The world of gaming continues to advance at a rapid pace. One of the most exciting developments is the rise of augmented reality (AR) gaming. Unlike virtual reality (VR) which fully immerses you in a digital world, AR overlays interactive 3D graphics onto the real world in real-time. This allows you to experience digital game elements and characters blended into your actual surroundings.
From mobile games to advanced headsets with room tracking, AR gaming offers stunning visuals and an immersive experience that pushes the boundaries of traditional gaming. In this post, we’ll explore the top AR gaming systems currently available and provide tips on choosing the right one for you. Let’s dive in!
A New Frontier in Gaming
Augmented reality gaming is still in its early stages but has massive potential for the future. The idea of blending real and virtual worlds was conceptualized back in the 1960s. However, the technology did not exist to make it widely accessible. The last decade has seen major advances in AR thanks to smartphones, new sensors, faster processors, and improved software.
This has allowed consumer AR gaming to take off, even though the truly advanced systems still cost thousands of dollars. Some key moments in the evolution of AR gaming include:
- Early 2000s – Researchers develop prototype AR games played with bulky headsets tethered to PCs.
- 2009 – AR elements using cell phone cameras start appearing in mobile games.
- 2016 – Pokemon Go brings AR gaming to the mainstream with its massive popularity.
- 2018 – Advanced standalone AR headsets like the Magic Leap One are released for high-end consumer use.
- 2020s – AR is poised for huge growth as hardware improves and 5G rolls out for fast streaming.
AR gaming removes the barriers between the digital world and the physical world. Rather than playing on your TV or a small screen, AR overlays visuals directly into your environment. You can see highly realistic creatures and objects in your actual room as you walk around and interact with them. Sensors track your movement and where you look to anchor the AR elements in real space.
This brings games to life in revolutionary ways. As the technology continues improving, AR has the potential to become the new standard in cutting edge gaming experiences.
The Top 5 AR Gaming Systems
A variety of AR gaming platforms now exist for every type of user. Whether you want to play on a budget phone or use a high-end AR headset with room tracking, exciting options are out there. Let’s check out the top 5 AR gaming systems leading the way in consumer augmented reality.
1. Lenovo Mirage AR
The Lenovo Mirage AR headset was released in 2017 and aimed to bring augmented reality gaming experiences to the masses. It was initially priced around $350, making it the most affordable consumer AR headset when it launched.
The Mirage AR uses your smartphone to power the experience. Once mounted in the headset, your phone’s display, sensors and processor run everything. This allows the Mirage AR to provide immersive AR gaming visuals without costing thousands of dollars like advanced self-contained headsets.
To play, you’ll place your phone in the front compartment. Then you can look through the transparent lenses as you move around. The Mirage AR tracks your head movement so AR elements stay anchored in real space. Handheld controllers let you interact and play games.
Some key features and specs:
- Wide field of view with high quality stereoscopic 3D visuals
- 6DoF tracking of your head without need for external sensors
- Companion app to download AR games and experiences
- Designed for phones like iPhone 8/X and popular Android phones
The Lenovo Mirage AR helped make AR gaming more affordable and accessible. While not as advanced as expensive systems, it provides an easy entry point to test the waters.
2. Magic Leap One
On the higher end, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition mixed reality headset released in 2018 for $2,295. It sparked lots of excitement as one of the first advanced standalone AR systems aimed at early adopter consumers rather than only developers.
The Magic Leap One contains built-in hardware and software to power compelling AR experiences. The headset includes:
- Powerful processing tech with NVIDIA® Parker SOC and 2 GB GPU
- Two onboard cameras for 6DoF tracking without external sensors
- Three-channel waveguide optics with 50° diagonal FOV
- Attachment points for handheld controller with haptics
- Head and eye tracking with blink and gaze recognition
This hardware enables you to freely walk around life-size AR objects anchored and mapped to your physical environment. The AR elements will smoothly track with your head and eye movements for a highly immersive experience.
The Magic Leap One ships with the Lumin SDK and Lumin Runtime OS. Developers can build next-level games and apps for the system. Some early examples include an AR puzzle game set in your home and a virtual solar system experience placed in your actual room.
As one of the first advanced AR systems for everyday consumers, the Magic Leap One showcased the huge potential for the future. It paved the way for even better standalone AR glasses still to come.
3. Microsoft HoloLens
When it comes to standalone AR headsets, the Microsoft HoloLens series has been an industry leader. The latest version is the HoloLens 2, which launched in 2019 for $3,500. It’s focused primarily on enterprise use cases but shows the bleeding edge capabilities of AR hardware and software.
The HoloLens 2 improves upon the original 2016 version in almost every way. Key features include:
- Powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor and custom holographic processing unit
- Greatly improved display with 2K MEMS displays per eye
- Expanded field of view up to 52 degrees
- Time-of-flight depth sensor for advanced environment mapping
- Eye tracking and hand tracking without need for controllers
- 6DoF tracking for precision anchoring of AR elements
- Spatial sound anchored to virtual objects
This advanced technology allows for incredibly immersive AR applications. The HoloLens 2 ships with Dynamics 365 Guides for step-by-step instructions overlayed on workstations and 3D layout. The Azure Spatial Anchors SDK also allows shared AR experiences across HoloLens and mobile devices.
Of course, gaming is a major use case too. Top games like Young Conker provide a glimpse of seamless AR gameplay and storytelling possible with hardware like the HoloLens 2.
4. Niantic Lightship ARDK
On the software side, the Niantic Lightship ARDK allows developers to build advanced AR games and experiences for compatible Android and iOS smartphones.
Niantic is the developer behind the hugely popular mobile AR game, Pokemon Go. They leveraged that game’s AR technology into the Lightship platform as an SDK for other creators.
The Lightship ARDK provides tools like:
- Real-time 3D mapping to detect horizontal and vertical surfaces
- Sparse point clouds for meshing game objects to the environment
- Multiplayer synchronization for shared AR experiences
- Persistent content anchored to real locations
- Surface estimation, occlusion, and more
This software development kit aims to push the boundaries of what’s possible with mobile AR. For example, the Niantic Campfire app allows users to see shared virtual objects like sculptures mapped to their surroundings.
While the ARDK is focused on developers right now, it promises advanced location-based mobile AR gaming in the future. Niantic aims to eventually allow crowds of people to play the same AR game in a large area like a park.
5. PlayStation VR
Console gaming giants have also jumped into AR experiences for existing platforms. The PlayStation VR headset first launched in 2016 for the PlayStation 4. This virtual reality headset contained AR capabilities using the PlayStation Camera and AR Playroom software.
Players could view PS4 gameplay and objects on a virtual screen inside the VR headset. But they could also switch to AR mode. This used the headset cameras to bring virtual characters into your real-world environment.
You’d see AR bot buddies dancing and reacting around your living room as you controlled them with the Dualshock controller. This gave a taste of AR gameplay possibilities on mainstream gaming consoles.
The PS VR system has continued improving with the PS5. The new PlayStation VR2 headset promises even greater immersion with foveated rendering, eye tracking, 3D audio, and more. While not full AR, it shows how console gaming is expanding beyond the TV.
AR gameplay integrates directly into real-world spaces for interactive fun beyond the screen. Consoles like PlayStation aim to make it a mainstream reality.
How to Choose the Right AR Gaming System
With augmented reality gaming capabilities ranging from mobile devices to advanced headsets, how do you choose what’s right for you? Here are some key factors to consider:
Consider Your Budget
AR gaming spans a wide range of price points:
- Mobile gaming utilizes your existing smartphone for AR overlays. Some AR-capable games like Minecraft Earth and Pokemon Go are free.
- Mobile headsets like the Lenovo Mirage AR make immersive AR visuals more affordable at around $350.
- Advanced headsets like the HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap One still cost $2,000 to $3,500.
- VR consoles like PlayStation VR offer some AR gaming for $300 and up.
Think about how much you’re willing to spend as you look at AR gaming system options. Entry-level smartphone apps and headsets can provide exciting AR experiences on a budget. But premium headsets offer cutting edge performance for early adopters.
Evaluate Your Hardware
If using a smartphone-powered AR headset, make sure your phone’s hardware is sufficient:
- Display resolution and pixel density for sharp visuals
- Powerful and efficient processor/GPU for rendering
- Modern OS like Android 8.0+ or iOS 11+ with ARKit support
- Sensors like gyroscope and accelerometer for motion tracking
You want a premium phone released in the last 2-3 years. Confirm the headset you’re considering is compatible.
For high-end AR headsets, check that specs like processors, graphics, displays, and tracking meet your quality standards. These all contribute to highly immersive experiences.
Understand Tracking and Sensors
How AR gaming systems track your movement and environment is key for believable interactions.
- 3DoF vs 6DoF – Does it track rotation only or full motion with positional tracking?
- Onboard cameras – Does it map your surroundings without external sensors?
- Controllers – Does it offer natural hand input or require handheld input devices?
The more robust the tracking, the better AR worlds will sync to your real environment for seamless gameplay.
Consider Use Cases
What do you want to do in augmented reality? Different systems excel at different use cases:
- Mobile gaming offers AR overlays on your existing surroundings. Great for quick, convenient AR engagement.
- Seeking full immersion? Higher-end systems let you view lifesize AR structures mapped to your room with room-scale tracking.
- Multiplayer – Some AR platforms like Niantic Lightship enable multiplayer location-based gaming.
- Productivity and learning – AR headsets can be used for things like 3D data visualization beyond just gaming.
Evaluate gaming and other applications to pick hardware optimal for your needs. For example, mobile AR suits families playing Pokemon Go while high-end systems work for commercial applications.
The Future is Bright for AR Gaming
While still maturing, augmented reality gaming delivers experiences not possible with traditional consoles and PCs. As the technology improves, AR has huge potential to become the next evolution in gaming and entertainment.
From interactive stories overlayed onto your surroundings to advanced alien battles unfolding in your living room, the possibilities are endless. As headsets get smaller, comfort and visuals improve, and 5G enables complex streaming, AR gaming aims for the mainstream.
For now, there are accessible options for anyone to enjoy fun AR gaming on mobile devices as well as advanced systems for early adopters. Do your research to find the right fit based on your budget and gaming desires.
Exciting new AR hardware and applications arrive almost daily. We truly are just scratching the surface of interactive augmented reality technologies blending the real and virtual worlds. The future looks bright indeed!