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Microsoft's augmented reality Halo is breathtaking, but HoloLens still needs work

Hayden Dingman | June 19, 2015
Microsoft's augmented reality demos have been awe-inspiring on stage, but HoloLens still needs a lot of work before it's ready for prime time.

Trouble in AR paradise

But the tech is not good enough. Therein lies the crux of the problem. HoloLens--like Google Glass, like the Virtual Boy, like the donut burger--is an early iteration of a technology that isn't quite ready. The result is a device that's a little bit impressive and a lot janky.

My chief complaint? The field of view is terrible. Your eyes have a natural field of view of about 180 degrees. Starbreeze's new StarVR headset boasts 210 degrees. Oculus and Valve's virtual reality headsets compromised on 110 degrees.

I don't know what the field of view is on HoloLens, but if the Oculus Rift/HTC Vive have a "looking at the world through ski goggles" feel on occasion, then HoloLens is like looking at a cell phone screen someone held up five feet in front of your face. Or like peering at the world through the slit of a welding mask.

The field of view is so small--both vertically and horizontally--that Microsoft's own demo didn't fit the constraints. I constantly had to tilt my head up and down, left and right to try and take in the full scope of the "holograms" in the Halo 5 experience. And these weren't massive, life-size objects. They were eight-inch-tall scale models (if I had to estimate based on the size of the table and the perceived "distance" from my eyes).

It's doubly distracting because due to the way HoloLens is designed, you can see the rest of your surroundings around the outside of the holographic image. If whatever you're looking at stretches past the edge of HoloLens's tiny projection, it just cuts off--a very screen-like feeling.

The end result? One demo and you understand why Microsoft has attached neither price nor release date to this "miraculous" tech. Believe me, if this thing actually behaved the way it looked during that E3 press conference, Microsoft would sell it. Even if it performed a reasonable approximation, Microsoft would probably sell it--look at the original Kinect stage demos versus the reality of Kinect V1.

HoloLens is not ready for public consumption though, and Microsoft (I assume) knows it. Technological wizardry is one thing. Selling someone a product is another. Right now, HoloLens is a sideshow accoutrement--a cool gimmick before you go play "the real game" i.e. a regular Halo multiplayer match, on a regular ol' flatscreen TV. Virtual reality isn't perfect--there are kinks to work out, and skepticism to overcome. But at least the basic tech specs were nailed and I can present you with a dozen different reasons you might want to own a virtual reality headset.

Augmented reality, though? If HoloLens is the best we've got, then we still have a long way to go.

 

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