Handy with Nreal Air’s augmented reality goggles

One of the coolest stops I made at GDC was at the booth of a company called Nreal. They promised augmented reality that would fit in normal-sized sunglasses. Dubbed Nreal Air, these smart glasses are said to be the “new way to play all our favorite games, movies and media.” Bold claims indeed. I’ve seen augmented reality of all kinds at trade shows (and even some at GDC) that couldn’t live up to that claim, often requiring software that wouldn’t integrate, battery life that rendered it unusable, or worse, shining lights right in Your eyes. I was skeptical, but after just a few minutes I was convinced.

As I said, the Nreal Air glasses are like sunglasses. They look like sunglasses, and when the micro-OLEDs are off, they even act as sunglasses. After making sure the nosepiece fitted my face properly, I put it on and tucked it into the nearby steamdeck. Immediately, I see Street Fighter V projected, as if a TV was thrown into the distance. The colors popped like they should and honestly it was so much clearer than I expected that I immediately thought of all the ways this could be used. Monitor makers, VR companies, and various vendors have been trying for decades to crack the code on how to make lightweight, high-performance glasses that are useful to the user at that point in time. Google Glasses was supposed to be that magic panacea, but they’ve been shut down for the second time. Maybe they saw what Nreal was doing and knew what they were doing couldn’t keep up? I don’t know exactly, but when I say these are game changers I can’t stress it enough.

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The Nreal Air’s clarity and color comes from the micro-OLED displays located on the front of the goggles. These OLEDs relay their image downward, where a set of glass throws that image forward at a specific focal length, making it look like a screen floating in mid-air in front of you. It’s the same technique used in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride – a trick called Phantasmagoria or “Pepper’s Ghost” where what you see is a reflection of the screen, not the screen itself. These project a 1080p image for both eyes (3840 × 1080 total) and bring 400 nits of brightness. The field of view is only 46 degrees, but given the focal length, that’s to be expected.

If you don’t need to move around with the glasses on, or don’t need to be as aware of your surroundings (e.g. on a plane), there’s an included black cover that you can pull over the front of the glasses. They block the goggles’ pass-through nature, but also help with color saturation since you have a black backstop of sorts. I’ve tried this briefly and it makes a difference, although I suspect I’d leave these at home most of the time.

What surprised me the most was the fact that Street Fighter was completely responsive and lag-free. Every jump, punch, kick, throw happened just like on a big screen, except now I had screens to take with me.

When I switched to an Android phone, I was able to mirror content from the screen to the phone. They even had a game that allowed you to interact with a squirrel guarding a treasure chest to fulfill the promise of augmented reality. While I’m not sure when or if AR will ever catch on, the fact that Nreal Air already supports it is impressive.

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Speaking to another convention attendee, he showed me his personal Nreal goggles. He’d used them all over San Francisco after pushing turn-by-turn directions from a Google map into his right peripheral vision. As such, he could walk the streets in sunglasses and look like a normal guy (with the cord from the right arm of the glasses being hidden in his jacket anyway), while also being instructed on how to get around without the need to constantly move like a Tourist looking at his cell phone.

I was excited to see where this technology could lead. How would it work on other handhelds? What other games would also work on such a unique display? What about game consoles like the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5? How would this handle PC gaming? What about productivity? I know the device can create a 201 inch screen projection for virtual desktop situations, but how comfortable would that be? The fact that I was asking questions about how I would use these instead of asking if I would use them spoke volumes. That’s why we asked a couple to take it to the studio to see how far this technology really goes. Based on what I saw at GDC – this could very well be the future…

Ron Burke is the Editor-in-Chief of Gaming Trend. Currently residing in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth-degree black belt with a Master rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his quest to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor Laura Burke for 21 years. They have three dogs – Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie and Pitbull mixes).

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