Microsoft HoloLens Review: Winning The Reality Wars – Forbes

Like many, I followed the coverage of CES from the Las Vegas Convention Center as the world’s tech giants showed off the principles and ideas that will be driving the industry forwards over the next year and beyond. The rise of various realities – be they mixed, virtual, actual, augmented or otherwise – stood out, although many of the solutions on show were leaning towards demonstrations of techniques and hardware.

To get out of the hype phase, the world needs more solutions that are available and making a practical difference today. For the ‘fully enclosed’ experience where your eyes and ears perceive only the virtual world, equipment like the HTC Vive and the PlayStation VR headset have taken the first steps in bringing modern gaming into the virtual world. While gaming is the obvious application for new realities, there are other approaches.

Last month I was invited to put the Microsoft HoloLens through its paces and experience Redmond’s view of this new wave of computing. I spent time in Microsoft’s HoloLens suite in London using the mixed reality glasses, spoke to Microsoft team members, and met partners who are already seeing the financial benefits of using HoloLens in the real world.

Microsoft HoloLens (photo: Ewan Spence)

Microsoft HoloLens (photo: Ewan Spence)

Leila Martine, Microsoft’s Director of New Device Experiences, introduced me not just to the HoloLens, but to the thinking behind the almost cyberpunk smart glasses.

“This lives between two worlds, the physical world and the virtual world. The human world is physical, and the computer world is the virtual. How do you get back information from the virtual world into the real world?  HoloLens.”

Running Windows 10 Holographic edition, the essence of HoloLens is that it overlays information so it is ‘in the room’ with the wearer. As a standalone computer it doesn’t need to be connected to a desktop or laptop computer, it is genuinely standalone. The built-in sensors map the environment it is in so there is no need for any external positioning devices. It also maps the user, so it can see where you are looking and register  hand gestures that act as the control inputs.

Microsoft HoloLens (photo: Ewan Spence)

Microsoft HoloLens (photo: Ewan Spence)

Sound also plays an important part, with the 3D speaker system not covering the ears – this allows sounds from the real world to be heard with no interference, while the HoloLens uses binaural audio to create spatial effects and mix in the sound from the digital reality, telling the brain which physical location the virtual sound is allegedly coming from.

To bring this all together, Microsoft designed and fabricated the Holographic Processing Unit. The HPU sits alongside the CPU and the GPU in the unit, and s key to the smooth experience of HoloLens. There’s a lot going on here, but does it actually work?

Next: I try it on and someone hands me a screwdriver…

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