There has been a steady buzz about the virtues of virtual reality, but augmented reality is on the cusp of truly breaking out. Most people have been introduced to the technology via popular smartphone games like Pokemon Go or Snapchat's suite of filters. And with Apple and Google launching their own smartphone-driven AR platforms, ARKit and ARCore, the AR wave shows no signs of dissipating.
But augmented reality is more than catching make-believe creatures and making yourself look like a cute puppy via a smartphone. Microsoft, Google Vuzix and others have been working to bring AR to us in eyeglass form.
There are glasses that give you full-color "apps" that you can check at a glance and helmets that deliver directions in real time as you ride around on your bike or motorcycle. There are also AR headsets that create holograms with a level of interactivity that seems straight out of a science fiction fever.
The following are the top augmented reality glasses that are available now or coming soon.
What it is: On paper, we love Microsoft's hologram-themed augmented reality glasses—the true augmented reality concept that will, ideally, have wearers waving their arms around to interact with screens and full-color virtual objects wherever they are. Early demos show neophytes fixing light switches with the help of virtual assistants, dialed in via Microsoft's Skype, who draw diagrams and arrows within the picture the HoloLens-wearing person is seeing. If you want to dial up the coolness factor a bit, you can also take an augmented-reality-driven trip through Mars, seeing what a rover might see, projected entirely on the floor of your home or apartment.
Credit: MicrosoftMicrosoft HoloLens is still early in its development, so you won't be buying one any time soon. It's also a built for more stationary, Oculus Rift-like use, so this might not be the headset that you're going to wear while walking to the grocery store … on Mars.
Who's it for: Interior decorators? Aspiring designers? Gamers? Those who want to learn home improvement tasks by layering simple instructions atop physical items in the real world? Those who have yearned for a Minority Report-like interface for interacting with digital data since the movie's 2002 premiere? Microsoft sees a lot of potential scenarios for HoloLens.
Key specs and features: No dangling cords or wires; "lightweight and adjustable to fit any adult head size;" HD holographic images; a bunch of cameras and sensors that Microsoft isn't talking about; an integrated "holographic processing unit;" spatial audio.
Availability: The Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition is available now for $3,000 in 39 countries, including the U.S.
Magic Leap Lightwear
What is it: One of the most anticipated AR headsets, Lightwear will offer several different devices aimed at enterprise and mainstream consumers. The headsets will attach to a small box called the Lightpack worn on a belt that contains the processor and graphics card. When activated, the headsets will overlay virtual experience onto the real world.
Who's it for: Magic Leap is casting a wide net when it launches, creating Lightwear headsets for enterprise users and regular consumers alike. Since the company is keeping mum about most of the pertinent details, it's anyone's guess how the headsets will differ from each other in use case.
Key Specs and features: Lightpack containing CPU and GPU that attaches to a belt, comes in two sizes, customizable temple pads, nose pieces and forehead pad, can be fitted with prescription lenses, small handheld control.
Availability: The Magic Leap Lightwear will be available for purchase sometime in 2018 and will cost about what you'd pay for a high-end smartphone or tablet.
Epson Moverio BT-300FPV Drone Edition
What is it? Epson's third-generation augmented reality glasses were designed with drones in mind. The Moverio BT-300FPV Drone Edition features a transparent heads-up display so you can see your drone's live video feed or flight statistics while also keeping an eye on the actual drone. As a bonus, it comes with the DJI Go app preloaded, and Epson's controller is custom-designed to clip onto DJI's drone remote.
Credit: EpsonWho's it for? Short answer: professional drone users. The BT-300FPV Drone Edition is perfect for anyone who makes a living shooting photos and videos with a drone or uses one to inspect structures (e.g., wind turbines).
Key specs and features: 0.4-inch display panel with a 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, 6-hour battery life, 16GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 5-megapixel camera, GPS in the controller
Availability: Available now for $699
Google Glass Enterprise Edition
What is it? After Google Glass went through much-hyped launch that failed to gain mainstream traction, Google retooled its augmented reality headset as a business-focused product. Google Glass Enterprise Edition features a similar design as the original, with some upgraded hardware. It also adds a big, red light that turns on when you're filming, which was absent from the consumer version.
Credit: GoogleThe transparent display, called a Glass Pod, is also removable this time around. That means you can detach the display from the included frames and use it with safety goggles or prescription glasses instead.
Who's it for? Google Glass EE is strictly for business use, but that still covers a wide swath of professions. Anyone from factory workers to surgeons could use it. The only group it's definitely not for is regular consumers.
Credit: GoogleKey specs and features: upgraded 8-megapixel camera, detachable lens, longer battery life, faster Wi-Fi, more-powerful processor
Vuzix Blade AR
What is it? Vuzix's latest entry in augmented reality is designed to look as unassuming as possible. These aren't AR goggles; they're smart sunglasses, and they feature a full-color display capable of mirroring almost everything on your smartphone in bright, vivid detail.
Credit: VuzixThe Vuzix Blade AR runs on a special Android kernel and works with smartphones running Android or iOS. They're meant to be easy to use and can be controlled with head motions, a built-in touchpad or Amazon Alexa, thanks to the device's noise-cancelling microphones. Vuzix will also be launching a companion app to pair the phone and manage apps and notifications.
Who's it for? Anyone who's interested in augmented reality but don't want to wear a bulky headset. These are sunglasses, so they'll be particularly useful if you spend a lot of time outside. But professionals and consumers alike should be able to enjoy the Vuzix Blade AR.
Key specs and features: 8MP HD camera, quad-core processor, head-motion tracker, touchpad, haptic feedback, rechargeable battery, expandable microSD storage.
Availability: The Vuzix Blade AR is expected to launch in summer 2018 for about $1,000.
What is it? The second-generation headset offers one of the best augmented reality experiences around. Think of it like Microsoft's HoloLens, but at half the price and with a better AR display and more comfortable design.
Credit: MetaThe Meta 2 can project high-quality holograms using 3D imaging with a 90-degree field of view and a 2560 x 1440 resolution. The company has recently partnered with UltraHaptics and ZeroLight to usher in the future of AR - touch. Using ultrasonic technology and a snazzy car app, we literally reached out, touched and felt a revving engine. The only drawback is that, unlike the wireless HoloLens, the Meta 2 requires a 9-foot cable for power, video and data.
Who's it for? The Meta 2 is great for anyone who wants to fill their home or office with holographic images. It also has clear applications in the classroom and for graphic design, architecture and other visual professions.
Key specs and features: 720p front camera, tinted screens, 90-degree field of view, 2560 x 1440-pixel resolution, Windows-based operating system
Availability: You can buy the Meta 2 now for $1,495. Dell will also begin selling the headset starting February 15.
What is it? The Ora-2 looks a lot like Google Glass, with one key difference: The heads-up display can move. Keep it upright, and data will fill the center of your vision. But if that gets distracting, you can push the display down and move the images to the bottom of your field of view.
Credit: OptinventThe Ora-2 can run as a stand-alone computer, or it can sync to your smartphone over Bluetooth. It can also connect directly to a Wi-Fi network. It runs Android and all the apps that come with that OS, from Gmail and Maps to third-party programs like Skype.
Who's it for? The Ora-2 is still mostly for developers interested in augmented reality, but at this point, it's a pretty professional product. If you're considering Google Glass for enterprise use, the Ora-2 is a good substitute for about half the price.
Key specs and features: 5-MP camera, 5-hour 12,000-mAh battery, 61-inch projected display, ambient light sensor, GPS, Bluetooth Wi-Fi, dual-core processor
Availability: You can order the Ora-2 from Optinvent now for 699 euros (roughly $800).
Garmin Varia Vision
What is it? Varia Vision is a small heads-up display that's designed to attach to your sunglasses and made specifically for bikers. Thanks to a built-in accelerometer and light sensor, it can display cycling stats and performance data in up to four separate panels. Varia Vision also syncs with other sensors, including Garmin's rearview radar for alerts, which occur when a vehicle is coming up from behind.
Credit: GarminYou control Varia Vision using a built-in touchpad. You can even use it with gloves, which is great for serious cyclists.
Who's it for? Cyclists. You could probably find some other uses for Varia Vision, but it's really meant to be used only by bikers.
Key specs and features: 8-hour battery life, 420 x 240-pixel display, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, touchpad controls, weighs less than an ounce (28 grams)
Availability: You can buy Varia Vision now for $395.
What is it? Solos is a cycling-focused AR device with a few standout features. It's an all-in-one pair of smart sunglasses with a built-in heads-up display, which the company claims is the smallest in the world.
Credit: SolosSolos can track your pedaling cadence, power, speed, heart rate, elevation, calories burned, distance traveled and more. It also supports Bluetooth, so it can sync to your phone to display notifications.
Who's it for? Again, this one is for cyclists looking to improve through data-based training. Solos are a solid choice if you want an all-in-one option that can connect to your smartphone.
Key specs and features: 5-hour battery, dual microphones, micro-speakers, adjustable display, Bluetooth
Availability: Solos was crowdfunded in 2016, but production hit delays. The device shipped to some backers in the summer of 2017, and more units should be coming soon. You can preorder a pair now for $375.
What is it? Everysight Raptor is like a HoloLens for cyclists. It uses projection technology to overlay your field of view with performance stats while you pedal. The Raptor also sports a camera, so you can quickly snap a photo or take a video without getting off your bicycle.
Credit: EverysightThe Raptor features an ergonomic, water-resistant design, so it's comfortable to wear and safe to use in the rain. It offers touchpad controls, but you can also use voice commands to take a picture, shoot a video, and adjust the volume or brightness.
Who's it for? Cyclists who want the most advanced AR system possible. Everysight Raptor is a step up from the competition, with a higher price to match.
Key specs and features: 8-hour battery life, built-in camera for photos and video, ergonomic design, IP55 water-resistance, touchpad with tap gesture controls, voice controls, Bluetooth
ODG R-7 Smartglasses System
What is it? ODG calls its R-7 the "world's most advanced AR smartglasses" — and the company may be right. These AR glasses feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, dual 720p see-through displays and the kind of specs you might expect to find in a premium smartphone.
Credit: ODGThe Android-powered R-7 comes packed with a pair of rechargeable batteries, a smorgasbord of sensors and an autofocus camera. Best of all, this device is totally untethered, so you don't need a computer to power the experience.
Who's it for? The O-7 isn't for regular consumers. This is an enterprise product meant for professionals who work in transportation, health care, energy and utilities, logistics and security, and other fields.
Key specs and features: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, dual 720p see-through displays, Bluetooth, dual 650-mAh batteries, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, autofocus camera, magnetic swappable lenses, magnetic stereo earbuds
Availability: You can buy ODG's R-7 glasses for $2,750 right now. There's also a more expensive, $3,500 version meant for use in hazardous environments.