Microsoft has finally updated its HoloLens mixed reality headset, announcing the HoloLens 2 at Mobile World Congress 2019. The new HoloLens features a greatly increased field of vision, improved physical comfort and improved hand recognition, allowing for greater manipulation of holograms.
Alex Kipman, technical fellow for AI and mixed reality at Microsoft, unveiled the headset and talked through its key upgrades from version one of the HoloLens, which launched back in 2016.
Bad news for anyone hoping to buy one to play games on – this is not a toy, it’s primarily for industrial applications.
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Microsoft HoloLens 2 release date and price
HoloLens 2 is launching at some point “this year” and will be priced at $3,500, with bundles including Dynamics 365 Remote Assist start at $125/month.
UK prices have yet to be announced, but those prices convert to around £2680 and £95/month respectively.
Along with the U.S., the HoloLens 2 will be available to order in the UK, Ireland, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand.
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Microsoft HoloLens 2 Specifications – What’s new and how does it compare to HoloLens 1?
As impressive as the HoloLens 1 is, a key drawback is its relatively limited field of view, which is 35 degrees. Human beings typically have a field of view of around 210 degrees, to give you an idea of just how narrow the HoloLens’s FOV actually is.
With HoloLens 2, Microsoft has “more than doubled” the field of view, according to Kipman, who declined to mention a specific figure, instead offering an example that’s perhaps more tangible to anyone who hasn’t used a HoloLens or any kind of mixed reality or virtual reality headset, but has bought a new TV or monitor at any point over the last ten years.
“Today, I’m incredibly proud to announce that HoloLens 2 will more than double our field of view, while maintaining 47 pixels- per- degree of sight, on HoloLens,” Kipman said.
“To put it in perspective, and to highlight the generational leap, this is the equivalent of moving from a 720p television to a 2K television on each of your eyes.”
That pixels-per-degree of sight figure is important, as it’s at that level of detail where mixed reality immersion can happen seamlessly – allowing for smoother fonts to be displayed, and more precise and detailed holographic projections to be created.
Until today, HoloLens 1 was the only headset in the industry capable of displaying 47 pixels- per- degree of sight, according to Kipman.
“With HoloLens 2, we invented an industry-defining MEMS [microelectromechanical systems] display,” Kipman said.
“Now, these are the smallest and most power-efficient 2K displays in existence. They allow us to dramatically grow immersion while shrinking the size of the displays.”
“But immersion is more than just about the holograms we place in the world. Immersion is also about how you interact with them. HoloLens 2 adapts to you – it adapts to your hands. It goes beyond gestures, giving you the satisfaction of direct manipulation, letting you experience what it feels like for the first time to actually touch a Hologram.”
Improvements to eye tracking means that the HoloLens 2 will have a better idea of where you’re looking and what you’re looking at, so that the system can predict your intent and understand what virtual objects you’ll want to manipulate.
Iris-based biometric identification combined with Windows Hello means that unlocking the HoloLens 2 is now a simple act of just putting the thing on and having the cameras recognise your eyes.
The act of putting the HoloLens 2 should be easier, too – Kipman said that the HoloLens 2 is “‘three times more comfortable”’ and should more easily allow people of all shapes and sizes to slip a HoloLens 2 onto their noodle.
Kipman then gave the stage to Julia Schwarz, senior researcher at Microsoft, who led the development of the FingerSense technology that powers the tap-to-knock knuckle gestures ais on Huawei phones like the Huawei P20 Pro.
Demoing what Microsoft have internally dubbed “‘instinctual interaction”’, Schwarz said.
“With Windows Hello, and iris authentication, Windows Hello signs me in as I put on my device. Now, not only does HoloLens 2 recognise me, it also recognises my hands… If I move my hands around, HoloLens 2 is actually calibrating to my unique hand size.”
Schwarz then ‘grabbed’ and manipulated a component in Vuforia, an augmented reality app for industrial workers. While there are no gloves to provide haptic feedback, being able to grab, twist and move virtual objects like menu sliders looks effortless.
Schwarz also demonstrated voice commands, saying “‘Follow me”’ to a browser window, which then did exactly that, trailing Schwarz across the stage, both into and around other apps. Later, a holographic hummingbird ghosted into existence and followed Schwarz around the stage.
“We are touching holograms!” Schwarz exclaimed, which immediately conjured images of Red Dwarf, and what Lister might have done to Rimmer if he had access to a HoloLens 2.
As fun a the HoloLens 2 looks, it’s an industry product first and foremost – anyone thinking of picking one up purely to play games on is going to be dissapointed. The kind of people buying this are the kind of people who will have access to Dynamics 365 Remote Assist – a software suite designed to let mechanics and technicians work remotely.
Still, the technology is fascinating, and, given that it has its origins in Microsoft Kinect, who knows; maybe we’ll come full-circle one day and find ourselves playing Destiny 7 on the Xbox Four with HoloLens headsets.
Still want a HoloLens 2 despite there being no games and it being something for work? We kind of do – chat to us about it on @TrustedReviews and imagine how great/annoying hologram Twitter would be.