One Thing Palmer Luckey May Have Gotten Half-Wrong in His “Magic Leap is a Tragic Heap”

As I wrote last time, Palmer Luckey in his article, “Magic Leap is a Tragic Heap” did a brilliant job of succinctly explaining how Magic Leap over-hyped their device and how the two focus planes is a tragic fail. I wrote about focus planes and how they would be a failure many times including back in December 2016 with “Magic Leap: Focus Planes (Too) Are a Dead End” and  January 2018 with “Magic Leap House of Cards – FSD, Waveguides, and Focus Planes.”

But one thing I believe Palmer got at least half-wrong was his speculation that the Magic Picture showing a person looking into a bunch of fibers was a total fake and that the “fibers” were really electro-luminescent (EL)wires. According to Paul Reynolds (formerly of Magic Leap and MugOfPaul on Reddit) in a Reddit discussion, Palmer was wrong about the picture having electroluminescent wires and not being optical fibers.

Quoting Palmer Luckey:

Above is a telling picture from a piece Magic Leap did with Wired magazine a couple years ago, back when they were still hyping up scanning fiber displays.  See the fancy-looking, high-tech light up  strands?  They don’t do anything.  It is just electro-luminescent wire.  It looks great to casual observers, but does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny from people who are in the know. If you want to try using it to dress up  your own costume, gaming PC, or multi-billion dollar hype machine, you can buy a nice assortment for $20 here.

Quoting Paul Reynolds:

Being as that I’m one of a relatively small group people that actually put their eyes in that lab set up, I feel confident in saying Palmer is very wrong in saying those were EL wires. Those fibers were functional light sources and in the live demo it was pretty obvious. It was not an FSD, though.

I do believe that this picture was meant by Magic Leap to mislead people into thinking that Magic Leap’s “Magic” was their much hyped (mostly by others mislead by Magic Leap) fiber scanning display (FSD). I have reported many times, including here that FSD is another tragic fail by Magic Leap.

I had an anonymous source over a year ago say that the picture was lasers going through fibers to illuminate a DLP. I have had other sources tell me that at least some the early Magic Leap prototypes used DLP

Using lasers with optical fibers to couple them to a DLP is being used today for large theaters (such as Dolby Laser Theaters) using Cristie Laser Projectors. I know they have been doing this for at least eight years. The image above is from a Christie webpage (image number 13 on their popup). The fibers and their glow resemble those in the Magic Leap picture. The color shifts that may have seemed like other colors are caused by the high saturated laser colors blowing out the light sensors on the camera in both the Magic Leap and Christie pictures.  It is not much of a stretch to believe the anonymous tip that Magic Leap was using DLP with lasers, only they were using them field sequentially (rapidly displaying one color at a time) whereas the Christie projector using three DLPs (R, G, B) that are constantly illuminated.

So while most of what Palmer wrote I believe to be correct, I think he was half-wrong on this one.




Karl Guttag
Karl Guttag
Articles: 244


  1. Assuming there were no size and weight limitations, what could be the ideal technology for AR displays without aberrations?

    • AR is a complex multidimensional problem. It’s not just size and weight, it is distortion, contrast, brightness, angular resolution.

      In terms of first impressions look, having a reflection of an OLED flat panel in a curved partial mirror looks pretty good (example Meta 2, Mira, Dreamworld, and iGlasses). The image is distorted because it is off/axis, the focus varies from top to bottom, they are pretty big/bulky, and they are too dim for outdoor use by over an order of magnitude. By using a mirror, they avoid chroma aberrations.

  2. What I don’t get is, if that big contraption was all just to hold a waveguide display, why weren’t the more tech savvy investors who saw it more worried? Surely someone must have been able to see that this was the same basic technology as in HoloLens and many other existing systems, and that the company valuation was thus just a tad inflated.

    • The big contraption I don’t think had a waveguide in it. They were selling the sizzle of what they were working on.

      The word (multiple sources but still second or third hand) is that the team at Google that invested were barred from “polluting” the technical people at Google that really understood optics. Once Google invested, then they got money being thrown at them. The hype over AR, Microsoft’s Hololens, and Facebook paying $2B for Oculus was fuel on the fire.

  3. Magic bunny hop
    It’s a small hop from hololense, not a leap.

    Why does no one mention the hot issue that I notice. I borrowed a unit from a friend. I only had 1 hour to check it out so I tried everything. After 40 minutes, I noticed I was profusely sweating. I took the headset off and noted that it had actually heated up my sinuses. Then followed a several hour mild sinus headache. Limit time on the device to 20min IMHO. I’m guessing y’all don’t demo them longer than 20min and so don’t report this problem.

    Conclusion: the form factor for AR just is no where near yet. The long game with big platform wins. Bet on Apple or maybe Microsoft.

    • There are a lot of things very wrong with the ML1, the heat is certainly one of them. I’m mostly concerned with the display issues.

      The vergence-accommodation conflict on the ML1 is a sad excuse for attempting to address the issue. I and others can get headaches after a half hour of use. I’m hoping to get an article out soon about it.

      Consumer AR is a very hard problem. The gap between consumer expectations and what can be physically done with today’s technology is large, even for Apple or Microsoft (as demonstrated by Hololens).

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