Magic Leap, a mysterious technology company promising to change reality through its futuristic AR headset, has teased great things for years. The company's first product has arrived, the Magic Leap One. CNET tried it. And we visited Magic Leap's Florida headquarters. This is our photo diary.
Magic Leap One is expensive: At $2,295, it's well above what VR systems cost.
This is the Magic Leap One headset, called Lightwear. Its transparent displays are in the round lenses.
Magic Leap One's Lightwear looks like a bizarre set of space goggles, but consider them more like a shrunken-down variant on Microsoft Hololens. Except, the display technology here is different.
We saw the headset in Magic Leap's design studio showroom in its Fort Lauderdale headquarters. The space looked like an Apple Store.
The headset is adjustable, but also comes in two sizes for different heads.
An array of cameras all across the glasses handle spatial awareness and 3D tracking, plus depth sensing. The AR glasses can scan a room's dimensions to make sure virtual objects can be placed correctly.
Padding inside the headband helps it fit well. The rear of the headband expands to adjust.
Two speakers in the sides project spatial 3D audio, creating a soundscape without requiring headphones. It's similar to what Facebook's Oculus Go VR headset has.
Magic Leap's proprietary photonics chip, a light field display inside the lenses, looks like a small transparent square.
Because the headset doesn't house a processor (that's in a separate clip-on device), it feels sleeker than you'd think.
A look from the side. Kinda looks like a creature, perhaps?
A closer look at one of the two speakers on the inside.
Magic Leap's 2012 comic book featured critters called Magic Leapers, which are similarly bug-eyed. The headset's design is loosely based on the company's creature mascot (and logo).
The headset's cords connect it to the Lightpack PC.
What's included: Lightpack battery/PC (left), the controller (center) and USB-C AC chargers (right).
The Lightpack is a weirdly-shaped thing.
It's a clip-on PC that's meant to be worn. It houses the power and processing for Magic Leap One.
It charges via USB-C, and also has a headphone jack and volume controls.
A power button on top glows when on. The Lightpack also has heat venting.
The included controller is one-handed, much like controllers on mobile VR headsets like Oculus Go, Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR.
It's got a round touchpad that has a ring of LED lights, and a home button underneath.
On the bottom is a trigger button, and a shoulder bumper button on the front edge.
The controller feels heavier than you'd expect. It also has vibration haptic feedback, and can be tracked by the Magic Leap One's headset cameras, allowing it to have six-degree-of-freedom tracking that aims for desktop PC VR controller accuracy.
A close look at the AC adapter.
Magic Leap says the headset can last up to three hours on a charge.
Magic Leap One will also work with your bare hands, but the controller adds better feedback and more inputs. It's a shame there aren't two controllers for two-handed AR.
Magic Leap One's packaging.
That red guy is the Magic Leaper.
Just one more look at the box.
Opening up the Magic Leap One box.
Under the foam...
Everything's laid out inside. The headset requires in-home personal set-up assistance. There are five different nose pieces.
Magic Leap One also doesn't work with glasses. You'll need a prescription lens insert, or do what I did: wear contacts.
Documentation in the box, and setup instructions.
Here's what it was like to try. I played through over half an hour of demos, all in a dedicated Magic Leap demo room that looked like a living room.
Some apps don't need the controller at all. Note how the headset is riding very high on the back of my head (this is how it normally fits).
I'm touching glowing bits of aquatic stuff in the Sigur Ros musical soundscape Tonandi, which feels like a mild hallucination.
Magic Leap One has a limited field of view, meaning that ghostly, glowing 3D things are seen in the world via a relatively small viewing area. I can see everything in the room, but virtual things are only in front of me.
Not wearing glasses gets annoying. Most headsets I use work with glasses.
The virtual objects seen in Magic Leap can extend back many feet, and look better farther away. Up close, they seem vivid, but can sometimes drift out of view.
In one app I tried, Dr. Grordbort's Invaders, the controller turned into a half-virtual ray gun. The vibrations help, but aren't all that strong in the demo hardware I tried.
Magic Leap One requires space to use. But the hardware can "mesh" a room, notice the walls and floor and furniture, and make sure virtual things stay aware of your space limits.
Magic Leap wouldn't allow us to capture any in-headset visuals, claiming it's hard to duplicate the experience. Graphics were vivid and luminous, but seemed more ghostly/holographic than "real."
Sound helped a lot. Magic Leap One's audio experience was pretty good, and helped make up for the limited field of view issues.
This is not something I'd wear around the home. Not even me.
The hardware can also get cumbersome: You have to make sure the rear cable stays behind your head, and the clip-on Lightpack stays half out of a pocket, able to vent.
But, there are moments where the visuals can become really fun and interesting. It's definitely a step up in graphics from Microsoft Hololens.
I'd prefer if I didn't have to wear this Lightpack. There's also a shoulder strap option.
Since it's AR, I can also see my controller.
So, we also visited Magic Leap's Fort Lauderdale-adjacent, Florida headquarters. The former Motorola factory is in an industrial complex not far from the Everglades.
Magic Leap's main lobby is as magical as you'd expect. The comic art is from a crazy 2012 comic book Magic Leap made and gave away at New York's Comic-Con.
A little cactus and dinosaur landscape in the lobby, near the stairs.
Checking in on an iPad.
We've got our badges (and I'm not wearing glasses, because Magic Leap One Creator Edition doesn't work with my prescription).
The Design Laboratory room where we looked at the headsets.
Inside the room, set up more like a product showcase. Magic Leap didn't let us photograph the rest of the studios, or the factory we got to tour on the ground floor.
The demo room, where Magic Leap's hardware waits for us to test it.
The many, many nose pieces and adjustment parts of the Magic Leap One headset.
Our demos were set up on several different Magic Leap One headsets.
Connie Guglielmo, editor-in-chief of CNET News, tries on Magic Leap One with Shanna De Iuliis, chief technical marketing manager for Magic Leap, who guided us through the experiences.
Connie's in AR now. We both agreed: The experiences were interesting, but didn't blow us away.
An over-the-shoulder look.
We ended at a museum room where older prototypes of Magic Leap hardware are exhibited.
This is The Beast, the first light field display prototype that CEO Rony Abovitz built in his garage. It's massive, imposing and you had to put your head into it to see what were just a few basic floating pixels.
The first wearable prototype, called "Cheesehead," is like a big wedge of... well, yeah. It was made in 2015.
Cheesehead had lenses that floated in front of the eyes, but...
Later more "portable" versions of the headgear still have a heavy cyberpunk/Robocop vibe.
I didn't get to wear this.
Note the crazy thick cable.
Magic Leap's mythical 2012 comic book really does exist, and I got a copy to read on the flight home. It's even weirder than I expected.
Created by Rony Abovitz along with Guardians of the Galaxy comic co-creator Andy Lanning, "Magic Leapers: Welcome to the Experience" has sketches on the inside cover of the strange Magic Leaper creatures.
The story involves kids who happen across Magic Leap Studios, a Wonka-like factory where these Leaper creatures are made, inducing hallucinations of doorways to other worlds. Seriously.
The Magic Leap One headset design is partially inspired by these critters. Note the big, round, lens-like eyes. Magic Leap's weird biotech comic fantasies are far odder than the hardware reality... for now.