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My HoloLens acid trip was fascinating, but left a funny taste in my mouth

Jon Phillips | May 4, 2015
HoloLens was the most dazzling tech demo I've ever experienced--but it left me wanting me more. HoloLens did much more than I expected--but made me question whether real people will actually use it in all the ways Microsoft imagines.

The headset is super-tight against the bridge of my nose. It provokes a funny taste in my mouth. But soon the trip begins, and I'm transported into augmented reality.

Low-res but still breathtaking

With HoloLens active, the Trimble maquette comes alive with a holographic overlay. It's bright. Color is vivid. Resolution isn't bad for this particular task at hand — I'm guessing 1024x768-ish, maybe 1280x1024-ish. It doesn't look as high-res as what appears in Microsoft's published HoloLensTrimble video, and the modeling throughout my demo isn't as detailed as what appears in that video's walkthrough. But the sum-total effect is still breathtaking.

Using the mouse of a nearby PC, I can cursor directly from the PC's real-world display to the hologram image on the table nearby. The cursor flow from flat display to the 3D hologram is seamless. I click on the top of the holographic building and drag my cursor — I just added a few floors. All the building tops are active.

The holographic maquette is an adjustable 3D model, and aside from the pressure on the bridge of my nose and the sheer first-time trippiness of using HoloLens, manipulating the experience feels relatively natural. I'm not sure I could wear the goggles for more than 15 minutes without begging for a breather, but for this brief snippet, I'm smitten.

But here's the money shot: A street-view icon, much like you'd see in Google Maps, appears on the holographic maquette. It's located on a pedestrian path. I click and voila: Through HoloLens I can see what my surrounding environment would look like were I standing there, right there. I'm still reeling from the trip, but this appears to be panoramic photography, not 3D modeling, projected everywhere around me.

I look to the left and see buildings. I look down and see snow at my feet. It's sharper and more vivid than anything I've experienced with Oculus Rift DK2. And it's much less disorienting, because HoloLens isn't a completely enveloping experience. The holograms are overlays, and I still feel oriented in a real-world environment.

Unfortunately, I didn't take the brazen step of extruding the building top by another 15 stories, jumping up to the roof, and looking at my environment from there. But presumably I could have. The whole point of the Trimble experience is to give an architects a vivid picture of the impact of their design decisions, and how small adjustments can affect sight lines and even more utilitarian structural considerations.

Leaving augmented-reality post-it notes

Those more mundane considerations are explored in part two of my HoloLens experience. I walk into a separate space in our demo room. It's built out with two fake walls that meet at a 90-degree angle. Microsoft says HoloLens doesn't require any environmental markers or tags to trigger the holograms that pop up in your field of vision. But nonetheless the wall soon comes alive with a holographic schematic of all the beams and piping behind the finished veneer.


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