Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) has struggled to live up to its own hype over the past few years. Bulky headsets, low resolution, and poor functionality have all led to less than spectacular experiences from an industry that's supposed to be all about immersion.
Panasonic has gone some way towards improving things with their new VR glasses — a less bulky, HDR-compatible iteration of the models that are currently standard in the market.
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The world's first HDR-compatible VR glasses
Panasonic unveiled its VR glasses at CES last week. The company calls them "the world's first High Dynamic Range (HDR) capable ultra high definition (UHD) virtual reality (VR) eyeglasses."
Aside from impressive visuals, the glasses also boast "a comfortable fit that makes users feel as if they were wearing eyeglasses."
And it's important to make the distinction that they are glasses, not a headset. When compared to the typically cumbersome head straps that come attached to VR headsets that are heavy because of their high-quality image and sound processing chips, Panasonic's glasses fit lightly onto your head.
To make the VR glasses lighter, while still providing a high-quality image, Panasonic developed a new high-performance display device, including a micro OLED panel, with Kopin Corporation, a leading VR manufacturer.
Panasonic's own audio and visual technologies have, of course, also been incorporated into their new device. These include signal processing technologies used in TVs and Blu-ray players, acoustic technologies from Technics audio products, and optical technologies used in the company's LUMIX digital cameras.
The glasses also display their image without the "screen door effect", which is common in other VR glasses and headsets.
The comfort of wearing eyglasses
All of this, Panasonic says, provides the user with an incredibly immersive experience, at the same time as providing the comfort of wearing eyeglasses.
As VentureBeat reports, Panasonic says the prototype for the glasses has a weight of somewhere in the range of 150 grams, though this could change before the glasses are brought to the market. As a reference, the Oculus Quest weighs about 570 grams, making it about four times heavier than Panasonic's glasses.
The glasses were being run via a high-powered PC at CES. However, according to VentureBeat, Panasonic reps at the show said the company intends for the glasses to operate over a USB-C connection running out of a smartphone. 6DoF tracking might also be added to the device, though this could make the glasses heavier, ridding it of one its key selling points.
Preparing for the 5G-fuelled future of VR
The VR device, Panasonic says, have been developed in anticipation of 5G, which will make live VR experiences, such as VR sports viewing and virtual travel experiences, more accessible.
In their press statement, Panasonic said:
"Gearing up for the forthcoming full-scale commercial 5G services, Panasonic will continue to further develop the new VR glasses so that they can be used in a variety of applications, thereby creating new customer value."
According to The Verge, several Japanese companies are developing applications for streaming live sports via VR this year, given the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. 5G services, however, are yet to launch in the country.
VR games like The Under Presents by Tender Claw already allow players to interact with real-life live actors in the game. This year's release of Half Life Alyx, a VR exclusive, will only draw more attention to VR as an entertainment medium. The capabilities displayed in these existing examples are likely to be massively amplified with the advent of 5G.
While the VR glasses that Panasonic showed at CES are a prototype model, we like the idea of thousands of people wearing Morpheus-style glasses that are capable of transporting them to another world.