the idea that there’s a benefit to putting on my glasses that makes me look weird,” Stuart Lipoff, VP of publications for the IEEE, told me.

“it’s gotta be a screaming benefit." Lipoff went on to describe what type of functionality might actually help AR glasses break out.

"Walk into the supermarket, for dinner you’re cooking tonight, it’ll identify some of the ingredients and help you find them out ... The steak that I’m looking at here is available at the other store for, you know, 20 percent off,” he gave as example.

And yep, since it’s pretty obvious that none of these glasses or ecosystems propping them up are quite at that “screaming benefit” stage yet, perhaps there’s always next year?

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