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HTC is prototyping an AR headset that looks like sunglasses

HTC has announced updates to the Vive Cosmos, its lineup of consumer-ready virtual reality headsets. But it’s also testing a more streamlined mixed reality device codenamed “Project Proton.” While the Proton is just a prototype, HTC shared concept images of its design, shedding some light on the company’s goals.

The Proton headset seems functionally similar to the upcoming Cosmos XR. Both are built for mixed or augmented reality experiences, but unlike Microsoft or Magic Leap’s mixed reality glasses, they use passthrough video instead of transparent waveguide lenses.

The Proton covers two form factors: an all-in-one headset which we shall call “Proton AIO” for now, and an “all-in-two” headset which we shall nickname “Proton Glass.” Upon closer look, both headsets appear to feature stereo front-facing cameras which are likely for inside-out tracking, though it’s also possible that these will be used for passthrough view of the outside world. The visors are insanely slim, so both headsets should weigh noticeably less than current devices, plus they will less likely hit the wall or be hit by one’s controllers, if any. That said, it’s unclear how much of an impact this will have on the field of view.

Unlike the Vive Focus, the Proton AIO’s processing unit appears to be housed on the back of the head strap, which further reduces the size of the visor while offering a better weight distribution. There are also two dongles which are likely headphones that hover over your ears.

HTC CEO Yves Maitre offered an interesting reason for the latter design: it could support 5G, and test users made it “massively clear” that they’re leery of a headset with a 5G antenna. “We do believe that it’s not reasonable to have a 5G antenna near the brain of customers, so obviously this is something that we don’t want to do,” says Maitre.

The Proton is proof that HTC really cares about mixed reality. “We want to move one day to [normal-looking] glasses, and it is a journey,” he says. “We just want to show that we are committed to the journey, that we are investing toward this journey, and we have a first product.”

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