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HoloLens 2: Microsoft unveils “more immersive” mixed reality headset

Microsoft unveiled the second iteration of HoloLens on Sunday (24 February), promising its new mixed reality headset would be more comfortable, immersive and useful than its predecessor. It’s also more expensive; the $3,500 pricetag is $500 more than developers currently pay for HoloLens.

For the extra cash, buyers can expect a field of view which is more than double the size of the first device. “This is the equivalent of moving from a 720P television to a 2K television for each of your eyes,” HoloLens chief Alex Kipman told reporters. “These are the smallest and most power-efficient 2K displays in existence.”

Microsoft claims HoloLens 2 is more immersive in other ways too. It can recognise people and the spaces they occupy, enabling users to move, pivot and resize augmented objects with their hands. It also uses iris-based biometrics for authentication.

The company said it had taken feedback from partners before developing the second generation headset, and that many had asked for the device to be made more comfortable. Microsoft’s engineers scanned a variety of head shapes and sizes to create what it claims is a headset that is three times more comfortable than HoloLens 1. How it arrived at that figure is unclear, however.

The third significant change is the accessibility of enterprise applications. “It can take three to six months before mixed reality brings value for an enterprise because code has to be written,” said Microsoft researcher Julia Schwarz. “Now there is immediate time to value. It’s gone from months to minutes.”

To this end, Microsoft is launching a suite of solutions for a range of industries, including healthcare, architecture and manufacturing. “[It provides] immediate value for doctors, architects and mechanics,” said Schwarz, who proceeded to demonstrate how the headsets can be used by highly skilled staff to train up new recruits.

The launch has been well received by the analyst community. Nick McQuire, enterprise research chief at CCS Insight, described the launch as “a critical moment in Microsoft’s ambitious plans for HoloLens and for mixed reality in general”.

“Redmond is assembling an attractive set of applications, developer tools and now an improved headset which may just help mixed reality move beyond its niche, science experiment status inside companies,” he said. “The jury is still firmly out on whether Microsoft can convince companies to go all in on HoloLens but if there is one company that can do it, it is probably Microsoft.

“The key to unlocking the potential of HoloLens is the developer community. Microsoft already has an enviably position in this regard and the financial resources to really incentivise developers to invest in the platform,” McQuire added. “The announcements show us that we are now entering the next phase of computing experiences with immersive and mixed reality at the core and this phase will likely be incubated in the enterprise first.”

J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester said “it’s the integration with Azure and Dynamics that will empower developers to create powerful mixed reality experiences more quickly and cheaply”.

“For the old HoloLens, editing the number of polygons forming a hologram into a manageable number was challenging and expensive,” he added. “With cloud tools, developers can render an object in, say, 50,000 polygons on the device but also can render it in the Azure cloud with one million polygons visible to the user.”