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Smart glasses using augmented reality are a weird, evolving territory. But the floating displays most augmented-reality smart glasses need could start feeling like they're melting into the real world soon. Pop-up heads-up displays for your every waking moment? Maybe, thanks to OLED.
The most interesting part of Epson's new Moverio BT-300 smart glasses, announced in Barcelona at this year's Mobile World Congress, is their OLED display technology. I used an early prototype pair, and the effect is pretty impressive. Epson had a pair of smart glasses for years -- the Moverio BT-200s. Those made floating screens appear in front of your eyes, but the screen's borders were always visible. When the screen was "dark," it still glowed ever-so-faintly, like nearly all LCD screens. I could tell a screen was in front of my eyes.
The new glasses are thinner, and the displays, which are projected onto part of the lens, use OLED. And OLED, as enthusiastic videophiles will tell you, can achieve perfect black: without needing a backlight like LCD screens, OLED displays are far more immersive. The end effect is that glowing parts of the display feel more like they're hovering in space, versus being a part of a giant semitransparent screen.
Epson's smart glasses float this display in front of your face in 2D or 3D for playing back videos, showing apps or diagrams hands-free, or using 3D VR-like content which can be controlled with head movements and an included wired touchpad controller. The glasses can also achieve augmented reality, popping up information that matches QR codes or other markers seen by the in-glasses camera. You could use them to control drones. It's not like using Microsoft HoloLens, but there are enterprise uses like virtual blueprint apps already in place. I used to watch Netflix on an older pair of BT-200s.
Epson plans to sell the Moverio BT-300 smart glasses late in 2016 and is looking at everyday people as a target audience, as opposed to the enterprise-targeted nature of previous Epson glasses. That's a tall order for a weird-looking pair of smart glasses with their own wired controller and Android-powered base unit. But OLEDs in transparent smart glasses are a great idea. They're discreet, and they look better. Now, smart glasses just need to tackle everything else.