For a long time now, science fiction has toyed with the concept of holograms and the benefits they can give to society, both in terms of convenience and entertainment. The Coachella performance by the Tupac Shakur hologram proves just how useful it can be in the latter, as it managed to figuratively bring back a long-deceased entertainer for a performance in front of a new generation of fans.
Tech giant Microsoft believes in the potential of holograms, and they first showed it in January 2015 when they unveiled HoloLens headset as part of their Windows 10 launch event. The Microsoft Hololens, unlike the more recent Vive and Oculus Rift headsets, is not a virtual reality device. Rather, it focuses on bringing a more practical venue for augmented reality technology to consumers.
The Microsoft Hololens allows users to view and interact with overlays of digital images on real-world objects. This has a wide variety of applications, from simple entertainment where the real world environment can be turned into a game (by superimposing game elements on real world objects), to productivity and even education.
The HoloLens Hardware
The Microsoft Hololens comes as a headset that can wrap around a person’s head with a thick band. It weighs 579g, which isn’t neckbreakingly heavy but will still be inconvenient for long periods. Thankfully, it is adjustable to fit different adult heads (which suggests that it is not meant for kids.) It has a build in microphone and does not require any wires.
Comparisons to Virtual Reality Headsets
It’s very easy to see a comparison between the Hololens and any of the Virtual Reality Headsets available on the market today. After all, they are all headsets that are basically wearable computers, and they all use computing power to render virtual or digital images on the wearer’s visual space.
The main and most substantial difference is that Virtual Reality headsets take you out of the environment, giving you a virtual surroundings that is mostly separate from the real world. An AR Headset, on the other hand, still keeps the wearer aware of the surroundings, and only uses virtual elements to “enhance” it.
Applications for the Microsoft Hololens
Of course, like any new technology, the most important question will be “what is it going to be used for?” Microsoft promise a future where holograms will be common part of people’s lives, but most likely not in the way sci fi authors have imagined. For one thing, you’ll only be able to see the holograms while wearing the hololens.
Currently, the hololens is already being used for a wide variety of novelty purposes, such as removing the need for a computer monitor as Windows 10’s screen can be projected on any blank surface, or to enhance the look of your surroundings by superimposing digital skins on them. Using a gestures or air taps, the holo lens can also serve as controllers for games, particularly first person games.
For productivity purposes, the Hololens already supports Skype so you can make video calls while doodling on the screen itself. It can also be used for demo or teaching purposes especially when paired with a good 3D rendering app, as objects can be rendered in the digital space and manipulated.
Is Mixed Reality the Future?
It is very easy to see that as it stands now, the mixed reality offered by the Hololens is beneficial, but it will not be as ubiquitous as smartphones. The tech is still in early stages and the price, at an estimated price tag of $3000, puts it well beyond the reach of the mainstream consumer. But there are practical applications and any technology should get cheaper over time so if they play their cards right, there is indeed a future for Microsoft’s Hololens, it is just not here yet.
Below are some photos of VRAD’s visit to the Microsoft Canada.