Microsoft is taking a second swing at making screens obsolete with the second coming of the HoloLens. The tech company unveiled the latest iteration of its mixed reality headset on February 26 during the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The device saw some major overhauls to reflect Microsoft’s new strategy for tackling augmented reality.
The original 2015 HoloLens was depicted as being able to virtually transform users’ living rooms into a football stadium, efforts designed to introduce both AR and VR to the mainstream consumer. But Microsoft may have pulled the trigger too early as far as mainstream goes, and the company later announced that it would focus instead more on enterprise cases.
HoloLens 2, then, isn’t about entertainment anymore, it’s about collaboration and productivity. Microsoft hopes to one day replace the rows of monitors in offices around the world with holograms that employees can interact with simultaneously. But a shift away from the consumer market doesn’t mean Microsoft’s AR efforts will be stuck in cubicles forever.
HoloLens 2 vastly improved upon its predecessor: It’s lighter-weight, comes with improved tracking capabilities, and boasts a wider field of view, to mention a few of the key improvements. So while Microsoft may seem to be walking back its plan to bringing mixed reality to the Super Bowl-watching general public, it has still delivered cutting edge tech that will serve as a stepping stone towards a future where AR and VR are commonplace.
HoloLens 2: Price and Release Date
Microsoft’s headset ain’t cheap: It’ll start at $3,500 and is already available for pre-order. Microsoft will begin shipping HoloLens 2 later this year, but it won’t be making it into the hands of the average consumer.
For now, the new AR headset is only available to companies that want to deploy them to their workforce. Plus, Microsoft hasn’t yet announced plans for the Hololens developers’ kit, meaning early adopters will may not have a ton of apps to go with their Hololens (at least to start.)
HoloLens 2: What’s in the Box?
For aforementioned beefy price tag, companies will receive:
- HoloLens 2 visor
- Carrying case
- Overhead strap
- Microfibre cloth
- USB-C cable
HoloLens 2: Will It Be Worth It?
Unlike most AR or VR headsets on the market, HoloLens 2 won’t come with games or cinematic experiences. Microsoft demoed a few tools including a 3D modeling application, a virtual piano, and voice image browsing during MWC. Without a developers’ edition, companies can’t yet make their own apps, so this handful of tools might be the only ones users can access off the bat.
In that sense, HoloLens 2 will face the same issue bedeviling other AR headsets: lack of content. The technology for holograms is here, but someone needs to step up and make them useful. Indeed, deciding to ship the Hololens to companies first may be an attempt to avoid selling devices to consumers before they’re able to live up to their potential.
HoloLens 2: Improvements to the Original HoloLens
Since dropping its original mixed reality headset in 2016, Microsoft has made sweeping improvements to HoloLens. The HoloLens 2 is more compact, allows for better hologram interaction, and can accurately identify even the tiniest of motions. Here are the key improvements:
Field of view, or FOV, is the extent of the users’ vision that a mixed reality headset can augment. The HoloLens 2 has an FOV of 43 degrees by 29, which isn’t that much when you consider that humans can see roughly 200 degrees by 135, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. The previous HoloLens had a FOV of 30 degrees by 17.5.
Secondly, its eye tracking capabilities have been vastly upgraded to allow for hands-free interaction with holograms. HoloLens 2 monitors eyes in real time so it’s constantly paying attention to where users are looking. This enables interactions like scrolling to the end of a document by simply looking at the bottom of the page. This feature will also enable iris scanning in addition to facial recognition as an option for biometric authentication.
Finally, HoloLens 2 users won’t need to hold controllers in each of their hands like with the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Microsoft has refined its hand tracking technology, which renders a 3D model of users’ hands in real time and allows for natural interactions with holographic objects.
Re-sizing holograms with the original HoloLens required users to use a digital re-size handle. With its second iteration, all users need to do is reach out and squeeze or stretch an object to the size they want, a lot like how one would zoom in and out of a photo using an iPhone.
HoloLens 2: Technical Specs
HoloLens 2 also comes with these components under the hood:
- Optics: See-through holographic lenses (waveguides)
- Resolution: 2K 3:2 light engines
- Holographic Density: >2.5k radiants (light points per radian)
- Eye-based rendering: Display optimization for 3D eye position
- An Azure Kinect sensor to track depth
- An accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to track body motions
- Camera capable of 8 megapixel photos and 1080p video at 30 frames per second
Audio & Speech
- Microphone array: 5 channels
- Speakers: built-in, spatial audio
Human and Environment Understanding
- Voice command and control capabilities on-device, natural language processing with internet connectivity
- 6 degrees of freedom tracking: world-scale positional tracking
- Spatial mapping: real-time environment mesh
- Mixed reality capture: mixed hologram and physical environment photos and videos
Compute & Connectivity
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 Compute Platform
- Microsoft’s proprietary holographic processing unit
- BlueTooth 5.0
- USB-C Charging
HoloLens 2: Early Reviews
A few publications have already had hands-on time with the AR headset or got to take it for a test ride at MWC. Most reviewers were impressed by many of HoloLens 2 improvements, but resoundingly believe the mixed reality takeover that Microsoft envisions will take a long time.
Alex Cranz at Gizmodo was most drawn by its tracking capability, but said she was let down by the fact that average consumers won’t have a chance to try it out.
“There was nothing on my hands. No special glove or controller. The HoloLens 2 tracked my fingers and knew exactly what to do. It was a perfect interaction,” she wrote. “And in the same short amount of time, it became clear that the average person isn’t getting HoloLens any time soon.”
Michael Sawh from Wearables wrote that HoloLens 2 made the best case yet for the future of mixed reality of any product Microsoft has released so far, but was also disappointed about its pivot away from consumers.
“Overall it does a much better job of selling Microsoft’s vision: its tech can be truly groundbreaking,” he said. “It’s just a shame that we will probably have to wait a few more years before we get a version of HoloLens that’s more fun to play with.”
CNET’s Scott Stein called the device “practical magic,” but mentioned it had to surmount the lack of content issue to really make a statement.
“For now, the company is just trying to make a better way to mix reality in practical ways… and patiently waiting for the apps, developers and the rest of the connected world to keep evolving with it,” he said.