BARCELONA — Microsoft’s mixed-reality headset, HoloLens, didn’t exactly light the world on fire when it launched four years ago. The $5,000 wearable, which marries augmented and virtual realities, was too big. Too expensive. Too limited in what it could do. The technology was compelling — and still is — but the actual device needed work. So Microsoft is giving its vision another shot with HoloLens 2, a $3,500 hand-tracking headset designed for work, not home.
The company took the wraps off the second-gen headset at an event in Barcelona today (Feb. 24) ahead of Mobile World Congress, an unusual decision given that MWC isn’t really Microsoft’s kind of show. But HoloLens 2 fits right in this year. In a sea of futuristic foldable devices, a headset that lets you more naturally interact with holograms feels right at home.
What’s New in HoloLens 2
HoloLens 2 has a wider field-of-view than HoloLens 1, maintaining 47 pixels per degree of sight while doubling its scope. Microsoft invented a new MEMS display for HoloLens 2, which the company says is the smallest, most power-efficient 2K display in existence. The effect is like going from a 720p resolution to a 2K one, for each eye. This was a big issue for original HoloLens owners, and the change will make HoloLens 2 feel more immersive.
HoloLens 2 is also more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The new headset has a redesigned carbon-fiber front enclosure to better distribute its weight on your head. Microsoft claims the second-gen HoloLens is three times more comfortable than the original.
How to Use It, and Why
HoloLens 2 can now track both hands and eyes for more natural interaction with the holographic world.
HoloLens isn’t designed for gaming or watching movies. The second-gen headset targets businesses who want their workers to have the benefits of augmented reality overlaid on top of their actual work. In many cases, this makes sense, like for an HVAC worker who needs to view an overlay of the heating system plans on top of an empty space on a construction site. For those of us who do office work, Microsoft showed off how easy it is to navigate around a web browser in a virtual space. That demo was decidedly less thrilling. (I would probably just use a computer.)
Microsoft created Dynamic 365 Guides for HoloLens 2, which are mixed-reality training programs to walk workers through tasks. Holograms are overlaid on top of objects, which can help doctors performing surgery or mechanics fixing commercial equipment.
Firefox is bringing a web browser to HoloLens. Microsoft also announced new tools for Azure that will allow businesses to create their own mixed-reality apps. And Epic Games is bringing its Unreal engine to HoloLens to support powerful photo and video experiences. Epic isn't announcing a game for HoloLens — at least not yet.
Business can also customize the actual hardware. Construction company Trimble customized HoloLens 2 for construction sites that require hardhats. The XR10, Trimble’s version of HoloLens, goes on sale when HoloLens 2 does.
Price and Availability
HoloLens 2 costs $3,500, and will go on sale later this year. Preorders start today.
HoloLens 2 seems like a useful tool for a variety of business in healthcare, architecture and other labor-intensive industries. But Microsoft isn’t making a case for why consumers would want this pricey headset — and that’s because it doesn’t have one. At least not yet.