Not content with giving away Windows 10 free, Microsoft now wants to float 3D objects in your living room
What is it?
A futuristic-looking headset that displays 3D objects (which Microsoft calls “holograms”) to the person wearing it. It can show the weather as a floating map, turn living-room walls into virtual screens, and let you play virtual games on your coffee table. Microsoft unveiled it in January when announcing the next version of the Windows 10 Preview, and said it will go on sale when the operating system officially launches later this year. There’s no indication yet of what it will cost.
What would I use it for?
Here’s what Microsoft says: “Holograms wall improve the way you do things every day, and enable you to do things you’ve never done before”. That’s the sort of vague-speak we’ve come to expect from Microsoft, but helpfully they’ve made a video – available on the HoloLens website (www.microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens) – to help explain what it does. It shows a man at home living in a monochrome world; then he puts on the HoloLens and his expensive flat is awash with colour. He instantly sees a screen on his wall showing a football match. As he moves around his flat a 3D graphic springs up showing him the weather in Maui, Hawaii (a very pleasant 78-degrees Fahrenheit), along with icons for Microsoft services including Skype.
The video also shows how the HoloLens could be used in a work environment. Designers will see how 3D models look on top of real objects, while architects can visualise a finished building.
So is it like virtual reality?
No, it’s more like augmented reality. Virtual-reality headsets, such as the Oculus Rift (www.oculus.com), transport you to unfamiliar worlds, such as an alien environment or foreign country, making you forget where you are in reality.
By contrast, HoloLens overlays objects on to the real world – “blending holograms with the environment around you”, as Microsoft puts it. In other words, you’ll still see the room you’re in. That said, HoloLens can be used to visualise places we can’t yet visit. Microsoft says that Nasa scientists will soon be exploring a virtual Mars using holograms of images captured by the Mars rovers.
How does HoloLens work?
It tracks your movements and follows your gaze, displaying information relevant to where you are. You can interact with the 3D images by using hand gestures, such as clicking your fingers. It ‘maps’ the room to see where tables, chairs and other objects are, using this information to project 3D images on top of them.
Will it replace computers?
We doubt it. Performing many key tasks, such as writing an email and filling out a spreadsheet, will remain easier on a PC for years to come. But we can see it replacing some things we currently use PCs for, such as making video calls and browsing web pages. And while we’re naturally suspicious of products that receive the level of hype generated by HoloLens, there’s no doubt it could revolutionise how we interact with technology. Unlike other headsets, which are aimed at gamers, the HoloLens has serious practical uses, and doesn’t smack of a sci-fi gimmick with limited appeal.
It has been said before of less-deserving products, but the HoloLens really could change everything.
But won’t I look like a plonker wearing one?
A bit, maybe. But you won’t be walking around outside, unlike Google Glass wearers. Judging by Microsoft’s videos, HoloLens is meant to be used primarily indoors, minimising the plonker factor.