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Stereolabs Linq aims to be the world's first true 'mixed-reality' headset

While we have barely gotten to the stage of shipping virtual reality headsets, the industry is already trying to move past them to what is being called mixed reality. Mixed reality solutions combine the capability to present augmented reality (AR, or computer-generated objects overlaid on the native field of vision) with VR. The most well-known of those efforts, Magic Leap, HoloLens, and Meta, all aim to do this by using a transparent headset with projectors of some type. They have struggled with overcoming narrow field of view, and emulating full virtual reality. In contrast, veteran stereo camera maker Stereolabs has revealed that it is working on a headset it calls Linq, that tackles the problem the other way around.

Instead of transparent headset with objects projected onto it, Linq will use the more-common VR approach of a display inside the headset. But Linq adds stereo cameras that provide a correlated view of the outside world, so virtual objects can be seamlessly integrated with the user’s view of their surroundings. Linq isn’t the first product trying to accomplish this. We reported earlier this year about AMD-partner Sulon Q, which is working on a similar product. But we haven’t heard much about the effort since.

Stereolabs has provided a demo video for Linq that is reminiscent of Magic Leap’s first demo video, although this one was shot entirely through an actual prototype, and the technical elements that go into Linq are all well understood:

In addition to its unusual approach to mixed reality, Linq has an ace up its sleeve. Stereolabs’ experience with depth-mapping using its popular Zed camera allows it to implement accurate room-scale VR experiences without external beacons. When I first heard about it, it seemed to good to be true. But I was able to go hands-on in the company’s offices, and amazed by how I could easily move around a large space while playing room-scale VR games. Because it uses regular cameras instead of some type of structured-light solution, this approach can work both indoors and out.

Stereolabs expects to have developer units ready in early 2017, with general availability later in the year. Initial versions will be tethered to a VR-capable PC, but I also received a demo of a portable GPU solution for Zed’s room-scale VR, and the company hopes it can deploy something similar with Linq over time.

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