[Test] Microsoft Hololens: Microsoft's augmented reality headset

Who I am
Michael Naimark
@michaelnaimark

Summary

  • Unboxing and installation of the HoloLens
    • Unboxing
    • Installation
  • The design of Microsoft HoloLens
    • Weight distribution that could still be improved
  • Microsoft HoloLens Features and Performance
    • Functionalities
  • Fluid navigation
    • performances
    • Surprising precision
    • Applications
    • Fragments
    • HoloTours
    • Young Conker
    • Hundreds of apps to download
  • Microsoft Hololens versus the competition
  • Daqri Smart Glasses
  • Magic Leap One
  • Conclusion
  • notation

Its release is not expected for about two years, yet a developer model has already been available for a few weeks. We are talking about the Hololens, Microsoft's device dedicated to augmented reality (not to be confused with virtual reality) and eagerly awaited by individuals and professionals. This is our verdict.



Unboxing and installation of the HoloLens

Let's start at the beginning, will you? Even if it is a developer version, this HoloLens prototype comes in a quality box. Two, to be exact, because two layers protect the precious device.

The first is the classic box : it is black, it is robust and it is not very bulky. In fact, this one only houses the second packaging, a kind of solid bag, more easily transportable and which contains all the elements of the HoloLens: the device itself, an extension for one of the hoops (to adjust the size), a plug, a cleaning wipe, a cable and a small user manual.

Note thatanother accessory is delivered with the HoloLens: a controller, a mini-command that will allow you to interact with the contents of your headset if you don't want to move your hands too much. A simple simple box object, since the order is simply inserted into a cardboard box. The remote only has one button, but it does a great job of compensating for the lack of precision in manual controls.



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Starting up and installing the helmet is very quick. In five minutes the user can start browsing the apps on the device. Just plug in the headphones, after which the Start menu opens and the device is operational. No further action is required a priori.

The design of Microsoft HoloLens

The helmet is bulky, but light. The translucent glass screen just in front of your eyes, the Microsoft HoloLens is positioned on your head thanks to a structure made up of two adjustable hoops (which allows it to stay fixed regardless of your head movements). Two buttons on each side of the headband allow you to adjust sound volume and visual occlusion level : the higher it is, the more the holographic display will stand out from what surrounds you. A microphone is integrated into the headset, allowing you to control it orally.

The latter, which works under Cortana, is remarkably responsive. Detecting hand gestures is often difficult, either the user incorrectly adjusts the gesture and the capture devices do not work or the latter do not properly identify the gestures. In any case, the use of voice commands compensates for this deficit and improves navigation. Cortana however does not manage to function in French, it is thus necessary to pronounce the requests in English in an articulate way.

Weight distribution that could still be improved

The interior is padded and is quite comfortable, although weight distribution can still be improved. Note that despite appearances and the rubber nose guard (optional), it is easy to wear with glasses. Either way, the HoloLens will ask you to calibrate it to your sight, depending on your morphology and the spacing of your eyes.



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Sound level, the headset is on board two headphones on one of the poles, at the level of the ears. This is enough to allow good listening quality without having to bother with additional headphones, especially as the sound is spatialized (even if it did not dazzle us, that said we confined ourselves to basic applications so difficult to judge).

To conclude, note that the HoloLens remains visibly quite fragile. It's hard to imagine this kind of product lying around the house or being within reach of children.

Microsoft HoloLens Features and Performance

Microsoft HoloLens has the particularity of not needingno wired connection to work. Battery operated, the headset has an autonomy of 2 to 3 hours and recharges in 3 or 4 hours on outlet (a little more on computer).

Since it is stand-alone, the HoloLens has a version of Windows 10 of its own. Navigation between menus and applications can be done by voice, via the controller or, above all, by moving the hands. Few finger movements are readable in the basic version of the HoloLens, but it seems that the headset is theoretically able to distinguish more, depending on the applications.

Open the blooming fingers to open the menu and raise then lower the index finger (air touch) to select the desired item. Alas, that's all you can do with your hands for now. This is the first frustrating element of the device: we sometimes have the reflex to grab certain objects to manipulate them, while you have to click and drag the graphic element to move it somewhere. The movements of the head act as the cursor, forcing you to move it often.



Fluid navigation

Regarding text input, you have at your disposal a virtual keyboard where you can select the keys one by one. Fortunately, there's nothing stopping you from using a Bluetooth keyboard if you're a typist, or voice typing if you prefer.

Most of the internet browsing during our various tests was done with Microsoft Edge. This program is also quite natural and pleasant to navigate, for a PC user anyway. The keys for operating the holographic windows are well separated from the applications, which allows you to navigate quickly and efficiently on the "desktop". The question of future compatibility with other programs like Mozilla Firefox or Chrome arises. But Microsoft's stance on the use of external software on its machines suggests that it is not.

Overall the HoloLens made a very good impression on us. The image quality is more than correct and that of the anchor is striking. The various screens and “holograms” blend in perfectly with the user's vision and really give the impression of being in front of a three-dimensional element. The simulation follows the movements of the head to the nearest millimeter, without lag. After a while, we just forget that we are wearing a helmet on our head and we are content to surf between applications that are floating around us.

Special feature of the HoloLens: the application screens can be placed wherever you want, in the air or on walls. You can thus create your virtual office on the wall of your room, arranged according to your preferences. So far, this is really a new version.

Surprising precision

The location of the surroundings is another strong point of the HoloLens. From time to time, and when you "click" in the void, the helmet cameras will scan your surroundings with surprising precision. Each surface or object around you is covered with a wireframe appearance, which indicates the degree of precision of the device and the technology on board.

Unfortunately, we cannot discuss the performance of the HoloLens without mentioning its main flaw: the field of vision is much too small. We already knew about this defect, but it is important to remember that the display area barely represents 30% of our total field of vision. Even to examine a small hologram, it is necessary to move your head excessively to detail it up and down. The fact that this is a developer version encourages us to be lenient however, especially as Microsoft is perfectly aware of this problem and has already announced that it wants to remedy it. We hope so, because it is the biggest obstacle that we have encountered in our experience.

Without surprise, few applications are present today since the product is not yet available. Even if Microsoft, in its promotional video involving average people reading their emails or playing Minecraft, seems to imply that its product is aimed at the general public, it is difficult to see what could interest the all comers. The price is very high ($ 3.000, but add taxes and shipping costs) and the added value is not yet attractive enough to justify its purchase. We already know how to play and surf the net, and the hologram effect, although cool, doesn't add much to everyday life.

So, it is above all professionals who will find it useful : for commerce, medicine, industry or education, in particular. Applications are yet to be invented, but what we have seen of them promises many possibilities.

This does not prevent the HoloLens from already having its share of exclusives. At a previous show, Microsoft had already given us a try three applications developed by the Asobo studio :

Fragments

Improve yourself as a detective and lead the investigation with the special unit of New York through this virtual reality game. In this daring thriller for this technology, the play becomes a crime scene filled with clues. Holographic figures react to your presence and interact based on your positioning. It's up to you to move around the room to solve the investigation.

Graphics are very realistic, we really have the impression that we are no longer alone. However Microsoft HoloLens' restricted field of view prevents us from seeing the characters on the ground when we are next to them.

HoloTours

Much more simplistic, HoloTours takes you to Peru with the use of a very realistic holographic globe. However, the room does not turn into a Mayan temple, Microsoft HoloLens projects holographic images of the South American landscape with panoramic view and 3D spatial sound.

A new way to share your vacation memories or travel to unfamiliar places without leaving home. The mixture of the 2 realities goes hand in hand, good that movements can cause the image to slow down.

Young Conker

A squirrel comes to your living room. Conker, a cheeky rodent from a 1990s video game, is waiting for you to guide him. You run it with your gaze towards coins and other holographic elements, because the squirrel brings with him his arcade universe. Your table becomes a platform for him to jump on and your sofa is filled with gold coins.

We are very easily softened by the squirrel which evolves in our environment. Even with its simplistic operation, Young Conker is a great entertainment medium.

Hundreds of apps to download

The Microsoft HoloLens is also compatible with other applications already existing on Windows. Gamers will also be interested to learn that Microsoft is working on several interactions with the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.

Microsoft Hololens versus the competition

The HoloLens doesn't really have a direct competitor. Other augmented reality tools, often cardboards, are generally far behind. Only the Google Glasses can possibly be comparable, and we know all the oven they went through. This situation could however change with the technological advances on which the firm Magic Leap is working. Rony Abovitz's company seems to be the only real challenger in the augmented reality world. However, the device has not been shown to the general public, so Microsoft is keeping a good head start with the HoloLens.

However, the HoloLens is intended less for everyday use than for professionals, which makes it unique in its field. Therefore, it is difficult to really assess its value for money. Certainly the HoloLens is impressive, despite some shortcomings such as the field of vision, autonomy or the too few recognizable gestures, but $ 3.000 is still a lot. Even though this is the price of the developer version, there is little chance that the final version will stand out with a very affordable price.

Note that the Microsoft Hololens is not available in developer version only for my Americans or Canadians certified as "Windows Insiders". For simple consumers, we will have to wait to hope to see this technological crown on your head.

Daqri Smart Glasses

Update 22/05/2019: Three years after its release, few devices compete with the HoloLens. In an industrial context, we can oppose the Daqri Smart Glasses. Associated with a case containing a computer, this pair of mixed reality glasses has two lenses offering a resolution of 1360 x 768 pixels. It's a bit more than the HoloLens and its 720p. The viewing angle is 44 degrees compared to 30 for Microsoft's product.

The Daqri has a total autonomy of 6 hours with its two interchangeable batteries against 2h30 for its competitor. The device is equipped with a thermal camera, particularly useful in an industrial environment. On the other hand, it heats up quickly and is heavier than Microsoft's product. It is therefore less versatile.

Magic Leap One

You can now get the Magic Leap One under certain conditions, if you are a developer. This competitor is sold for 2295 dollars in the United States. This offers a greater field of view than the HoloLens, but does not do much better in terms of experience. Certainly the graphics and controls are better. However, users see the holograms cut in half. It is also not very easy to use because of its remote control equipped with a capricious touchpad.

Finally, you can't use prescription glasses with the Magic Leap One. With HoloLens, it is difficult, but possible. Above all, the Lightpack case that contains the computer adds extra weight. Conclusion we gain in a little quality, but we lose in ergonomics.

Conclusion

Good points

  • Image and inking quality in space
  • Movement tracking
  • Comfort and build quality

Negative points

  • A field of vision much too small
  • Autonomy
  • Lack of gestures

Do you want to go further? Discover our Hololens training:

notation

7

Very good

Installation: A priori, the installation of the Hololens takes barely more than five minutes and does not require any specific action. Very good, even if it still lacks a bit of customization.


Design and ergonomics: The HoloLens is a bit massive, but it's quite light and offers enough room to wear it with glasses. Speakers and microphones are integrated and all buttons are easily accessible. Only downside: limited autonomy.


features: Even if some pretty fun games are already available, the HoloLens is intended primarily for professionals. In any case, it will be as soon as the applications are developed.


Performance: Here, the results are quite mixed. The anchoring quality and the resolution of the image are surprising, but the field of view is far too limited to be able to enjoy it. This is the helmet's biggest flaw at the moment.


Value for money: It is difficult to estimate the quality / price ratio of a developer version, given that they have few features and are often quite expensive. In addition, you have to be American or Canadian to benefit from it, which does not help this model to earn points in this category.

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