Magic Leap wants to create art, not just technology

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It hopes to be the Island Records of augmented reality.

Everyone has an opinion about Magic Leap. It’s either a revolutionary augmented reality company that could change the face of entertainment, or it’s emblematic of everything wrong with the technology industry — an over-hyped, multi-billion dollar pipe dream. Last week, we saw the first impressions of the company’s long-awaited headset, which splashed a bit of reality on the company’s hype cycle. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now that we have a better sense of what Magic Leap’s $2,295 hardware is capable of, we can take a step back and consider what the company is actually trying to accomplish.

In a brief demonstration, I found the Magic Leap One headset much lighter than I expected, even though it looks like a pair of ’80s sci-fi goggles. It comes with a wide variety of nose pads to ensure a snug fit. If you’re in an area where you can buy the headset, it’ll be delivered by a worker from the startup Enjoy, who will help you set everything up and make sure it fits properly. Putting on the Magic Leap One involves pulling back back the head strap, lowering it over your head, and then pushing the rear strap in a bit to tighten it. There are no dials or velcro strips to deal with.

The headset is connected to a small, Discman-shaped Lightpack, which houses all of its computing power. It’s not very heavy, and it clipped onto my jean pocket easily, but you’ll have to deal with a wire while using the Magic Leap One. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as distracting as a VR headset connected to a PC. The company’s motion controller feels like a larger version of the Gear VR’s Touchpad — it rested in my hand easily, and the thumb and trackpads were easily within reach. Tonandi, the Sigur Ros experience I was testing, relied entirely on hand gestures, so unfortunately I didn’t get to try out the controller properly.

When I donned the Magic Leap One, I watched as the floors and walls of a meeting room were painted with virtual vegetation and floating animals, swimming all around me. Even though I couldn’t wear my glasses with the headset (prescription Magic Leap lenses are coming soon), everything looked clear and detailed when I leaned in close. The AR environment looked sharper than anything I’ve seen on HoloLens or Meta’s headset. And while the field of view could be better, it was significantly taller than the HoloLens, and a bit wider. That made Tonandi feel more immersive than Microsoft’s experiences.

Groundbreaking hardware alone won’t make Magic Leap a success. As with any new platform, software and a breadth of experiences will make or break it. That’s what Rio Caraeff, Magic Leap’s chief content officer, has dedicated the past few years of his life to. After serving as Vevo’s founding CEO, he joined Magic Leap in 2015 to help spin up the company’s media engine. And he’s just getting started.

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