Posey's Tips & Tricks
My First-Hand Account of Microsoft HoloLens
While it definitely feels like a product still in development, the experience left me impressed and hopeful for the technology's future.
Ever since Microsoft HoloLens was initially announced, I have wanted to try the device out for myself. Since that time I have written about HoloLens on occasion, but all of those columns were based on observations of others using the HoloLens, not my own experiences. I am happy to say that I finally got to try HoloLens for myself, and I wanted to share with you what the experience was really like.
I'm sure that some of you are probably wondering why it took so long for me to get my hands on a HoloLens. Believe me when I say that it wasn't for lack of trying. I have been a Microsoft MVP for 15 years, so I know a lot of people inside Microsoft. Admittedly, I don't know everyone at Microsoft, but the MVP team leads do a really great job of connecting MVPs to the various Microsoft product groups whenever necessary.
Even so, getting access to HoloLens has been all but impossible up to this point. In fact, I had heard that Microsoft would be demonstrating HoloLens at Ignite and tried to get my name on the list. However, I was told that Microsoft was not allowing anyone from the media to try HoloLens. The demos were to be for developers only.
It's funny how things can work out sometimes. As some of you know, I have spent the last two years training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate and I recently was in Canada working with the Canadian National Research Council, testing spacesuits in zero gravity. Being weightless is a lot of fun, but the team also put in some really long days preparing for each of the parabolic flights. Needless to say, I had my hands full, and IT was the last thing on my mind. By pure coincidence, someone at the NRC was using HoloLens for an unrelated project, and was gracious enough to allow myself and a few of my fellow astronaut candidates to try it out.
I was really curious not just to try HoloLens, but also to see how my teammates reacted to the device (none of us had ever used one before). Those who went before me were all smiles, and kept uttering phrases like "this is so cool", "wow", and "OMG." In fact, there is a YouTube video of my good friend and colleague Anima Patil-Sabale trying out HoloLens at the NRC.
Needless to say, I found everyone's reactions to the device to be encouraging, especially in light of a few reviews that I have seen in which the HoloLens received less-than-stellar reviews.
Eventually it was my turn. As someone handed me the device, I thought back to a conversation that I had with someone at Ignite, in which I was told that the HoloLens is no heavier than a baseball cap. I have to confess that I didn't believe that claim, because the HoloLens looks kind of big and bulky. Having tried the device for myself, I can tell you that while the HoloLens does weigh more than a baseball cap, it is far lighter, and much more comfortable to wear than I expected.
The first thing that I saw upon donning the HoloLens was a simple, blue cube floating in the air. The 3D effect was extremely good, and the cube blended seamlessly with my surroundings. I never felt as if I was looking at a screen. It felt instead as if a 3D cue were being holographically projected into the room.
As I began to look around, there were several other holograms in the room. There was a space shuttle (of course), a ballerina, a woman doing aerobics, a tiger, and a few other objects. Some of these holograms were animated, while others were static.
There were two main things that jumped out at me about the holograms. First, I was impressed with how bright and vivid they were. Second, I was thoroughly impressed with the way that the HoloLens handled object placement.
Once a hologram was placed into a position, it held that position. It didn't matter if I looked away, or even if I left the room. Once I returned and looked in the correct position, the hologram would still be in exactly the same location as before, just as if it were a physical object. I could also walk around the holograms and view them three dimensionally, from any angle, just as I could if I were looking at a physical object.
One of my teammates who tried the device after I did placed a hologram on the floor and then moved a chair in front of the hologram. They later told me that the chair obscured the hologram from view, just as it would have blocked their view of a physical object. In other words, HoloLens was smart enough to know that there was an object between the user and the hologram and did not attempt to render the hologram through the chair or project it onto the chair. The device knew that the chair effectively disrupted the line of sight to the hologram's location and reacted accordingly.
I didn't try the chair test myself, but later on when I was thinking about the experience, I began to realize something. I had attempted to use some hand gestures to move a couple of holograms around (more on that later). The HoloLens made it appear to me as though I was reaching out to the holographic objects. Think about that one for a moment. The holograms were actually being rendered on a piece of glass in front of my eyes, and yet the device made it appear as though I could reach out and touch the holograms. It never tried to project the hologram onto my hand.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with HoloLens. Even so, the device is not perfect (nor would I expect it to be). There were two things about the HoloLens that could be better.
First, the HoloLens doesn't work very well in really bright light. While wearing the HoloLens I walked toward a window where a bright sunbeam was coming in. The bright sunlight drowned out the holograms and it became nearly impossible to see them. Of course once I was no longer looking directly at the sun, the holograms returned. Still, HoloLens seems to work best in rooms where the lighting isn't super bright.
The other thing that could be better is the HoloLens field of view. I had previously read a couple of reviews which said that the HoloLens field of view was terrible, and had wondered if there was any truth to it. In my opinion, the horizontal field of view was quite good, but the vertical field of view was somewhat limited. It wasn't enough to be problematic or to stop me from using HoloLens, but it did take some getting used to. In fact, I walked right past a holographic tiger a few times simply because the hologram was below my field of view. I didn't see that particular hologram until I looked down.
Unfortunately, I can't really comment on the user interface. Like Xbox Kinect, HoloLens uses hand gestures and verbal commands to interact with holograms. I didn't get adequate instructions on these gestures and commands, so I didn't really interact with objects beyond simply viewing them.
Ultimately, I was super impressed with the HoloLens. I think that it is fair to say that the device does indeed live up to the hype that has surrounded it since it was first announced.
Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.