Posey's Tips & Tricks

With HoloLens 2, Microsoft's Mixed-Reality Promise Gets Real

The next release of Microsoft's mixed-reality headset corrects some major flaws in its predecessor and opens new possibilities for its practical use.

I have mentioned here before that I am very much looking forward to the eventual release of HoloLens 2. I have even gone so far as to write a wish list of features that I am hoping to see on the next-generation device.

In my wish list article, I explained that the No. 1 thing that Microsoft absolutely has to do is give its next-generation HoloLens device a better field of view. For those who have never gotten to try out a current-generation HoloLens, the device's horizontal field of view isn't bad, but the vertical field of view is extremely limited. The first time I ever used a HoloLens, I walked right past some holograms that were pinned to the floor without even seeing them. This happened because the vertical field of view did not extend to the floor. You can very easily lose sight of holograms by looking up or down.

Thankfully, Microsoft has recognized this shortcoming and taken action. The single biggest improvement that Microsoft has made to HoloLens 2 -- which was unveiled just this week at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona -- is its sense of immersion. According to Microsoft, the device's field of view has been more than doubled.

At the same time, Microsoft has maintained the same pixel density, meaning that engineers have not achieved a larger field of view by sacrificing visual acuity (not that I would have expected them to do that). Actually, the opposite is true: Microsoft has come up with a way of making the holograms more vibrant and realistic.

Under ideal conditions, the original HoloLens could produce holograms that looked extremely realistic. At Ignite 2017, I had the opportunity to try out a HoloLens demo in which HoloLens was being used to walk through an industrial machine. The hologram used in the demo was very convincing -- but then, the demo took place in a dimly lit conference center. When I have used HoloLens in better-lit locations, the holograms appeared washed out. The color of those holograms reminds me of some of the first-generation color LCD displays from the early 1990s.

I have not yet had a chance to try out the new HoloLens device, so I have no way of knowing how much of an improvement Microsoft has made to its visual capabilities. If Microsoft's mixed-reality headsets are any indication, however, then I think that the HoloLens 2 is going to offer some spectacular visuals.

Speaking of Microsoft's mixed-reality headsets, one of their lesser-known capabilities is eye tracking. Not many applications leverage this capability, but I have an app that I use for viewing 360-degree videos that you can control with your eyes. All you have to do is stare at a video's icon for a few seconds, and the application will play the video.

Microsoft is bringing the mixed-reality headset's eye-tracking sensors to HoloLens, but it is upping the ante a bit. Rather than merely tracking eye movement as the mixed-reality headsets do, HoloLens 2 will be able to perform retina-based authentication. In other words, when a user puts on a HoloLens 2 device, Windows Hello will be able to automatically log them in based on their biometric characteristics.

The second-biggest improvement that Microsoft has made in HoloLens 2 is that the gesture control has been revamped. If I am to be completely honest, I have never had the best luck with getting HoloLens gestures to work. I always assumed that I was doing something wrong, because nobody else that I have talked to seems to have any trouble.

From what I have heard about HoloLens 2, a new artificial intelligence (AI) processor and something called a time-of-flight depth sensor will collectively make it so that HoloLens will allow you to interact with holographic objects in the same way that you would interact with their real-world counterparts. This might mean being able to pick up a hologram and move it as if it were a physical object, as opposed to having to resort to using the convoluted gestures that are currently required. It remains to be seen how this new capability will actually be implemented, but I have high hopes that using HoloLens 2 will be far more intuitive than using its predecessor.

Finally, there was one more thing in Microsoft's announcement that caught my attention. Microsoft mentioned that the new HoloLens will be more comfortable than the previous model, and that it will be comfortable enough to wear for hours on end. This simple statement implies that the device's battery will last for several hours. While it is possible that I am reading too much into this, I have been hearing rumors for a while that the HoloLens is going to be integrated into hard hats designed for use on building sites and in industrial areas. This leads me to believe that HoloLens 2 might have sufficient battery life to make it through a full work day.

In case you are wondering, the new HoloLens is going to be sold at a price that is comparable to that of the original model ($3,500). Microsoft is currently accepting preorders here.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-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.

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