HoloLens: A Look at Microsoft's Mixed Reality Headset

HoloLens brings futuristic holograms into the home and workplace

microsoft hololens
HoloLens has a built-in Windows 10 computer, so it is a totally self-contained and wireless device. Microsoft

HoloLens is Microsoft's mixed reality headset that uses a transparent visor to superimpose computer-generated images on top of the real world. Microsoft calls these imaginary constructs holograms, because that's what they look like. These three dimensional objects can be viewed from any angle, and interacted with, so HoloLens has applications in gaming, productivity, industry, and many other potential areas.

How Does HoloLens Work?

HoloLens is essentially a wearable computer. The headset includes a built-in Windows 10 computer and lenses that act as the display, so there is no need to connect a HoloLens to a computer for it to work. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery and Wi-Fi connectivity, so it is totally wireless when in use. It also includes built-in sensors that track the movement of the user, so there's no need to set up external sensors before using the device.

The way that the HoloLens works is that the headset has semi-transparent lenses that sit in front of the user's eyes. These lenses are similar to a heads-up display, in that HoloLens uses them to display images that seem to be superimposed over the real world environment around the user. Since there are two lenses, and they show slightly different images to each eye, the images appear to be three dimensional.

This effectively makes it seem as if holograms have been projected into the world. They aren't actually real holograms, and they can only be seen by someone wearing a HoloLens, but they look like physical, three dimensional objects constructed out of light.

Is HoloLens Virtual Reality?

Although HoloLens is a wearable headset like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it isn't really the same thing. Virtual Reality (VR) headsets close the user off from the real world and generate a totally virtual world, while HoloLens superimposes virtual holograms on top of the real world.

HoloLens is an augmented reality device, because it literally augments the user's view of the world instead of replacing it with a virtual world. This is similar to the way that Pokemon Go! can seem to show a Pikachu sitting on the roof of your car, or Snapchat can give you bunny ears, but taken to a whole new level.

Microsoft uses the term "mixed reality" to refer to HoloLens and its virtual reality projects.

Microsoft HoloLens Features

hololens features
HoloLens makes it seem as if holograms have been projected into the real world. Microsoft
  • No computer required - The headset has a built-in Windows 10 PC with a 32-bit Intel processor and custom-designed Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU)
  • No wires or tethers - Totally wireless, with a built-in rechargeable battery and no external sensors.
  • Runs Windows apps - Since it's a Windows 10 computer, you can run Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps.
  • Hands-free input methods - Supports gaze tracking, gestural control, and voice commands in addition to traditional input methods.
  • Multiple audio options - Includes built-in speakers, or plug headphones into the 3.5mm jack.
  • Record and photograph holograms - Use the front-facing camera to snap pictures or take videos that include any holograms in your field of view.

Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition

microsoft hololens development edition
The HoloLens Development Edition includes the HoloLens headset, charger, USB cable, carrying case and stand, and a clicker device to control the unit. Microsoft

Manufacturer: Microsoft
Resolution: 1268x720 per eye)
Refresh rate: 60 Hz (240 Hz combined)
Field of view: 30 degrees horizontal, 17.5 degrees vertical
Weight: 579 grams
Platform: Windows 10
Camera: Yes, single front-facing 2 megapixel camera
Input method: Gestural, voice, HoloLens Clicker, mouse and keyboard
Battery life: 2.5 - 5.5 hours
Manufacturing status: Still being made. Available since March 2016.

The HoloLens Development Edition is the first version of the hardware that was made available to the public. Although it was intended primarily for developer use, price was the only barrier placed on purchasing the hardware.

The Development Edition utilizes passive cooling, which limits its potential as a gaming device. Running anything that places too great a demand of the hardware, and generates too much heat, will cause the HoloLens to simply shut down the offending program.

Microsoft HoloLens Commercial Suite

hololens commercial suite
The HoloLens Commercial Suite is designed to allow business enterprise users to jump into the world of holograms. Microsoft

Manufacturer: Microsoft
Resolution: 1268x720 per eye)
Refresh rate: 60 Hz (240 Hz combined)
Field of view: 30 degrees horizontal, 17.5 degrees vertical
Weight: 579 grams
Platform: Windows 10
Camera: Yes, single front-facing 2 megapixel camera
Input method: Gestural, voice, HoloLens Clicker, mouse and keyboard
Battery life: 2.5 - 5.5 hours
Manufacturing status: Still being made. Available since March 2016.

Microsoft HoloLens Commercial Suite was launched at the same time as the Development Edition, and the hardware is identical. The difference is the intent of the purchaser. While the Developer Edition was intended for developers, the Commercial Suite was aimed at both developers and businesses.

Features exclusive to the Commercial Suite version include:

  • Kiosk mode to run demos.
  • Data security provided by BitLocker.
  • Specialized Windows operating system updates for businesses.
  • Private store environment to securely distribute enterprise software.