These slick shades pack the power of Android for AR

Get ready to watch films, experience augmented reality and virtual reality, and play games through a pair of slim sunglasses.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile, 5G, Big Tech, Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Roger Cheng
Shara Tibken
3 min read
James Martin/CNET
Watch this: ODG taps Qualcomm's lightning-fast chips for AR and VR glasses

If the future is that bright, these are the shades you gotta wear.

At Qualcomm's CES press conference on Tuesday, Osterhout Design Group showed off a pair of smart glasses running on Android and powered by Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 835 powerhouse chip -- the kind of processing power that usually runs a high-end phone like a Samsung Galaxy S7 or Google Pixel.

After Qualcomm's prepared remarks, ODG showed off two versions of its glasses: the R-8, which is designed for consumers, and the business-oriented R-9. Reporters swarmed the ODG executives for a chance to try on the black plastic glasses, the first devices to use the Snapdragon 835.

The marquee feature is the ability to run augmented reality programs, which see digital images in the lenses, superimposed over the real world, as well as virtual reality, which transports the user to a digital world. Because the glasses are fully functioning computers, you can take photos, stream live video and even check your email on them, said Nima Shams, ODG's vice president of head-worn [products] said in an interview after Qualcomm's press conference.

ODG's Qualcomm-powered glasses tout AR, VR

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"This is the most powerful mobile device in the world [at this time]," Shams said. "It's the only [Snapdragon] 835 device that exists [right now].

The R-8 and R-9 mark the latest development in the burgeoning field of AR, also known as mixed reality, a technology championed by Microsoft through its HoloLens headgear. If you've played Pokemon Go, with its digital monsters living on your phone screen via real-life images shot on your camera, then you've experienced AR. In fact, you can play Pokemon Go with ODG's new glasses.

Games and other apps can use both AR and VR, such as one ODG-designed app where you see a virtual door in the real world, Shams said. When you walk through the door, you're in a virtual world, but you can look behind you and see the real world.

This isn't the first pair of AR glasses built by ODG, but the R-8 represents its initial foray into the consumer market. The glasses offer a 40-degree field of vision and high-definition resolution, allowing you to watch movies from 21st Century Fox, China Mobile's content arm and other media companies that float in your view, as well as take advantage of navigation and educational "experiences."

The R-8's 780p displays make it seem like you're staring at a 90-inch, cinema-quality TV 10 feet in front of you, while the R-9's 1080p displays give the projection of a 120-inch TV. The picture is crystal clear, just like you're in a movie theater, and the consumer version of the glasses are lightweight at only 4.2 ounces -- less than most phones, like the 4.9-ounce iPhone 7. Microsoft's Hololens weighs a whopping 20.4 ounces.

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ODG's R-8 smart glasses, pictured on CNET's Shara Tibken, weigh only 4.2 ounces.

James Martin/CNET

"This is so much bigger than just a device, it's about a whole new computing medium that will transform how we interact and discover information and engage with people and objects in the world around us," ODG CEO Ralph Osterhout said in a statement.

The R-9 offers a 50-degree field of vision and will run special business applications.

The use of the flagship Snapdragon 835 chip in the R-8 and R-9, rather than in a high-profile phone, speaks to Qualcomm's push to make its chips useful in different kinds of hardware. The company has been pushing to get its brains into other devices, including wearables, drones and smart speakers, to diversify itself from its core phone business.

These wearables aren't cheap. The R-9 will cost $1,799 when it hits the market in the second quarter. ODG plans to ship a developer version of the R-8 for less than $1,000 in the second half of 2017.

The Snapdragon 835, which uses a new process that makes the chip smaller and more power-efficient, allows manufacturers to design more compact devices. ODG has made smart glasses before, but never this small.

The chip's size makes for glasses that aren't just a piece of technology, but a fashion statement.

"They are not regular sunglasses," Hugo Swart, head of Qualcomm's home entertainment business, said in an interview last month. "But they're getting there."

Update at 6:30 p.m. with additional details about the glasses from ODG interview.

Update at 10 a.m. PT on Jan. 4 with additional details and photos.

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