With virtual reality capturing imaginations during the last couple of years, it's easy to forget about augmented reality. But Microsoft has spent years cooking up its own take on AR, and it's ready to bake the technology into Windows 10. Much like how the Surface was introduced alongside Windows 8, Microsoft has its own holographic AR headset to launch with the new Windows.
Microsoft describes holograms as "the next evolution in computing." That's a pretty bold claim, as augmented reality has, to this point, consistently fallen short of its lofty goals of blending the physical and digital worlds. But Microsoft's HoloLens, along with Windows 10's holographic support, looks like one of the more forward-facing moves we've seen in this field.
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Instead of floating a display in front of your field of vision (think Google Glass), the HoloLens is more like Star Trek's Holodeck. Strap on the headset and you'll see virtual objects that appear to be living inside of your physical environment.
Similar to ODG's AR glasses, the headset itself is completely wireless and self-contained, so there's no need to tether it to a PC, console, smartphone or anything else. The headset has transparent lenses that Microsoft says will make the illusion rock-solid. And though the device looks a little bulky, the company describes it as lightweight and adjustable to fit any adult-sized head.
Similar to the latest Oculus Rift prototype, it includes spatial sound, that makes virtual objects sound like they're coming from the areas where you see them. It also includes a Kinect-like gesture sensor, and relies exclusively on motion sensing and voice control for navigation.
Like any self-respecting hologram from the familiar world of sci-fi, you won't be required to stand in one fixed spot to enjoy the illusion. Walk towards it, and the high-resolution 3D object will (allegedly) appear to stay planted in that same spot in your room. Walk around to its backside, and you'll see its backside, as if it were physical. And Microsoft says those transparent lenses will make it easy for you to move around in your environment.
After hearing about the hardware, you can probably imagine the potential uses for this as well as we can. Microsoft suggests uses like remote training, where your instructor appears to be standing next to you, indicating virtual objects and showing you how to apply them to the physical world. You could also have games that appear to be sitting in your living room, and simpler entertainment uses like notifications on your kitchen table and Netflix splashed onto any nearby wall.
If this all sounds a little pie-in-the-sky and far off, we don't necessarily disagree. But, for what it's worth, Microsoft is confident enough in the technology to make HoloLens support a big part of Windows 10, and featured it as the climax of its big Windows 10 event today. That doesn't necessarily mean it's ready for mass consumer consumption (though industrial use could ultimately be where this finds a home), but it also appears to be much more than a years-away concept. The company has fully working headsets and is recruiting developers to jump onboard. It says the device will launch sometime within the Windows 10 timeframe (though that could be interpreted in several ways).
Expect to hear much more about the HoloLens in the coming months, but for now, consider us intrigued. What do you think: are holograms on the horizon, or is this just another awkward headset that nobody outside of Silicon Valley will wear? Let us know in the comments.
You can see Microsoft's vision for HoloLens in the video below.