Hololens 2: How does the future look through Microsoft’s much-anticipated device?
To bridge the gap between imagination and reality is what AR has been aiming at since its inception. However, concretizing a dream as ambitious as this is easier said than done. The gulf between theory and realization of the same appeared with stark sharpness at the Build developer conference two years ago where Microsoft heralded HoloLens as a futuristic holographic project which would blur the virtual with the real world. Promises were made, making the world quite excited about what Microsoft will bring to the table. With expectations brimming, HoloLens was released which unfortunately received pretty unsatisfactory reviews.
After the release of Hololens 1, users complained that it was heavy, has a small field of view, unwieldy and just not immersive enough. And Microsoft heard them, loud and clear. After talking to the customers and working on it for 3 years, Microsoft announced Hololens 2 on 24th February 2019 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Priced at $3,500 with more comfort, a higher level of immersion and more out-of-the-box value, Hololens 2 is set to be the best mixed-reality device available in the market. Microsoft doesn’t have any plans to sell it to the consumers as of now, it is intended for business use.
The inspiration behind Hololens came from Project Natal, later renamed Kinect, 11 years ago.
Kinect was designed for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game console which used a range of sensors to recognize and track humans as they moved in front of it. It covered the room with thousands of infrared dots, computed depth maps using the camera. Kinect was so popular that it earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest-selling consumer gadget by selling 8 million units within 60 days, a title which was later seized by Apple’s iPad. It is also the inspiration behind Apple’s FaceID and Windows Hello as well. Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s Technical Fellow, AL and Cloud, invented Kinect in 2010 and began directing some of Kinect’s technology into a head-mounted computer for Project Baraboo, which later became Hololens.
Hololens, launched in 2016, had an optical projection that beamed holographic images directly into the user’s eyes and used depth-sensing cameras. It weighed nearly 1.3 pounds and was cumbersome to put on. Some even complained that it squeezed their heads and didn’t always fit over glasses. Extra setup and adjustments of the software that were used to run it, were often needed. However, the biggest drawback Hololens suffered from was its field of view at around 35 degrees. It meant that instead of seeing a hologram, people could only see a small section of it. Since Microsoft wanted to stimulate the development of new apps, Hololens was released only to developers when it was first launched. It later became available to consumers in US and Canada for $3000.
Hololens 2 fixes all those problems and more. The field of view has been doubled. To improve comfort, it is made with carbon fibre which is lighter and the battery, along with some of its computing system, has been moved to the back to distribute the weight evenly across the user’s head.
The screen of Hololens 2 has been replaced by a mirror known as MEMS which moves fast enough to produce the illusion of a screen in space. The new, sleeker lenses filter to the user’s eye about 120 of those screens each second, created by the MEMS. It results in brighter animations, smoother movements and quick response when the user moves her head; and, there’s more area for the holograms to show up.
Hololens 2 has built-in eye-tracking which is useful for identifying the user and scrolling down the holographic page as the user looks up and down.
Another interesting announcement at MWC was Microsoft’s open app store for Hololens development, where developers will be able to sell their holographic app in the Windows app store and create their own app stores as well.
“We don’t have to just imagine it, this future is here, Together, these advances are shaping the next phase of innovation.” — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at MWC 2019 at Barcelona.
However, the entire concept which had sounded veritably exciting in theory at the Mobile World Congress failed to exhilarate tech reviewers after Microsoft’s failed attempt to open this year’s Build event keynote held during 6–8th May in Seattle with a Hololens 2 demo of an Apollo space mission recreated using Unreal Engine 4. After an embarrassing backfire, a second Hololens 2 demo was put into effect highlighting the function of AR in a collaborative office environment.
However, the desperate bid to avoid face loss did not go down as well as was expected. Immediate reviews stamped the Hololens-generated virtual avatar to be “as stiff as an original Xbox character” while positioning and moving computer-generated objects in a shared space were pretty much the cards they brought to the table which is unarguably not enough for a device priced at $3500. Having had three years in its bag to take its technology to the next level, Microsoft has not made a very convincing case for Hololens 2 which only goes on to speak tons about how far the augmented reality industry has to develop to achieve in reality what is only imagined.