Virtual reality is all the rage right now, with the successful launches of both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. With more headsets on the way, including Sony’s PlayStation VR, the market looks to be thriving with options already. This is a great thing for consumers who want VR to be more than a flash in the pan (let’s not forget the Virtual Boy, folks!), and launch lineups for both the Oculus and Vive have been received positively. After such an impressive start however, it seems likely that there’ll be little room for competition, right?
Enter Microsoft’s HoloLens, a headset that’s trying something a bit different. Perhaps anticipating the flood of VR headsets on the horizon, Microsoft have opted instead for a design that augments your surroundings without removing you from reality. While both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (while not being limited to this exclusively) have a slant towards gaming experiences, Microsoft insists HoloLens can be used for much more, despite that absolutely mindblowing Minecraft demo at last year’s E3.
What is the HoloLens?
HoloLens essentially aims to transform your surroundings into a virtual computer space. Screenshots on the official website show off Skype conversations, virtual work spaces, 3D artistry and fantastical surroundings. I never thought I wanted a forest of beautiful mushrooms in my living room until today!
It’s a concept Microsoft have dubbed “mixed reality,” touting that their aim is not to “replace” the real world. HoloLens already has a lineup of apps announced, featuring a mix of games, software and what we would call holographic art installations. Interestingly, Microsoft are also offering the HoloLens emulator as a free download, enabling developers to make new apps with the device.
How do you use the thing?
Thankfully Microsoft were on hand to inform potential users on their site. The HoloLens has tons of built-in sensors that track the movement of your eyes and hand gestures. By gazing, you can focus on a particular hologram or tool. Essentially, your eyes act like a cursor! How cool does that sound? It gets more interesting from there.
Your hand gestures are able to interact with holograms in a variety of ways, including tapping your fingertip on something to select or activate it. HoloLens also has Cortana integration, to the surprise of absolutely no one. But at least voice commands are supported by the device, and given that Cortana is one of the more interesting AI assistants we’re not complaining at all.
Whether HoloLens will be able to compete with the big guns over at Facebook (who owns the Oculus brand), HTC and PlayStation remains to be seen. However, it’s worth noting that HoloLens is augmented reality, not virtual. It’s not aiming to provide the Oculus or Vive experience. As such, we can see it as a worthwhile alternative, and could prove to be a valuable tool to have in the office.