Can I provide my thoughts on Sony’s new XR headset, which could potentially be a rival to the Vision Pro?

January 16, 2024 – Sony recently unveiled the company’s intention to create a new system for generating immersive spatial content in order to assist with the creation of advanced 3D content in the entertainment and industrial design sectors. This system will also feature a new XR head-mounted display (HMD), which has not yet been officially named to the public.

Sony has formed an exclusive partnership with Siemens, a prominent player in industrial technology, to unveil their latest immersive design solution. The headset incorporates Siemens’ cutting-edge NX Immersive Designer software.

I had the opportunity to test out this new headset at CES in Las Vegas recently. During a brief demo, I got a glimpse of the device’s features and how it works. Here’s my experience:

The Visual Experience

The new headset utilizes OLED Microdisplays and pancake optics to achieve a resolution of 4K per eye. I must say that the visual quality of Sony’s XR HMD was absolutely impressive. When I put on the headset, it instantly reminded me of the first time I tried on a Varjo headset with human-eye resolution, which happened in 2019 with the Varjo XR-1 Developer Edition. Over the past five years, I have tested many XR headsets, but finding that same profound feeling has become more challenging. Nevertheless, this experience was equally profound for me.

The demo featured a page from a book that you could pick up and bring closer/move further away from your face using the controller (more on that shortly), with text that appeared to be probably a size 7 or 8 font (by MS Word/Google Docs comparison). There were zero issues in discerning the text on the page, and as someone who needs reading glasses to read smaller text, I did not have any issues reading this even without my glasses on. The image was sharp and crisp, and there was not a hint of any screen door effect at any point using the device – something that is often more It becomes easily noticeable when observing an image with high contrast, like black text printed on a white page.

Trying out the demo of Sony’s new XR HMD at CES 2024 in Las Vegas.

excellent right from the least comparable to a Varjo device that offered ‘human-eye’ quality resolution. Other aspects of the demo that showcased the headset’s visual capabilities included admiring an intricate work of art where you could go up close and see individual brush strokes on the canvas. There were also some Micro SD cards floating in the space that you could pick up and interact with, and again, the level of detail on these small props that the headset was able to display was truly impressive, whether it was the minute gaps and separation of the copper contact pins on the card, or the text itself showing the storage capacity of the card (again, this was a Micro SD card).

And staying true to their brand, there was also a Sony DSLR camera that you could interact with and take photos with whilst in the virtual world. Viewing these photos on the virtual camera’s LCD display was also clear and crisp, even at this shrunk down level of Inception-style content viewing (a fun passthrough feature here would be to allow the virtual DSLR to act as a viewfinder to the real world outside of any immersive experience).

Design and Usability

The device has a single solid head strap that can be tightened at the back. In terms of comfort, I didn’t experience any problems with the headset. However, I only used it for a short demo, so I cannot say how it would feel after wearing it for an hour. During the 10 minutes that I used the device, there were no signs that it didn’t fit well. Moreover, Sony had been running demos all day, so the headset didn’t feel hot and there were no problems with lag during the demo.

The device was tethered to a laptop device for this demo experience too, but whether or not this would need to be the case for the evaluations of the encounters on the headset is yet to be determined. This is because the device is one of at least five that is utilizing the recently announced Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2 Platform from Qualcomm. With that chipset, the headset should be able to handle complex XR experiences as a standalone unit. However, for this particular demo, it appears that the USB-C tether to a laptop was required to power the Siemens NX Immersive Designer software.

Although capable of video passthrough, the HMD also features a flip-up design for quick switching between immersive experiences and the real world, similar to devices such as the Lynx R-1.

This ease of switching between realities is actually something that I have grown quite fond of as a feature in XR headsets, as it is just a very simple solution to one of my biggest gripes with using VR, which is the hassle of having to constantly take a headset on and off again during setup/general use/task switching. While some combination of tapping the side of a headset to activate passthrough is good, it is not always perfect.

Instead, being able to simply flip up the display and instantly remove yourself from the virtual world for a moment is simple, effective, and doesn’t require any additional processing power. This will also likely be a feature popular amongst designers, creatives, and anyone else who has to switch between immersive content and real-life drawings or scale models.

Sony is specifically targeting professionals in fields like industrial design, AEC, and professional creative industries with this headset. The controllers of the headset play a crucial role in these industries.

Sony’s new Pointing and Ring Controllers for XR

During the demonstration, the device was referred to as the “pointing controller,” which accurately describes its purpose. Sony has created this controller to enable users to interact with their 3D content with great precision. Held between the index finger and thumb, it offers haptic feedback and can function as a button for clicking, holding, and grabbing in virtual environments. Additionally, while not emphasized in my demo, there seems to be enough room on the index finger side of the controller to potentially include a trackpad as well.

This new controller acts as a seamless connection between the freedom of hand tracking and the assured level of interaction and feedback provided by a physical controller. It does not necessitate holding and gripping the controller with your entire hand, allowing you the possibility to perform tasks like typing or holding other physical objects. However, it ensures a consistent and reliable level of interaction with virtual objects without any potential problems associated with hand tracking, such as decreased accuracy in low light or occlusion issues.

comes with a separate ring that is worn on the opposite hand in addition to the pointing capable of hand tracking though, and this ring is in part for helping to enhance the tracking when a user is manipulating objects in virtual space.

Can Sony’s XR Headset rival the Vision Pro?

Sony is following Apple’s lead by targeting professional users with its new XR HMD. This is logical since Sony already caters to the gaming and entertainment market with its PSVR2 product line. The focus of this new headset from Sony will likely be on users in the AEC and professional creative industries, who require immersive and collaborative 3D creation and modeling tools.

It is hard to say at this time exactly how this device will measure up to the Apple Vision Pro as there is simply still a lot that we don’t know about Sony’s headset. This includes information such as pricing, release date, and full specifications. However, these first impressions are very positive and a device such as this certainly has the potential to impact the workflows of the creative and professional industries.

Additionally, if Sony positions its new XR headset as a standard tool within its content ecosystem, it has the potential to greatly influence the creative landscape by leveraging its extensive network of creative professionals. This device could become a vital asset for professionals involved in immersive content creation in the coming years.

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