A Cardboard Alternative to HoloLens
I attended the Augmented-Virtual-Mixed Reality Workshop hosted by LDE Centre of Education and Learning and the Leiden Centre for Innovation, where the Aryzon AR Cardboard Headset caught my attention. The Aryzon AR/MR Headset is an interesting alternative to the high-tech AR headsets. It is both available and affordable for average students, schools and universities. Like the Google Cardboard, it uses a smartphone for rendering and displaying virtual models. Different to Google's solution, the Aryzon Headset does not block the field of view.
At the Augmented-Virtual-Mixed Reality Workshop in Leiden we learned about different approaches and solutions for using this technology in higher education. It also hosted a marketplace for sharing ideas and solutions from research and the industry, where I met Ralph van der Meer from Breinwave. Ralph brought some Aryzon Headsets and a bunch of demos that showed possible interactions between HoloLens wearers and cardboard headset wearers. This allowed me to compare the Aryzon Headset directly to the HoloLens 1.
Disclaimer: This article reflects my own views and impressions from wearing the Aryzon AR Cardboard Headset and the HoloLens. I tried and used the Aryzon Headset for about 10 minutes and I report only about my subjective impressions during this short trial. I am not related to or paid by neither Aryzon, Google, Microsoft nor Breinwave.
The Aryzon Headset uses a regular mirror and a half-transparent mirror in order to overlay the virtual model with the real environment. This allows users to see a digital model and the real world simultaneously, instead of the non-stereoscopic camera image of conventional cardboard apps. This creates a more natural feeling for the overall AR/MR experience compared to the one of my own Google Cardboard.
Aryzon AR Headset vs. HoloLens 1 standoff.
While the HoloLens wears way more comfortable and does not look as awkward as the Aryzon Headset, I was surprised that the cardboard headset with my phone attached did not feel as clumsy as my Google Cardboard at home. I assume that this is partially due to the lower center of mass. While this is certainly an improvement compared to Google Cardboard, it cannot compete with the "heavy" HoloLens 1: I can easily imagine to wear the HoloLens for an extended period, which is certainly not the case for the Aryzon Headset. I guess that regular wearers will not exceed 15 minute sessions with it.
With respect to the freedom of movement, the HoloLens wins as well. The Aryzon Headset has the wearer's smartphone attached. However, this connection is not rock solid. So if the wearer moves too quickly, then the phone will set for its own destination, which might become easily the smartphone nirvana. This is similar to the Google Cardboard, so I was warned. Also looking up or down can be dangerous for the phone and potential bystanders as the phone may slip from its fixation in the headset. In these cases, it is important to keep the phone in place by using the own hands, which can be limiting the immersive experience.
HoloLens wearers will certainly miss the lack of support for hand gestures, so when using the Aryzon Headset, the only way to interact with the virtual model is by staring intensely at menus or interaction points. While this is not too bad, it is not very natural either. Ralph mentioned that the Aryzon team is working at this.
After playing with the HoloLens a few times, I found it always irritating that the digital models were sometimes cut off in the middle of the field of view. It feels somewhat like looking at the model through a hole, while the rest of the environment remains continuous. The Aryzon Headset has an overall narrower field of view, so at the beginning I had a brief tunnel view impression. However, I got quickly used to this perspective. The perspective has the positive side effect that the digital model and the real view have the same boundaries. Therefore, I had a more consistent AR impression, in which the virtual model is covering the entire field of view.
Another aspect of the experience is the display resolution. With the HoloLens I never had the feeling that visuals are as crisp as shown in the adverts. While I got used to the visual artefacts quickly, the resolution was not that high that I could not recognise individual pixels. This is most apparent when working with complex models or model-textures. With the Aryzon Headset I had the overall impression that the resolution of the virtual model is better and visual artefacts are not that prominent. I assume that this is because the Aryzon Headset inherits the screen resolution from the wearer's smartphone, which tend to be pretty good even from a close distance.
The Aryzon Headset allows developers to use existing development frameworks and libraries, because it uses the same split screen approach for stereoscopic imaging as Google Cardboard. It also allows developers to provide quick solutions for Android and iOS, without learning completely the device specific frameworks of the professional AR hardware. Of course the optimal results can be achieved with Aryzon's special libraries that also account for the offset between the wearer's field of view and the device position in the headset.
AR with moderate Investments
My quick findings show that the cardboard headset is not entirely on par with the professional products, but I was impressed about the quality of the AR experience. A big pro over the professional products is, its availability to consumers at a very competitive price. This is particularly important for schools and universities where costs and availability are important factors for technology adoption in education.
I think that the Aryzon Headset is a useful tool for getting quick experiences with AR and mixed reality scenarios without requiring big investments to technology development. Having said that, also solutions for the cardboard headset require quite some technological development for the virtual models and the AR experience. In comparison to the embedded hardware these investments are by far more moderate. This makes the cardboard headset an interesting placeholder for experiments and pilots, while we are waiting for embedded AR headsets becoming available to the average consumer at a reasonable price. Moreover, the cardboard headset is eco friendly as it is highly recyclable and does not require replacement with every technological advancement of the hardware - it can "grow" as you upgrade your smartphone.