Yesterday at Mobile World Congress, Microsoft unveiled HoloLens 2, the company’s next iteration of its enterprise-focused standalone AR headset. Microsoft is coming strong out of the gate with its fleet of partners as well as a number of in-house developed apps that they say will make it easier for companies to connect, collaborate, and do things like learn on-the-job skills and troubleshoot work-related tasks. That’s all well and good, but is the HoloLens 2 hardware truly a ‘2.0’ step forward? That’s the question that ran through my mind for my half-hour session strapped into the AR headset. The short answer: yes.

Stepping into the closed off demo space at Microsoft’s MWC booth, I was greeted by a pretty familiar mock-up of a few tables and some art on the wall to make it feel like a tastefully decorated home office. Lighting in the room was pretty muted, but was bright enough to feel like a natural indoor setting.

Image by Road to VR

I actually got the chance to run through two HoloLens demos back-to-back; one in the home office, and another in a much brighter space with more direct lighting dedicated to showcasing a patently enterprise-focused demo built by Bentley, a company that deals in construction and infrastructure solutions. The bulk of my impressions come from my first demo where I got to run through a number of the basic interactions introduced at the HoloLens 2 reveal here at MWC.

Fit & Comfort

Putting the headset on like a baseball cap, I tightened it snug to my skull with the ratcheting knob in the back. Overtightening it slightly, I moved the knob in the opposite direction, eliciting a different click.

Although I’m not sure precisely how Microsoft arrived at the claim that it’s “three times more comfortable” than the original HoloLens (they say comfort has been “measured statistically over population”), it presents a remarkably good fit, sporting a low density replaceable foam cushion that comfortably rests the front weight on the top of the forehead. The strap, which is a firm but flexible material, wraps around to fit snugly under what Wikipedia scholars refer to as the occipital bone. Giving it a few good shakes, I was confident that it was firmly stuck to my head even without the need of the optional top strap. In the 30-odd minutes wearing HoloLens 2 over the course of two demos, it seemed to be a comfortable fit that could probably be worn for the advertised two to three hour active-use battery life without issue.

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Once the device was on and comfy, I was prompted with a quick eye-tracking calibration scene that displayed a number of pinkish-purple gems that popped in and out of the scene when I looked at them, then I was set and ready to start HoloLensing.

Hand-tracking & Interactions

To my left sitting on the table was a little 3D model of a cartoony miniature city with a weather information display. Like at the on-stage reveal, moving my hand closer to the virtual object showed a white wire frame that offered a few convenient hand holds to grab so I could reposition, turn, and resize the virtual object. HoloLens 2 tracks your hands and individual fingers, so I tried to throw it for a loop with a few different hand holds like an a index finger & thumb grip and a full-handed claw, but the headset was unphased by the attempt; however I found more exaggerated grasping poses (more clearly discernible to the tracking) to be the easiest way to manipulate the room’s various objects.

 

Brightness

Suffice it to say that HoloLens 2’s optics work best when a room isn’t flooded with light; the better lit space predictably washed out some of the image’s detail and solidity, but it’s clear that the headset has bright enough optics to be acceptably usable in a variety of indoor environments. Of course, I never got the chance to step outside in the Barcelona sun to see how it worked in the worst possible condition—the true test of any AR display system.

Both demos had the headset at max brightness, which can be changed via a rocker switch on the left side. A similar rocker on the right side let me change the audio volume.

Image by Road to VR

A Fitting Hummingbird

With my object interaction handling skills in check, I then got a chance to meet the little hummingbird prominently featured in yesterday’s unveiling. Materializing out of the wall, the intricate little bird twittered about until I was told to put out my open hand, beckoning it to fly over and hover just above my palm. While the demo was created with the primary purpose of showing off the robustness of HoloLens 2’s hand tracking, I couldn’t help but feel that the little bird brought more to the table. As it flew to my open palm, I found myself paying closer attention to the way my hand felt as it hovered over it, subconsciously expecting to feel the wind coming off its tiny wings. For a split second my attention drew to a slight breeze in the room.

Microsoft’s Julia Schwarz demoing on-stage, Image courtesy Microsoft

It wasn’t a staged ‘4D’ effect either. I later noticed that the whole convention floor had a soft breeze from the building’s HVAC system tasked with slowly fighting against thousands of human-shaped heaters milling about the show floor. For the briefest of moments that little hummingbird lit up whatever part of my brain is tasked with categorizing objects as a potentially physical thing.

Haptics aren’t something HoloLens 2 can do; there isn’t a controller, or included haptic glove, so immersion is driven entirely by the headset’s visuals and positional audio. Talking to Microsoft senior researcher Julia Schwarz, I learned the designers behind the hummingbird portion of the demo loaded it with everything they had in the immersion department, making it arguably a more potent demonstration than the vibration of a haptic motor could produce (or ruin) on its own. It was a perfect storm of positional audio from a moving object, visually captivating movements from an articulated asset, and the prior expectation that a hummingbird wouldn’t actually land on my hand like it would with a Disney princess (revealing it for the digital object that it was). Needless to say, the bird was small enough—and commanded enough attention—to stay entirely in my field of view (FOV) the whole time, which helped drive home the idea that it was really there above my hand. More on FOV in a bit.

Both the hummingbird and general object interaction demos show that HoloLens 2 has made definite strides in delivering a more natural input system that’s looking to shed the coarse ‘bloom’ and ‘pinch’ gestures developed for the original HoloLens. What I saw today still relies on some bits that need tutorializing to fully grasp, but being able to physically click a button, or manipulate a switch like you think you should is moving the interaction-design to where it needs to be—the ultimate ‘anyone can do it’ phase in the future when the hardware will eventually step out of the way.

Eye-tracking & Voice Input

With my bird buddy eventually dematerialized, I then went onto a short demo created specifically to show that the headset can marry eye-tracking and voice recognition into a singular task.

I was told to look at a group of rotating gems that popped after I looked directly at one and said the word “pop!” My brief time with the eye-tracking in HoloLens 2 left me with a good impression; though I didn’t have a way to measure it, I’ve tried nearly every in-headset eye-tracking implementation spanning the 2015-era Fove headset up to Tobii’s new integration with HTC Vive Pro Eye).

Image courtesy Microsoft

The last portion of the demo had one of the most plainly practical uses I’ve seen for eye-tracking thus far: reactive text scrolling. A window appeared containing some basic informational text, and as I naturally got to the bottom of the window it slowly started to scroll to reveal more. The faster I read, the faster it would scroll. Looking to the top of the window, I automatically scrolled back up. It was simple, but extremely effective.

Continued on Page 2: Field of View »

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  • dk

    this is a cool video of the hand tracking types of interactions https://twitter.com/HoloLens/status/1099722767941783552

  • That’sright

    They claimed 2 times fov which is a lie rover still small at around 50° half that of oculus rift binocular fov

    • dk
    • JPRacer77Qc

      That’s not a lie and AR != VR.

    • Jim Cherry

      did you know a 4k tv has 4x the pixels of a 2k tv. Math is hard. You can double the fov without doubling the degrees of the fov.

      • That’sright

        The first halolens is 35° Fov and halolens 2 is 50 degree, so if it was 2 times the fov it 70° they only add another 15° however while still a very small window we should be able to see full pictures instead of half of a picture. Before you would look at a image of like say a person and half of the person would be missing due to the tiny heads up fov.

        • Jim Cherry

          Did you even look at the previous comments the math is right there 2x the fov area. If you want double 35 then you must first understand where the 35 came from.

  • Darshan

    “Microsoft are investing into these early steps because there’s a fairly clear case for a immediate return on investment in the enterprise space, while beginning down a path of proliferating the Windows platform onto AR products and platforms that eventually wind up in the hands of consumers too.”

    Is what really need to be done now, establishing new medium, increase the interest and acceptance level , expand reach in real world and then make people to coming back for more, proven strategy and worked in many fields in reality

    I do believe like FB showcased down the path there will be single device with light shield or opaque turning LCD casing which convert AR headset in to VR one and VR headset in to AR one, something that is having power like Snapdragon 855 studded Oculus Quest with awsome tracking and fully tracked controller coupled with finger sensing of Hololense 2 and bettery life of 3/4 hours will be a future cross between two technology.. Future is exciting..

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  • Ian Shook

    Good write-up and it looks like MS achieved exactly what they set out to. It’s a clear V2.0 and it will only get better from here. I think this time around though – even this small company I work for won’t get a Hololens due to the price and it isn’t instantly usable in our particular industry.

  • MosBen

    As much as I’d be super happy if something like the Hololens 2 was available at consumer prices, I’m more happy to see that there was some really significant improvement from one generation to the next. Hopefully this just means that in the next generation we’ll see something like the Hololens 2, with maybe a few slight improvements, coming down below $1,000, which would be pretty exciting.

    • Jim Cherry

      Personally I hope they just bring some of these advancements to wmr. Ms is less of a consumer focused company now days and would probably fail with a consumer product.

  • ScottF

    Great summary with lots of excellent user details! We’ve read about 2k per eye and 47 pixels per degree but what are the “pixel resolutions of each display”? The original HoloLens was 1280.x 720 pixels for each display = 2,560 x 720. The HoloLens 2 CHANGES the display ration to 3:2 so what is the HoloLens 2 resolution?

    Oh yes, Magic Leap is reportedly – we don’t have one currently – is only 1280 x 960 per eye = probably way below the HoloLens 2 at 2k per eye?

  • Very interesting and detailed hands-on, thanks for sharing!

  • fuyou2

    TOO EXPENSIVE!!!

    • Jim Cherry

      I think that was the plan price it higher than your average consumer is willing to pay so that they can sell all the units to enterprises that sign multimillion dollar contracts.

  • gothicvillas

    Looking good to have first consumer version by 2025

  • wcalderini

    So. Um…yeah. Hi-jacking a thread. The site is my daily go-to for VR, and I’m heavily invested in the hobby. Since there are no forums. (Now THAT would be a good idea), I guess I’ll just post here. Since I’m in the cultural wasteland of Birmingham AL, and nobody shares either my hobby or enthusiasm for VR, I’m just busting to tell someone, anyone, who would realize the significance of what just happened.

    My Pimax 5k Plus arrived.
    Pre-Ordered on November 1st. Arrived February 26th.
    So they do exist, and they seem to finally be making their way out to the non-elite.
    Have not even opened the cardboard yet. But just wanted to share.

    Hope my I-7 4790, 32GB Ram, and 1080ti can keep up with the awesomeness.
    But we really DO need a forum around here as I’m sure the public could help each other out as far as asking and answering experienced questions.

    Like If I was going to replace anything in my current set-up, what would it be?
    The processor MB Ram. The graphics card? (Most definitely).
    But just wondering what would make the most sense.The Radeon 7 with its 16GB of HMB2 and 1TB memory bandwidth, or the 2080TI?

    Where is the bigger bottleneck.
    Post here infrequently.
    Just HAD to get it out of my system.
    Thanks.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ed3e52e128e2d29f45ba9eab90613df22b4ed5bf696664c9ef9f624e9ce15f7c.jpg

    • mcnbns

      Reddit r/vive and r/vive_vr

      • wcalderini

        Thank you. I will check it out. Have never actually been on Reddit. But I’ve heard stories.

  • oompah

    Simply awesome
    The best VR Headset ever & it looks great too
    ITS WAVEGUIDE OPTICS ,
    the tech of the future now.
    I can buy this on monthly installments
    Its the beginning of a new revolution since
    PC on every desktop

  • thewebdood

    Great write-up Scott!

  • flip

    How about providing prescription lenses to this, as half of the world population requires prescription… 3D printed lenses would be great to look into.

    • Adam Tuliper

      Wear glasses with the unit. No need for additional lenses.