The streaming content vision from Magic Leap recently underwent a quiet but major update, courtesy of AT&T.
Previously, Magic Leap's retail and 5G partner AT&T made its DirecTV Now streaming television service available to Magic Leap One users. But now that the company has launched its new service, AT&T TV, for regular TV viewers, it seems the augmented reality version needed an upgrade, too.
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The new app went live last week with no apparent announcement. It is listed in the Magic Leap World app store as AT&T TV Beta, and to use it you need to sign up for an account through one of AT&T's streaming plans. So before you can even sample the goods, you have to give up your credit card number, after which you're given a brief trial period before the monthly charges kick in.
What's interesting is that the Magic Leap app doesn't appear to give you the option to sign up for the service directly on the spatial computing device. Instead, you have to visit the AT&T website, or download the mobile app, and set your account up in those places.
That single hurdle could stop some Magic Leap users from otherwise easily subscribing via the device rather than going through the extra steps necessary off-device.
To access the Magic Leap app, instead of signing up for the more traditional TV-focused version of the service, I signed up for the AT&T TV Now app, which starts at $50 per month and gives you 45 channels (ESPN, NBC, CBS, ABC, TNT, and others), which includes one premium channel (HBO), and allows you to watch your content on laptops, smartphones, and tablets. (There are several other digital and traditional TV options, but those plans are so varied that dissecting them would require a separate post.)
After that's all done, the Magic Leap experience is not only easy to use — it's incredibly well designed. Unfortunately, I can't show you just how slick the interface is in action because of AT&T content blocking. That's right, even on an edge technology device like the Magic Leap One, with a presumably small (mostly developers, for now) user base, AT&T has taken the forward-looking step of preventing anyone from recording footage of the app in action in order to block illegal copying and distribution of the app's film and television content.
I tried the normal recording function, which works on most apps. Nope. I tried using the iOS mobile app Device Stream feature — blocked. I even tried the Magic Leap Package Manager to see if going into developer mode on my desktop using Device Stream might allow me to show you some of the interfaces at work — no dice. Recording your experience is blocked on all fronts.
Therefore, if you want to show someone how awesome the AT&T TV experience is on the Magic Leap One, you'll have to put the device on their head. Hopefully, we'll get a demo video from AT&T soon to show off how well this works. Not a great marketing dynamic, but since illegal streaming is rampant, you can't really blame AT&T for being so strict.
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Thankfully, that's the only bad news, as the app itself is fantastic. The app lets you watch both live channels and video on demand. You can view four screens simultaneously, with each resizable screen going mute if you look away toward another screen.
The main Guide menu presents a selection of TV shows, movies, sports, and kids content. But it's when you switch to the Watch Now section, which is presented as a circular carousel (see image at the top of this page), that the Magic Leap experience really shines. In the carousel, the content is broken down into helpful sections including Trending, Binge Full Seasons, Free Movies, Premium Movies (via HBO), as well as TV and movie content sectioned off by genre (sci-fi, comedy, family, etc.).
And if you're worried that the digital content releases might lag behind traditional vectors, well, those fears may be well-founded. On Monday, when I looked for the latest episode of HBO's Succession, which aired Sunday night, I found that the latest episode still wasn't available on the AT&T TV app. In addition to streaming content, the app has a section called True Cloud DVR (which is listed as beta, and includes a menu misspelling to prove it), and a Bookmarks section.
Despite some of the very minor rough edges, the only glaring omission here I can find is the inability to set windows to follow you (that is, remain automatically within your fixed field of view) as you can with some other Magic Leap video apps. Also, you can't use the app while using other apps, but if you switch apps and later return to the AT&T TV app (without turning the Magic Leap One off), the app will return you to where you left off, with all your last live windows still intact.
Although the new AT&T TV offerings haven't been met with a lot of enthusiasm from industry observers, the service's debut on Magic Leap signals a powerful addition to the immersive computing space that could move the company a lot closer toward its goal of getting through to mainstream users.