HoloLens 2: Microsoft's Second Mixed Reality Headset Explained

Wider field of view, better controls, and a more comfortable design

Microsoft HoloLens 2 is the second version of the augmented reality (AR) headgear. Like the original version, HoloLens 2 uses a transparent visor to superimpose computer-generated images, which Microsoft refers to as "holograms," over the user's view of the real world. It has all of the same potential applications in gaming, productivity, and industry as the original. HoloLens 2, however, includes some important upgrades.

How is the HoloLens 2 Different From the Original HoloLens?

HoloLens 2 and the original HoloLens are a lot alike, but HoloLens 2 includes a lot of improvements and tweaks that make it easier to use and useful in more situations.

A man uses the wide field of view of HoloLens 2 to repair a motorcycle.

Here are the most important differences:

  • Field of view: HoloLens 2 has a much larger field of view than its predecessor. It allows holograms to be projected in the periphery of your vision, and holograms don't disappear when you turn your head a little bit in one direction or the other.
  • Ease of control: The original HoloLens was controlled primarily through gestures. HoloLens 2 allows you to interact with holograms in a much more satisfying and realistic way. You can pick up objects, resize and scale objects, push virtual buttons, and more.
  • Comfort and stabilization: HoloLens 2 was redesigned to make the headset more comfortable to wear, especially when moving around, looking up and down, and in other situations where the original might have shifted or become uncomfortable.
  • Removable gasket: The HoloLens 2 is more hygienic for multiple people to use, as it includes a removable forehead gasket. When one person is done using the device, they can pop their forehead gasket off, and the next person can install their own.

How Does Microsoft's HoloLens 2 Work?

The HoloLens system combines a wearable Windows 10 computer with a transparent visor, speakers, and some other components. The visor is the key to this technology, as it's actually a transparent display. Think of the visor as a computer monitor, right in front of your eyes, that you can see through.

A doctor uses HoloLens 2 to visualize a patient's circulatory system.

When three dimensional objects are displayed on the visor, HoloLens tweaks them so the object seen by the left eye is slightly different from the object seen by the right eye. This creates the illusion that the object is really there, or that the object is a hologram.

HoloLens 2 uses a series of built-in cameras to track the user's head movement, so holograms stay in place when you turn your head or move your body. It also uses a series of infrared cameras to track your eye movement.

HoloLens 2 allows the user to interact with these objects by tracking the position of the user's hands. For example, pushing a holographic button could cause a set of instructions to close, a video to play, or a program to run. This is an improvement over the original HoloLens, which relied on preset gestures, a physical clicker, and traditional mouse and keyboard inputs.

How Does HoloLens 2 Compare to Virtual Reality?

Microsoft refers to HoloLens as mixed reality, because it combines computer-generated imagery with a normal view of the real world. In other applications, similar technologies are usually referred to as augmented reality (AR).

A common example of AR is the mobile game Pokemon Go. When you use the feature of that game that superimposes the image of a Pokemon over live video from the phone's camera, that's augmented reality.

While HoloLens 2 is a wearable headset like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it isn't actually a virtual reality system. Even though this technology has gaming, and general consumer, applications, it's still primarily aimed at industrial use.

Microsoft uses the term "mixed reality" to refer to both HoloLens and its actual virtual reality systems. The first generation of Windows Mixed Reality headsets function like the Rift and Vive, with no actual mixed reality or augmented reality components, and not like HoloLens.

Microsoft HoloLens 2 Specifications

A top down view of the HoloLens 2.
  • Manufacturer: Microsoft
  • Resolution: 2K
  • Field of view: 52 degrees diagonal, 43 degrees horizontal, 29 degrees vertical
  • Weight: 566 grams
  • Platform: Windows 10
  • Camera: 8 MP stills, 1080p 30FPS video
  • Input method: Hand tracking, eye tracking, voice control
  • Release date: Late 2019
  • Price: $3,500 (purchase), $99 - 125/mo (single or multi-user developer support)
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