Microsoft HoloLens

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Design, comfort, software and our early verdict

We’ve overhauled the “Latest developments” section with all of the major HoloLens announcements since Build 2016.

HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented reality (AR) viewer, feels like the future of computing.

Being upfront, the headgear that I tried at Build 2015 was “early development hardware,” and it definitely felt that way. But the potential, and how close HoloLens is to achieving it, is simply remarkable.

The moment I tried on HoloLens during a “Holographic Academy” session with fellow journalists, I thought, “This is like having a PC on my face.” It’s not quite that functional yet, but that’s how the headgear, and what you see and can do with it, makes me feel.

There was no gaming in the session I attended, like we’ve seen since (more on that later). Instead, I was a developer for 90 minutes, crafting an app in Unity and adding HoloLens functions as I went.

With every new function added, like gesture controls and spatial sound, I witnessed how it translates into the HoloLens experience. The session aimed to show how easy it is to develop for HoloLens, but it also demonstrated what you and I will experience once it’s out.

But, before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s hit the latest news around HoloLens.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Latest developments

Since its reveal in January 2015, HoloLens launched to ardent developers for the hardy cost of $3,000 (£2,160, AU$4,202) just this March. The “mixed reality”headset has undergone few notable changes with that soft release, but it’s Microsoft’s vision for the device that has become clearer than ever.

In March, Redmond revealed ‘holoportation’, which allows users to communicate with people remotely as if they’re standing in the same room. Though it fails to emulate any olfactory senses or touch, Microsoft Research’s Interactive 3D Technologies team is developing the proof-of-concept for a Star Wars-inspired reality.

Moreover, with HoloLens criticized for its limited field of view, Microsoft told us in June that it has no plans to address this criticism. Instead, the company is leaving this up to its partners – e.g. HTC, Dell, MSI and Lenovo (along with more than 12 others) – can achieve with its Windows Holographic platform. Like its computing and mobile sectors, Microsoft’s foray into augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) will not rely on a single piece of kit, opting instead to focus on the software while third-parties devise their own hardware.

Speaking of which, the Windows Holographic OS which powers HoloLens was recently updated with AR-specific versions of Microsoft’s own Outlook Mail and Calendar clients, allowing you to pin emails or calendar events to a wall for later. This could serve as a less chaotic alternative to administering multiple windows at a time on a single monitor, helping you prioritize more important tasks.

Lastly, in late July, the Unity game engine was confirmed to support a total of 24 platforms including Hololens. Meanwhile, we spoke to HoloLens third-party developer Kazendi who made HoloLens out to be a revolutionary prospect, comparing its significance to the transition from mouse to touchscreen.

Build quality and comfort

HoloLens is essentially comprised of two rings: a thicker, plastic outer one that contains the guts and a slimmer, cushioned inner one that wraps your head. The inner ring’s fit adjusts by sliding forward and backward a roller residing on its back.

That cushioning is a small touch, but one I appreciate for making it easier to forget you’re wearing the viewer and focus on the AR imagery in front of you.

The device isn’t supposed to sit on your nose, but I found its rubber nose guard to inevitably fall down my nose no matter how often I pried the HoloLens forward. Thankfully, it’s optional and comes off easily. HoloLens feels a lot better for me with it off.

I also struggled to get HoloLens to fit every time I put it on. I had to regularly re-tighten, re-situate and realign the headgear. When everything fit nicely, the AR imagery was in full view and it felt right. But if it was too tight, too high up or too far forward, my experience was hindered.

Standing still made for the best overall viewing experience. The adjustment issues cropped up especially when I would move around, effectively defeating the point in HoloLens.

If you have short hair or it’s pulled back, you might not have as much trouble as someone with long, loose hair, like myself. It may have been my ability to adjust, but I had a slight headache after I took HoloLens off, like I had been wearing a baseball cap that was two sizes too small.

The headgear I used was untethered, and I didn’t need my hands for anything other than selecting my “hologram” to move it. It wasn’t wired up for battery life, like the first early prototypes shown to press.

Fitting issues aside, when HoloLens fits right, it’s comfortable. But, like all virtual reality (VR) and AR headgear, its weight is front loaded. You can’t help but feel a noticeable weight hanging off your forehead.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

The weight isn’t uncomfortable, but it is significant. If Microsoft can somehow counterbalance the weight on the sides or back, it would likely alleviate the front-heavy sensation.

I wear glasses, and I used HoloLens with them on. They don’t press into my face or feel tight around my head, unlike with most VR headsets. I also didn’t get nauseous, a frequent occurrence when I wear Oculus Rift.

It helps that I can still see my surroundings with HoloLens, so I don’t feel disoriented or claustrophobic. If only the HoloLens see-through screen weren’t so dark (but the room was dimly lit, so it may be just right for a brighter room).

Walking backward in HoloLens feels most uneasy, as I can’t quickly turn to see whether something is behind me. The headgear also obstructs my upper peripheral view, so some of my vision is obscured.

HoloLens looks and feels like a premium device. Nothing about it screams “cheap”, which is reflected by the developer edition’s price.

The gadget looks like it belongs in the office but would also blend well in any living room. As is, HoloLens feels too delicate to stay clean and unscathed in, say, a construction site.

I find myself handling HoloLens gently, so unless Microsoft does some ruggedizing, you’ll probably want to keep HoloLens out of the reach of youngsters.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Holographic viewing

The “hologram” – which these are not by the strictest definition – in my HoloLens experience consisted of two floating spheres, two yellow slides and some blocks stacked on a pad of paper.

It was called “Project Origami,” and so was meant to look and sound like folded paper.

To give the holograms (which turned into a game) functions, I added controls (gaze, gesture and voice), spatial sound, spatial mapping and the ability to pick up, move and place the holograms around the room.

Finally, an underworld was added to the hologram so that, when the spheres fell, an explosion created a gaping hole in the floor that the they descended into. Looking down the hole revealed a new world, complete with rolling hills and cranes soaring underneath my feet.

The HoloLens images projected onto the real world around me are vibrant, sharp and realistic – though, a little jittery. When I move around them, the holographic shapes behave like real objects, so I can see their backsides – or not at all, if they’re obstructed by other holograms.

When the paper spheres roll onto the floor, they roll around just like real balls would, bouncing around objects and looking real enough to pick up. When I peer into the underworld that opened up on the floor, it’s like I’m looking into, as my HoloLens “mentor” put it, a world I didn’t know was there the whole time.

But, looking at holograms slapped on top of the real world is just one half of the HoloLens equation. Controlling the holograms is the other.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Controlling and touching holograms

The HoloLens gaze controls are responsive and should be easy for any user to get the hang of almost immediately. It’s the other kinds of input where HoloLens has slightly more trouble.

While voice controls work, there is a lag between giving them and the hologram executing your commands. I had to say, “Let it roll!” to send the spheres down the slides, and there was a second-long pause before they took a tumble. It isn’t major, but enough to make me feel like I should repeat myself.

Gesture control is the hardest to get right, even though my experience was but a one-fingered, downward swipe. It took time to figure out the best distance to swipe away from HoloLens and where to put my finger for it to register.

Just imagine someone repeatedly swiping their finger downward in mid-air – that was me.

Once I finally found the sweet spot, though, the control worked better than expected. Instead of reaching out to touch the hologram, the swipe worked best when I held my hand comfortably in front of me.

Using gestures, I could select the Project Origami diagram, use my gaze to move it around the room, and then use another pinch to lock the hologram into a new spot (I moved it from in front of me to a couch to a coffee tablet to a desk.). This wasn’t Minority Report-level selecting and swiping, but impressive nonetheless.

The HoloLens uses spatial audio, which takes the experience to a whole new level. Ambient music played during the demo, and the spheres rolled to the the sound of crumpling paper.

The sound got louder as I approached the hologram and faded as I moved away. It added another dimension to the HoloLens experience, making it that much more immersive.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Of course, as I viewed the holograms, I was still able to see my surroundings. The holograms weren’t disrupted if someone happened to walk through my projection.

My favorite part of this HoloLens demo was a wire frame mesh that appeared on real-world objects to show how HoloLens perceives them. The mesh changed as HoloLens registered the objects and I moved my head to look at a new spot.

It also wrapped the people around me, though I could still make out their features from behind the digital framework. It was an awesome AR moment: the people themselves became part of the hologram.

As cool as it all was, it would have been less distracting if the images disappeared when I was talking to someone. From speaking with Microsoft representatives, it sounds like this will be possible with other apps, but not Project Origami.

It feels weird to talk to someone with HoloLens on – a little rude, as if I were wearing sunglasses indoors (or at night – zing).

The biggest issue with HoloLens’s holographic viewing is that the field of view is limited to what amounts to the size of a monitor in front of you – equivalent to 15 inches, we know now. You can see the edges of the virtual space where the hologram lives (which are basically the edges of the inner HoloLens frames).

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Looking outside that space, or moving too close into it, cuts the the hologram off or makes it disappear completely. These edges weren’t visible during the wire mesh portion of the demo and therefore was more immersive, but the origami demo seemed as if it existed on a limited plane.

The holograms look best when I’m standing about four or five feet away and when there is more going on, like the wire frame mesh. There were glitches in my demo, and it didn’t work perfectly every time. Regardless, none of its takes away from my enjoyment of HoloLens – demos are always incomplete.

It’s important to note that, while Microsoft’s on-stage HoloLens demos have featured polished and seemingly advanced holograms, what I saw was not in the same league in terms of quality, complexity or functionality.

Maybe Microsoft is saving all the wow factor for its keynotes, but my demo was a less refined and less capable version of what we’ve seen in on-stage demos. My experience, while impressive, felt like child’s play AR compared to what’s been in Microsoft’s keynotes.

That’s not to say that HoloLens can’t project these advanced images down the road. And, as Microsoft said, I was wearing “early development hardware.” But Redmond has work to do to before the reality it’s projecting onstage aligns with what you and me actually see.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

Early verdict

Neither the HoloLens software nor the hardware is perfect. But, if Microsoft can work out the kinks, HoloLens will be an immersive entertainment device that could easily fit in an office.

Despite its faults, using HoloLens was delightful. With more robust apps, more reliable functionality and an improved viewing experience, HoloLens could become the AR viewer to end them all.

Frankly, HoloLens could transform how we interact with the world. These are lofty ideas, and the device as-is won’t accomplish any of them yet, but the potential is there – and strong.

HoloLens is the most fascinating tech I’ve tested in a long time. We still don’t know how much it will cost at retail, but HoloLens seems to have unlimited potential – that which it seems like it can actually live up to. And that alone is incredibly exciting.

Head to Page 2 for our brief impressions of a few more recent experiences with HoloLens.

Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review.

Further impressions of HoloLens

What follows are our impressions of HoloLens following demonstrations provided through a more recent visit by Volvo to techradar headquarters, penned by Duncan Bell, and during E3 2015, penned by Nick Pino, respectively.

Volvo puts HoloLens to work

The $3,000 HoloLens has another new demonstration: a virtual car showroom for Volvo. Yes, that sounds boring, but it’s actually an impressive showcase for what Microsoft’s “mixed reality” headset can do – and what it can’t do.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

First up, while the hardware didn’t appear to have been updated since Build 2015, I found it comfortable to wear, at least for the 15 minutes that the demo lasted. This may very well be because, with a fairly prominent – but not huge – nose and shaved head, I have the optimal cranium for HoloLens.

I also wear glasses, and these fitted easily enough under the headset.

The virtual cars that appeared before my eyes were genuinely impressive, both at miniature, tabletop size and real-to-life car size. They looked like CGI and weren’t photo realistic, but they were “real” enough to impress.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

One thing that hadn’t changed, and by all accounts never will, is that the visuals were in a “box” hanging in front of my eyes rather than filling my whole field of vision. According to HoloLens senior director Scott Erickson, increasing the field of view would make it VR rather than mixed reality, and therefore too difficult to walk around in. Of course, there could also be technical reasons why they can’t do this.

The box is problematic in that, as you move closer to holograms, the edges of them literally sheer off until you step back, which is quite jarring. On the other hand, because the “unreal” space is so clearly defined and limited meant I could walk around Microsoft’s space, which included chairs, tables and a stage, without ever fearing I might face plant.

Hands-on review: Updated: Microsoft HoloLens

HoloLens and Halo make a fine pairing

We’ve had a glimpse at the potential for HoloLens in gaming with an immersive – though impractical – briefing for Halo 5: Guardians for Xbox One. From the voice of Jennifer Hale to a model of a UNSC Leviathan Supercarrier and Spartan Captain Sarah Palmer, the demo helped prepare me for a 12-on-12 battle that, it should be noted, my team won by a landslide.

One negative to come out of the showing was to learn that the viewer’s limited field of view isn’t likely to get much better anytime soon. While the hardware isn’t final, said HoloLens lead Kudo Tsunoda, the field of view, which feels like looking through a mobile computer monitor, won’t be “hugely, noticeably different either.”


50 thoughts on “Microsoft HoloLens

  1. People walk with big headphones in the street today – do they think they look dumb? People look down into their phones more than they talk with the person they are actually physically socialising with. Technology is mostly a cultural thing. A decade ago Microsoft tried to push touch screen technology only to fail miserably because people didn’t like touching their screens – perhaps because they recall getting zapped from static charge from their CRT’s. Today everybody does it on smartphones and even PCs.

  2. There is just no way it is going to be that cheap. I’d be very surprised if it was less than a grand and, if it can deliver on what they’ve shown here, I’d happily pay twice that for one. Ms have seen with Surface Pro 3 that you can charge a premium if the product is good enough and with a product like this they’ll have no competition, therefore no reason to sell it cheaply.

  3. I’m not worried about looking dumb using it. I’ll likely just use it around the house. I’m worried about the price. I don’t think this thing should cost more than $300.

  4. I’m still more excited, on a general scale, for the possibilities of full VR, but AR could be the more practical everyday device, for example for work or school. Then, you get home, plop into VR and visit the wave planet from Interstellar for a bit.

  5. If you build Holocraft/HoloBuilder, all the diehard Minecraft players alone will snap up every single unit.

  6. If I ever get one, I’m going to have a room in my house with white walls and no furniture, and just use it for the hololens, build my own furniture. In future, am I going to walk into a hotel room and say

  7. If the video calling can interact with android and iPhone I will be very impressed

  8. I can imagine people creating and customizing a HoloLens skin in collaborative situations. I think I would prefer a PacMan head or some such nonsense. I’m sure the anime crowd would go with Chibi heads. That would definately reduce the tension produced by trying to talk to someone with a visor on their head.

  9. INCREDIBLE … Well done ! Can’t wait to get my own ! Imagine gaming… if these could link to each other, pokemon and digimon and all those holograhical realm games may just come to life , right there, in front of you. Not to mention the data analysis that could be done just by simply creating 3D charts in mid-air.

  10. No, you can’t see without the lens. What we the audience was representation from a special camera unit tied into the lens feed.

  11. Late to the party here so please don’t flame this obvious question, but can someone not wearing the Hololens see the holograms? It seems that’s what they were selling in those demo videos. It looked like you can see the holograms as a casual observer and only need the Hololens to actually control/interact with them. Or are the holograms only visible to those wearing the lens and no one else?

  12. so after being excited about this, Its becoming more understood that this isn’t a

  13. If it’s $500 or less and can be used with existing software, I would buy it. It will be interesting when this comes out, Occulus Rift, and DirectX 12 along with Apple’s Metal which is already out how fast things change. The PS4 and Xbox One were really not huge steps up in quality of images. But this next stuff will be denser and be able to be manipulated in 3D. I think DX12 brags ten times the level of DX11. I do not know how big the jump was from DX10 to 11 though for reference.

  14. > Microsoft has just changed the world of computing again the way it did with Windows. Microsoft didn’t change anything with Windows, other than finally bringing WIMP environments to the poor sods who were still using DOS while Amigas, Macs et al were powering ahead with better UI design.

  15. personal opinion: microsoft’s first model should have sacrificed resolution and color depth for a vastly expanded field of view. I think microsoft’s viewpoint was that color and resolution were expected by the average consumer because of what they already receive on mobile devices. However, this could have been a two stage development process, with the first push being into the work sector, where practicality would have far outweighed novelty, and field of view would have been more important. This would have generated the funding needed to develop increasing resolution and color depth without reducing field of view, and the general consumer would have slowly become more and more interested in purchasing. Microsoft has worked backward, I think, on this invention, and it will pay for that. I mean shoot…isn’t the reason microsoft is so big…because they pushed themselves into the work sector first, and the general public followed? On something this new, why not do the same thing again?

  16. Eh – the word has become commonly used to the point that nauseous = nauseated. Certainly it’s not enough of a point to actually bring up with the expectation that the author should change their word usage.

  17. This to me is really interesting because I see VR going in two directions. The obvious solution is isolatory which is where the Vive and Rift have gone. The user is cut off from the surroundings. MS went a different direction, which was a bold move and to me opens up a whole new category of user interaction and experiences. Even more interesting than a person in an immersive VR to me, is the thought of two or more people sharing a VR experience projected into their environment, with the awareness of one another. That is both cooperative, immersive and prosocial. What is interesting is that I have a much easier time coming up with highly practical applications for AR than I do VR. AR is an easy fit – from allowing internal visualization of objects to spatial projection.

  18. Kinect 1 was a commercial success for MS. No tech works 100% of the time all the time flawlessly. And Kinect is/has been used in science projects research and adapted for projects and uses outside of just the xbox. Calibrated correctly and in the right setting i have found Kinect works near flawlessly. In the wrong setting and with a crowded noisy room it doesnt work as well. So contrary to your comment, Kinect does actually work.

  19. What like Kinect??? Where are the other companies versions of it???

  20. The important thing is they get it to market. If it’s good it will fly if its not other companies will take what they have started and make it better.

  21. Microsoft have put a helluva lot more into this than they did to Kinect for Windows (which I didn’t realise had been released). If nothing else, HoloLens will be a great marketing tool for Windows 10, so they have lots of incentive to get it right.

  22. I think you are right to be skeptical. However, Kinect for Windows only exists because the users asked for it. When it came out, it quickly became

  23. Thing is, when the Kinect was shown by Microsoft it was shown as this amazing thing that worked. The reality of it was that it didn’t work, the voice commands worked only if you spoke in a faux-american accent and the camera itself had so many

  24. Any comment on the apparent resolution of the screen. In the feature above, you say that the images are provided by Microsoft and are a bit more idealised compared to what you actually saw through the developer headset. Given you also mention the Rift (and it sounds like you’ve been hands on with the Rift), can you give a rough comparison in terms of density / sharpness / screen-door effect, etc? Also, did any of the test apps contain any quantity of text? e.g. how would it fare at projecting a product-package mock-up (with marketing blurb on the side, etc) -actually projecting it, not looking through the glasses at a ‘real’ monitor. I’m very interested in both the concept and this implementation – I’m just trying to get a handle on the actuality of the image quality (instead of the MS renders), in comparison to the Rift (because I have that system, and thus can use it as a reference point). Thanks

  25. Would sure be nice if the range of vision were increased. At the very least what excites me about this is the push it will give the AR and VR industries. Consumers are very excited about this tech. This space in the next 10 years gives me a lot to smile about.

  26. Sounds fascinating. One of those types of inventions I’m just glad exists, even if it ends up being so expensive that I can’t afford it. I think it’s slightly unfair to list the glasses issues, and how you’ll look using it as points against it when you’ve only tried the dev kit. I don’t think the version they wore on stage this week looks that bad at all really. I think it looks better than what Google managed with it’s Glass experiment; if only because they aren’t trying to make this inconspicuous, they’re making it immersive. Shame it’s not panoramic though.

  27. And it’ll be ready by October, 2015. Great Scott, this is heavy!

  28. Sure. He said he wear glasses and used it without any trouble

  29. I’ve done the meetings in a caldera a few times. No glasses needed. It will be great to do from home too.

  30. I can’t wait to hold all my colorative meeting either on the surface of mars or in a volcanic caldera.

  31. The technology needs to be a bit improved to get a real immersive feel though, better FOV is vital I think. With that in place I can imagine having rather minimalistic rooms for using hololens type of technology – and rather decorate it virtually. :)

  32. Imagine having your car’s windshield as a huge HoloLens that automatically displays real time info about objects you approach, including other cars, street signs, addresses, distance, destination, trajectory, weather information, even car’s console like speed, fuel pressure, battery volts, etc… crazy stuff! Hopefully within a decade they can get the size down to regular glasses and a decade after that, a mere contact lens! Of course, if we make it that long… 😉

  33. Imagine having real life items marked with RF codes and being translated into images on the items via the web directly from the manufacturer, exact shape, size, dimensions would be used to make a wrapper around the can virtually

  34. Now I just need an empty room… hehe.. Edit: In additon to your suggestion, come one day maybe we won’t even need much physical furnitures / decorations , etc… Load up minimalist today, or load up Victorian layout for guests, cool (oh wait.. everyone need to don a pair).

  35. The best part is…you don’t even need an empty room. Just look at the video and you’ll see he has thing scattered around the kitchen. You could have a normal room with pins and things on the wall. It’s insanely impressive and I have to get one.

  36. If you where so inclined you could technically have a room in your house stripped of everything apart from it’s four walls, a sofa and a table. Because you can pin holograms, you could shape this room into anything you wanted. Fancy relaxing in your games room? Load up the holograms for that and voila – huge screen (using content from Netflix on Windows 10) on that wall, virtual games on the table, as well as a virtual phone to ring for a pizza. Time to do some work? Load up your workspace instead. The huge screen now becomes a massive virtual monitor, PC appears on the table along with diary, note pad etc. Want to get creative? Load up your creative workspace instead with virtual musical instruments, painting program etc. It’s gobsmacking what this will be able to do – I’ve never been so excited for anything as much in my life because this will revolutionise the way we live, work and play forever. It’s incredible.

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