The HoloLens 2 made a strong entrance in the MR, AR and VR worlds with all the software updates and design upgrades it holds. Alex Kipman, the creator of the HoloLens, is confident that the all-new HoloLens brings not just visuals in front of your eyes but a full-fledged computer that’s functional and futuristic.
Microsoft unveiled its second-generation augmented reality headset at the Mobile World Congress last February 24. And according to its developer, the HoloLens 2 is a mix of “comfort, immersion, and out-of-box value” which its predecessor isn’t.
The Failures of the HoloLens 1
If you remember the original HoloLens, it wasn’t as successful as the version 2.0.
HoloLens is a long time tech project which actually started 11 years ago. It is a fruit of the Xbox peripheral product called Kinect which Kipman also developed. The accessory used sensors to compute depth maps and recognize humans within its field of view.
In 2010, Kipman he began channeling a few of Kinect’s technology into a head-mounted holographic computer he then called the Project Baraboo. Later, when it was brought to life, it became HoloLens and it wasn’t meant for everyone.
Microsoft developed the HoloLens and its features to cater to the corporate world and enterprises only. It isn’t like any other AR goggles that can be owned by gamers and just about anyone. And at a price point of $3500, the ordinary public will surely think twice before using it for everyday gaming.
HoloLens 1 was launched in 2016 in the form of a 1.3-pound head-mounted display. It was installed with depth-sensing cameras but its strongest feature is its optical projection system that beamed holographic images directly into the users’ eyes.
It acted like the AR headsets where wearers see objects like floating web browser, 3D vehicles, and animated cartoons all while seeing the real world on the backdrop. It was the dubbed the first mixed-reality wearable that’s operated by a holographic-specific operating system. It was an amazing product until AR goggles were improved and matched the augmented reality images it produces.
Other complaints would include the weight being too heavy. Some users would say it was unwieldy and didn’t feel immersive enough.
Kipman and Microsoft heard them, loud and clear and so they released what we call now the HoloLens2.
The All New HoloLens 2
To solve the biggest problem of the HoloLens users, Microsoft designed the new headset to be three times more comfortable with two supports resting on the front and back part of the head. It is now more immersive too.
The diagonal field of view became doubled as Microsoft incorporating a new kind of patented imaging tech that supports up to 47 pixels per degree of sight. This is like upgrading a 720p imagery quality into power-efficient 2K display for each eye.
It also added an AI processing unit which connects to Microsoft’s cloud service called Azure. The HoloLens 2 lets you access your Windows Hello account through it’s the headset’s iris recognition feature.
The eye tracking and dictation ability of the HoloLens 2 is a part of the system which Microsoft called the “instinctual interaction.” One of the functions of it is its power to allow 2 or more distant people to collaborate through holograms in mixed reality.
HoloLens 2 also runs on a new processor, now using a custom Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor instead of Intel x86 processor. This makes the headset’s battery life much longer. It also means improved processing power and faster wake time.
Also, the headset now features a new Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) alongside the Artificial Intelligence (AI) co-processor.
The full specs of the headset is available on the Microsoft website.
Like the first headset, the HoloLens 2 is also priced at $3,500 but Microsoft thinks it is more worth the price than the original. However, it is still not open to the ordinary people who wish to try it for gaming and chatting emojis to friends. It was neither designed for knowledge workers. Microsoft is open to orders from companies who are in the designing or manufacturing fields or even the medical, teaching and military sectors.
Both people who tried the HoloLens 2 and those who witnessed the live stream demo video series released by Microsoft believe that the new headset is indeed the most advanced mixed-reality computer out there.
The Fixes, Updates and Upgrades – In Depth Look at the Features of HoloLens2
One of the most obvious updates to HoloLens 2 is its build. One of the major concerns of the users of the first HoloLens is its heavy weight that’s centered on the forehead. Microsoft remedied this by splitting up the component parts on the HoloLens 2, distributing the lenses all over the new headset and placing some of the computing power at the front part and the rest of it to the back.
Microsoft’s senior director of design, Carl Ledbetter, says the split-architecture design was necessary to achieve a certain level of comfort and balance on the HoloLens 2. Ledbetter talks more about improvements on the new HoloLen, saying:
“With HoloLens version one, there were just a lot of things we didn’t know.
…But luckily, since it’s been out there for three years, we’ve been able to talk to a lot of customers.”
For over 3 years since the first HoloLens was launched, Lebetter and his team used special tools in a state-of-the-art laboratory to design the new HoloLens headset. They planned it to fit on 95 percent of heads, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or age.
To do this, Ledbetter’s team had to scan over 600 human heads in the Human Factors lab. Hundreds of people were asked to go through a series of “stress tests” with the HoloLens 2 prototypes.
The goal in the HoloLens2 was to have users almost forget that they are wearing a headset, ideally for up to two hours. Based on the data they got from the trials, Ledbetter concludes the new HoloLens to be three times more comfortable than the old one.
Another upgrade people will see on the HoloLens 2 is the better material.
The front closure of the new headset is already made of carbon fiber to keep it cool and light even after hours of using it. To achieve this, the HoloLens 2 was installed with anodized aluminum cooling channels to remove heat from the headset’s custom-made processor.
And for additional comfort, the silicone back pad now has a microtexture that’s designed to give just the right amount of grip without ripping the users’ hair out.
One more thing users might appreciate about the build design of the new HoloLens is the ability for the lenses to be flipped up. This allows the users to quickly- and without hassles – shift from holographic instructions to the real world.
Overall, the split architecture, the visor mode, and the cooling mechanisms were in the works before the team finalized the optics on the HoloLens 2 were finalized. But the best upgrade that the new HoloLens went through is on its optics.
The New HoloLens 2’s Better Optics
There were talks circulating last year that Microsoft filed a patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2016 after the original HoloLens was launched. The patent was reportedly intended to expand the field of view on the display of the headset using the MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) laser-scanning technology.
It was said that Microsoft proposed a method of modulating MEMS mirrors so it will direct lasers in a way to create greater angles that in turn will produce a larger field of view.
The HoloLens 1 had a very limited field of view. Many would even complain about losing the holograph or the images suddenly gets cut off or edged out of the frame when users change the direction of their heads.
Comparing the 2 models, the new HoloLens almost doubled the original field of view from 34-degree diagonal FOV to 52-degree diagonal field of view. And the HoloLens optics engineering team led by Zulfi Alam managed to expand the view while maintaining the 47 pixels resolution per degree. This means that the original 720p display per eye on the first HoloLens upgraded to 2K display for each eye. Furthermore, the lens stack was reduced from three plates now down to two.
However, both Kipman and Alam acknowledge that the visual experience on HoloLens 2 isn’t fully immersive yet. The MEMS mirrors that Microsoft is using on the new HoloLens are the “largest small mirrors in the world,” Alam says.
The HoloLens 2 has enough sensors to detect the position of the user’s head. This allows the headset to beam images on the right field. And with the MEMS mirrors strobing 54,000 times per second, the new headset model can now split light apart and reconstitute it at every single pixel. Alam describes the experience like “It’s replicating your pupil multiple times.”
The benefit to doing it this way, he says, is that when you want to increase the field of view, you just change the angles of the mechanical system. You don’t have to build a bigger backplane to create a bigger field of view, which would then increase the overall size of the product. Like HoloLen’s physical redesign, this innovation also presents new challenges—such as developing the software to make this all work properly. “The control logic becomes very complicated,” Alam says.
The Most Advanced Reality
HoloLens 2 supports more advanced gesture controls.
The first HoloLens allows users to select holographic tiles by using their fingers in a Redrum-like way. Going back to the Start menu can be activated by doing a “bloom” gesture, a kind of hand-cupping motion. Staring at a holographic app icon long enough, you could highlight it.
With the new HoloLens, users can already walk up to a virtual object and manipulate it with their hands. Resize it, punch it, twirl it or press it, users can do all these and the holographic image alters according to your hand actions.
The headset’s new eye-tracking system is made so smart that it lets users read news stories on a holographic browser and scroll the page without even moving their hands.
Furthermore, Microsoft is touting new cloud-based “spatial anchors” which were designed to let users access holographic app features even without the HoloLens.
App developers still play an important role in the HoloLens ecosystem. Because of this, Microsoft is rolling out a prebuilt set of software features called the Dynamics 365 Guides to slot right into instructional apps for HoloLens.
However, Kipman believes HoloLens to be a tech much bigger than just a headset that runs hologram apps. To him, the HoloLens project is a part of a technological revolution that doesn’t come until a couple of decades.
“Thirty years later, notice the pattern.
You can call it whatever you want, and we happen to call it the holographic processing unit, but the devices of the future will all have a CPU, a GPU, and some type of AI unit.”
HoloLens 2’s Cloud Support
HoloLens 2 connects to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, which makes the head computer “light up in a different way,” Kipman says. The cloud takes certain AI tasks off the HoloLens which increases its precision.
Attaching the HoloLens 2 to Azure might also be part of a larger strategy. The connection allows Microsoft to avoid the “hype cycle,” as Kipman puts it. The HoloLens inventor says:
“Then there are those things that are transformative.
They really do live side by side with other eras of computing and push forward democratization and innovation to an order of magnitude. I do believe mixed reality is that. But, you know, we haven’t—and we’re not going to—overhype it.”