Microsoft’s marketing machine has painted the HoloLens as sort of a quasi-magical device that can revolutionize the way we interact with computers. That’s still pretty true. But spend enough time digging through Microsoft’s online documentation, and you’ll find in reality that for all its $3,000 price, the the HoloLens is still limited in many ways.
Internally, Microsoft has known this for some time. But now that it’s begun circulating this information to developers, you need to begin learning about it, too—and the HoloLens has several significant weaknesses and strengths you might not have known about.
Why this matters: Because the HTC Vive will cost $799 and ship in April. The Oculus Rift will cost $599. That’s a lot of cash, and you should probably expect that the eventual consumer version of the $3,000 HoloLens developer kit will be priced accordingly. Granted, Microsoft’s HoloLens renders augmented reality—virtual objects superimposed over real-world objects, viewed through transparent glass— which is quite different than the virtual reality offered by the Rift, which plunges your eyeballs into a totally opaque, virtual theater. Still, dollars are dollars, whatever device you end up with.
1. The HoloLens is significantly lower-resolution
By now, the hardware underlying the HoloLens is fairly well understood, at least in broad strokes. At its heart is a Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (the HPU 1.0), which Microsoft custom designed to offload all the holographic image processing. Apps are processed by an undisclosed 32-bit Intel chip on top of 2GB of RAM (with an additional 1GB of RAM for the HPU), plus 64GB of flash allocated for storage. There’s also a 2MP camera on the front for video recording. Microsoft has said the HoloLens will have between 2 and 3 hours of battery life, based on active use; though it’s designed to be untethered, you’ll also be able to use it while charging.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Microsoft says the HoloLens optics include a pair of HD 16:9 light engines, without specifying the resolution. On its site, though, Microsoft spells it out: The “default and maximum supported resolution” of the HoloLens is 720p or 1268x720 per eye, while the lowest supported resolution is just 360p (634x360). Microsoft also insists that developers maintain a minimum of only 60 frames per second when coding HoloLens applications. If the HoloLens is capturing video, the frame rate will drop even lower, to 30 frames per second.
Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer a resolution of 2160x1020 per eye and a 90Hz refresh rate. That’s much higher than the HoloLens on both counts.
It’s hard to say what this is going to mean in real life. Microsoft partner András Velvárt points out that the HoloLens is actually pushing 240 frames per second, allocating 60 FPS each to a red, green, blue, and a second green layer.
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