What is mixed reality?

Mixed reality is also known as MR, MX, or hybrid reality. Indeed, mixed reality stands halfway between augmented and virtual reality; digital content is overlayed and interacts with the user’s environment in real time. Thus, mixed reality must be viewed through semi-transparent glasses or MR headsets equipped with a camera (in order to film and display the user’s environment).

A small number of well-known video headsets and MR glasses– including the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap One– already dominate the market. Nevertheless, other MR options exist, as can be seen in our product roundup below. Some of these mixed-reality headsets are not available to consumers (because they are intended for enterprise use) or have not yet been officially launched on the market.

There remains a collective ambiguity though about the use of the terms “augmented reality” and “mixed reality”. We tackle the difference between the two terms in this article and explain the terms with some real-world applications and products. Another great source of information on mixed reality and the difference with AR is this article from G2.

It’s interesting to note that mixed reality is not considered a niche. Indeed, major tech powerhouses are investing in this emerging technology. Google and Samsung are reportedly developing their own mixed reality headsets, and Apple holds several patents for smartphone MR glasses.

The 9 best mixed reality headsets of 2021

ProductBrandRelease dateCountryFov horizontalPrice
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
LightfieldAvegant 2017United States upon requestAsk for a quote
AjnaLensDimension NXG 2018India95$ 1,500Contact the manufacturer
OneMagic Leap 2018United States40$ 2,295Ask for a quote
HoloLensMicrosoft 2016United States35$ 3,000Buy on Amazon US
HoloLens 2Microsoft 2019United States52$ 3,500Ask for a quote
LightNreal 2019China52$ 499Contact the manufacturer
BridgeOccipital 2016United States120$ 399Contact the manufacturer
Holoboard Enterprise EditionTesseract 2018India82$ 349Contact the manufacturer
ZapBoxZappar 2018United Kingdom$ 30Contact the manufacturer

What’s the best MR headset in 2021?

http://Avegant%20Lightfield
Selection
By Avegant
CountryUnited States
FOV Horizontal
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
upon request

Although not available commercially, this MR headset incorporates LightField technology, which is set to increase immersion and realism experienced by users within mixed reality.

This tethered MR headset can display, for example, virtual prototypes, schematics for structures or even organs for scientific purposes.

http://Dimension%20NXG%20AjnaLens
Selection
CountryIndia
FOV Horizontal95
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 1,500

Incorporating AI, environmental mapping and enhanced 3D digital holograms, this Indian-based startup is targeting a range of industries with an MR headset that can rival the more expensive brands within mixed reality.

The 90-degree field of view of the AjnaLens is also much wider than that of the HoloLens or Magic Leap One. This MR HMD is still in development.

http://The%20Magic%20Leap%20One%20is%20a%20popular%20standalone%20mixed%20reality%20headset.
Selection

One

CountryUnited States
FOV Horizontal40
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 2,295

The Magic Leap One uses Light Field technology and comes with a wearable Lightpack (mini PC) to power the device. There is generally a lot of excitement about this MR headset’s potential, and content creators are now working on developing applications and games.

The Magic Leap which has arguably gained the most amount of media attention of all the MR headsets, as well as significant funding.

http://Microsoft%20HoloLens
Selection
CountryUnited States
FOV Horizontal35
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 3,000

The HoloLens has been in circulation since 2016 and was the first standalone mixed reality headset to be made available.

Although it has a limited FOV (35°) and a high price tag of $3,000, this HMD has already been integrated into several industries ranging from manufacturing and retail to healthcare and education.

http://Microsoft%20HoloLens%202
Selection
CountryUnited States
FOV Horizontal52
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 3,500

After the HoloLens, Microsoft developed its successor, the HoloLens 2, bearing several improvements. These include the latest Kinect sensor, a custom AI chip to improve its performance, a wider FOV, and a more comfortable design.

Two new key features are also available: inside-out tracking (no external sensors required) and holographic lens integration.

http://Nreal%20Light
Selection
By Nreal
CountryChina
FOV Horizontal52
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 499

The Nreal Light mixed reality glasses, publicly announced in early 2019, work tethered to a mini PC (like the Magic Leap One).

Light and simple, they almost look like “normal” sunglasses or eyeglasses, unlike most other MR products on the market that tend to be bulky.

http://Occipital%20Bridge
Selection
CountryUnited States
FOV Horizontal120
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 399

The Occipital Bridge is an MR headset for smartphones. It offers 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) with its inside-out tracking and, most importantly, boasts the largest FOV (120°) of all mixed reality devices on the market.

This headset is compatible only with iPhones (6S and up) and must be equipped with the Occipital Structure Sensor, a mobile 3D scanning accessory.

http://The%20Tesseract%20Holoboard%20Enterprise%20Edition%20is%20a%20mixed%20reality%20device.
Selection
CountryIndia
FOV Horizontal82
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 349

This mixed reality smartphone headset offers a wide 82° FOV for only $349. The Holoboard Enterprise Edition is compatible with smartphones running Android 6 and higher.

This MR headset uses tracking based on IMU (inertial measurement unit) technology and markers, allowing users to interact with and place 3D content.

http://Zappar%20ZapBox
Selection
CountryUnited Kingdom
FOV Horizontal
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 30

The Zappar Zapbox, a mixed reality viewer made of cardboard, is currently the most affordable option ($30). This MR headset is based on Google Cardboard and is compatible with Android and iOS smartphones with a screen size between 4.5 and 6 inches.

This low-cost mixed reality headset works with cardboard controllers and markers used to map the user’s environment.

What is Windows Mixed Reality?

The term mixed reality (MR) as a subset of the extended reality (XR) spectrum is often, in our opinion, misused within the tech industry, causing confusion among consumers. The main reason: Windows has named its range of virtual reality headsets “Windows Mixed Reality”. These Windows Mixed Reality– VR and not MR– headsets have been steadily released over recent years in partnership with other key tech manufacturers such as Dell, Acer, Asus, Samsung, HP ou Lenovo.

Mixed reality vs. Windows Mixed Reality (WMR)

In 2015, Microsoft introduced Windows Mixed Reality along with its updated version of the famous Milgram scale as a “mixed reality spectrum”. Their HoloLens (MR) and Windows Mixed Reality (VR) headsets were shown on opposite sides of the spectrum.

WMR products are considered virtual reality headsets and not mixed reality headsets.

Here is a list of Windows MR headsets that are, in fact, virtual reality headsets:

MR headsets: pros and cons

Benefits of MR headsets

  • Headsets are available as standalone, smartphone, and tethered with a range of price points
  • Most released products are usable with glasses
  • MR headsets allow users to interact with their real-world environment (unlike VR where users are isolated from the real world)

Limits of MR headsets

  • FOV is often narrow
  • Limited available content compared to AR and VR
  • Few commercial MR headsets are readily available right now

Mixed reality for Android vs. mixed reality for iPhone

Apart from the most well-known brands in MR offering standalone mixed reality headsets, a new wave of smartphone MR headsets are in the pipeline or have been recently released. These affordable mixed reality headsets offer MR experiences through mobile phones. Here are the mixed reality HMDs for Android and iPhone available on the market:

Mixed reality FAQs

What is the difference between mixed reality and augmented reality?

Augmented reality simply displays a layer of digital content on top of the real world, whereas mixed reality allows virtual elements to be integrated and interact with the user’s real-world environment. For a more comprehensive overview, read our Ultimate VR-AR-MR-guide and blog post.

What is the meaning of HMD?

HMD is the acronym for head-mounted display (or helmet-mounted display). This acronym refers to virtual, mixed, and augmented reality headsets and glasses.

What is Windows Mixed Reality?

Windows Mixed Reality is a content platform where users can access VR games and experiences via Windows Mixed Reality headsets. This name may be misleading, as Windows MR headsets are in fact virtual reality (VR) devices and not mixed reality.

What is Mixed Reality Portal?

Mixed Reality Portal is the desktop app that guides users through their Windows Mixed Reality headset setup. It also serves as the command center on a PC for Windows Mixed Reality.

Is HoloLens mixed reality?

Yes, the Microsoft HoloLens is a standalone (untethered) mixed reality headset. It includes 3 distinct types of sensors and 5 cameras to offer a mixed reality experience.

What industries use mixed reality?

There is a range of industries that are – or have expressed an interest in – using mixed reality. These include education, robotics, commerce, healthcare, architecture, marketing, real estate, sports and more.