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Microsoft HoloLens vs Oculus Rift: Virtual reality head-to-head

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HoloLens vs Oculus Rift: How do these two bold VR visions compare?

We've already discussed the comparisons between Microsoft’s exciting new HoloLens headset and the outgoing (for now) Google Glass.

Our conclusion: there wasn’t one to be made. The design and function of the two devices are on entirely different planes.

Far closer to the exciting new HoloLens in most ways is the Oculus Rift VR headset.

So what are the differences and similarities? Let’s remove our headsets and take a proper look around, shall we?

HoloLens vs Oculus Rift: Design

The latest version of the Oculus Rift, known as Crescent Bay, is easily the best yet - but it’s still not what you’d call an elegant piece of kit. It’s a chunky headset that leaves you blind by necessity, given its fully immersive virtual reality aims.

Still, when we went hands-on (or head-in) with the Crescent Bay, there was a slight clash between the added immersiveness of standing up while using the headset and not being able to see where you were moving.

Conversely, Microsoft’s HoloLens has a clear eyepiece which permits peripheral vision. That’s all part of its augmented reality remit, of course, where it enhances the real world rather than simulating a new one. But still, it makes the HoloLens design a more practical one in the real world.

This point is echoed in the Oculus Rift’s continued and slightly galling need to be wired in. It’s difficult to have a full range of movement at present, and it slightly spoils the futuristic vibe.

While we wouldn’t call the HoloLens elegant, exactly, it is a wireless headset, so again has more promise in an everyday real world setting.

All in all, though the intentions for each device are different, the HoloLens is a more pleasingly designed bit of kit. You could argue that the Oculus Rift is still a work in progress, but its essential form hasn’t really changed in several iterations, so we doubt it’s suddenly going to become massively more wieldy in its final version - which is tipped for release this year, lest we forget.

SEE ALSO: HoloLens vs Google Glass

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HoloLens vs Oculus Rift: Function

The fundamental concept with both of these devices is similar - placing you in an immersive, fully three dimensional, heightened reality through a projection positioned immediately in front of your eyes.

Both map your head movements and related it to that simulated environment. Oculus Rift uses an external camera to help map that movement, while you’ll also be able to employ a game controller to interact with your environment.

HoloLens, meanwhile, will pick up a virtual tap input, and will also interact with a traditional mouse and keyboard setup (as well as game controllers, no doubt).

Otherwise, though, the two headsets execute this vision in very different ways, with potentially very different applications. As we’ve made reference to in the previous section, the key difference between the two visions is in how the real world is incorporated.

In Oculus Rift, it’s ignored, and a completely new one is built for you. The only physical element that matters is the orientation and movement of your own head.

In HoloLens, the real world is a vital anchoring point. Virtual screens can be bound to a wall for a conference call, annotations can be added to real objects before your eyes, and 3D holograms can be constructed on the table or floor in front of you.

This divide is emphasised by the focus of each offering. Oculus Rift is largely being targeted towards gaming, with the legendary developer of Doom and Quake - John Carmack - joining as the company’s chief technical officer back in 2013.

Of course, Oculus as a company was bought out by Facebook last year, but the focus remains on playing games rather than posting pictures of your dinner in a virtual world. The project can essentially be seen as a resurgence of the virtual reality gaming craze that briefly took hold (in very clunky, impractical form) in the early to mid ’90s.

HoloLens, meanwhile, has been envisaged with a broad span of applications - most of them non-gaming related. It could be used for practical team meetings, practical construction projects, and remote tutorials - all tasks that you suspect simply wouldn’t work with the Oculus Rift.

SEE ALSO: HoloLens hands-on reviews round-up

Crescent Bay

HoloLens vs Oculus Rift: Software

Microsoft HoloLens was announced at the same event as Windows 10, so it should come as no surprise that it will be built to run on that new OS. It’s basically a wearable Windows computer with advanced inputs and a built-in screen.

Oculus Rift is less tied to a specific platform. It’s been built with PC gaming in mind, but that involves the Windows, OS X and Linux operating systems.

With Microsoft pursuing HoloLens and Sony also building its own VR headset, Project Morpheus, we wouldn’t expect support on the Xbox One or PS4 any time soon.

SEE ALSO: What is HoloLens? Microsoft's holographic headset explained

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HoloLens vs Oculus Rift: Early Verdict

Perhaps the most exciting thing about HoloLens, aside from the impressive technology itself, is that people can see plenty of genuinely useful applications for the technology. The possibilities are as varied as they are tantalising.

Oculus Rift, meanwhile, is enormously impressive in its own way, but in a far more focused and, yes, limited way. It’s built to create immersive virtual worlds, and the only range (aside from the setting and nature of the experience) will come from whether that experience is passive or active.

It’s way too early to say which is likely to offer the superior experience, and the direction each is travelling in means that they’re really very different devices.

HoloLens’s potential for enhancing a variety of real world scenarios - as well as it’s inherent newness - has us more excited at this moment. But we’re also big gamers, and the though of Oculus Rift taking the gaming industry to the next level (let’s face it, the Xbox One and PS4 represent more of the same) has us as excited as ever.

Are you more excited about getting your hands on HoloLens or the Oculus Rift? Let us know in the comments section below.

danielfrisbee

January 26, 2015, 1:12 am

there are screens that are transparent that can change to opaque, and are amazing. If the oculus rift used these then it could be just like the hololens by leaving parts of the screen off. Equally I'd guess the Microsoft thing could just fill in the entire area rather than putting in a few effects. though you'd need to put a bag over your head to stop the light of the room getting in I suppose

aunty

January 26, 2015, 10:52 am

It needs completely different sensors to work so it isn't just a case of putting two cameras on the front. The Rift is designed to let you manipulate the virtual view which your PC gives you. The HoloLens is design to manipulate your actual view using the PC built into the device and the only way it can do that properly is by scanning, in realtime, your view using its location, depth and other sensors.

Guest

January 26, 2015, 11:57 am

I'm afraid it's not quite as simple as that. Assuming you've got 20/20 vision, try holding your smartphone a few cm away. Can you clearly read it and make out the individual pixels? Without those massive, very short focal length lenses, you'll need several inches before you can focus unaided. Even then, you can only maintain focus within a relatively short depth range of maybe just cm's. You couldn't couldn't focus on something just inches away in addition to something else several metres away. AR optics work very differently from the VR optics in Oculus Rift and similar.

More importantly, AR is NOT the same as VR.

AR adds stuff to you existing 'Reality' and usually, within a relatively narrow field-of-view. Think Princess Leia hologram, HUD in a fighter jet or HUD speedo clusters in a Mecedes, BMW etc.

VR isn't about adding stuff, it's about replacing your reality with a completely different one along with all the virtual stuff within.
Think 'The Matrix' or the Holodeck from Star Trek.

These are not competing technologies but rather, complimenting tech and both have there strengths and weaknesses.

I have had Oculus DK2 since October and will most likely get whatever they release next.

That said, I'm also interested in MS Hololens and the idea of an augmented game of virtual Chess, projected on my coffee table where the pieces actually battle each other would be amazing but what I don't want is a AR version of Gran Tourismo where all my living room is still visible. It would destroy all "Presence" and the immersion would be non-existent. That just not VR my friend ;-)

Guest

January 26, 2015, 12:20 pm

I think this review is a little short sighted by trying to compare the two. Other than the fact your are wearing a headset, they really are quite different.

I also think it's rather unfair to suggest VR is mainly about gaming as this is simply not the case. As has already been said, VR isn't new but what has been mentioned is that it never died either.

VR has had a place in the world of simulation ever since it was conceived. It has had extensive use both by the aviation industry and the military. It has been used in PTSD therapy for quite some time.

VR also has a big place in architectural design allowing one to visualise a project with actually having to build it. Sure, you can view it on tiny monitor or even 3D print a tiny mockup but nothing beats actually walking around your masterpiece before committing to the final build. It also allows you to visualise problems that maybe you couldn't foresee without actually walking around the place.

To pigeon-hole VR as just a gaming thing is so narrow sighted. As a paraglider pilot and an avid RC flight enthusiast, FPV wih a VR headset would allow for a massively increased field-of-view with that all important increase in spatial awareness that only comes with an extended FOV. This is not trivial and has huge health and safety benefits.

VR just for games? What a waste !!

NZT-48

January 26, 2015, 1:43 pm

I think this review is extremely limiting of the Oculus Rift. What about the virtuix omni ??? http://www.virtuix.com/ ??? or the Birdly?? http://www.wired.com/2014/08/o... ??? While I like the HoloLens it cannot touch what the Oculus can do.

Evan

January 26, 2015, 4:44 pm

Check out my preview of the Oculus Rift http://www.trustedreviews.com/.... These are two very different products with very different uses, however i have seen many people confusing the two hence the article. The Virtuix Omni with the Oculus is a brilliant experience. You get a workout without even realising it!

AntoxaGray

July 3, 2015, 3:53 pm

HoloLens may be useful for military, when having radar or showing outline of friends on screen, ammo count, crosshair, other information from HQ.

But for gaming, it's a dark water. Knowing Microsift they are always pushing their own agenda, trying to suppress other corporations even if it's bad for gaming industry (for example, they get rid of GFWL only recently; they also stopped support IE6 and IE7 only recently), there are also more such controversions such as no native support for PS controller in windows. Microsoft don't care about PC gaming too much, only XBox gaming.

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