The Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference is kicking off this week in San Jose, California. As is the nature of tech conferences, you're as likely to bump into a tech company giving demos in a hotel room as you are to run into a regular guest.
Wednesday, I visited a suite to demo Meta 2, an augmented reality headset that's been garnering attention for accomplishing a wider field of view and more natural gesture interactions than others in the AR space.
Meta started off as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. The developer kit will be available in Q3 this year for $949, compared to $3,000 for the Hololens.
The demo ran through numerous experiences, including watching a small AR basketball bounce on an actual table. You can manipulate objects using your hands by doing obvious movements like grabbing, touching, and pulling. Touching a picture of a shoe inside an Amazon webpage in a browser window brings out a model of the shoe you can look all around, that even separates so you can look at individual parts. There's also the capability to look at multiple browser windows at the same time and, if you put down an object and look away, the object stays there—all in a 90-degree field of view with 2560x1440 resolution.
I conference called with a person in another room—his holographic image handed me a model of the Sydney Opera House through the call enterprise.
In short, it's an impressive pass at augmented reality.
So far, Meta has about 100 employees, said Ryan Pamplin, VP of sales and partnerships. The mantel they're accepting is something like the Little Engine that Could. They might not have the multi-million dollar funding of Magic Leap, or the infrastructure and resources of Microsoft, but they want to be the ones who bring computing out of the 2D world, and as a result, replace your tablet, laptop, and smartphone with an AR device.
"We take a very simple approach to extremely complex problems," Pamplin said. For example, Meta's approach to hand tracking isn't to put 100 engineers on hand tracking and figure out how to guess the position of fingers when they're out of view. They didn't need to. "As a user, if I can't see my hand, I don't expect my hand to do anything."
On the outset, Meta is building partnerships and eyeing the enterprise, as well as getting into areas like education, medicine, manufacturing, and more. Pamplin gave an example of an anonymous client that has already purchased units of Meta 2 they are using in the field. The company's solution requires multiple monitors, which is a huge problem as much of their work force travels. Meta 2's capability for multiple screens helps them bridge the productivity gap.
"It's very attractive to jump right to the consumer, but you have one shot with the consumer," Pamplin said.
If you sell a device and it doesn't meet expectations, people won't buy another. The difference, he said, with businesses, is that there's a need right now for AR solutions, versus even an enthusiastic interest on the part of the consumer. "There's budget for it, there's a need for it, there's true usefulness that will cause a fundamental change in the business outcomes for these enterprises today."
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.