Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens: what it’s really like The Verge
Microsoft HoloLens: what it’s really like
Microsoft HoloLens teardown The Verge
Microsoft HoloLens teardown

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Microsoft HoloLens - Specification

UsageFor PCFor Smartphones
Operating system32-bit Windows 10.0.11802.1033
Body579gram579 gram
TypeAvailabilityAR - See-through
Size16:9Field of view horizontal30°Field of view vertical17°
Front cameraNumber2
FeaturesVideo recording
CPUIntel Atom X5-Z8100
Internal memoryCapacity64Gb
GPU - Video cardHoloLens Graphics114Mb
SupportWindows Mixed RealityViveportPiHome
USBCharger connector
SoundHeadphone input 3.5mmMicrophone
Battery lifeAverage time5.5hours
ConrolVoice control3DoF Turning head
Tracking3DoF Rotation tracking6DoF Positional trackingTracking area

Microsoft HoloLens overview

Microsoft HoloLens are glasses of mixed reality based on the built-in processor and the Windows Mixed Reality system with open source. It is a fully wireless stand-alone device that allows you to work with 3D holograms attached to real objects. Microsoft regards HoloLens as a product for companies — scientific, architectural, medical, engineering — and developers, but not for ordinary users. Officially, it is not available everywhere, you can purchase it somewhere only from resellers. Let's deal with the features of the gadget.
Microsoft HoloLens
The development of MIcrosoft Hololens began in 2012, but the team of engineers in many ways was borrowed from another project — Kinect, a game controller for Xbox released two years earlier. The first version of the glasses was presented in January 2015. In March 2016, Microsoft sent working samples to customers from the USA and Canada, and in October of the same year the company expanded its presence to Australia, Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand and the UK. Now the gadget is sold in 39 countries. The company also leases Hololens out. Only two versions with identical hardware are available, but they have different software:
  • Commercial Suite — for companies. It includes additional warranty and configuration options. The price is 5,000 USD.
  • Development Suite — for developers. It is a standard option for individual buyers. The price is 3,000 USD.

Pros of Microsoft HoloLens

Useful technology. Mixed reality looks unfinished, but has great potential. HoloLens will be especially useful for doctors, builders, engineers, scientists.
Wireless system. It is a completely stand-alone device, i.e. it works without the computer. It does not have any wires, controllers are connected via Bluetooth. It is convenient both for work and leisure activities.
Quality voluminous sound. Thanks to the two dynamics and software optimization, glasses understand where the virtual sound should come from and add it correctly to the reality.
There is no feeling of nausea. Unlike VR helmets, glasses impose holograms on the real world, so the brain is not lost and does not believe that there is any threat for the organism.

Cons of Microsoft HoloLens

Limited power. Because of a rather compact design and the lack of a cooling system, the hardware is not as productive as it wanted to be. This limits both the set of functions and the picture quality.
Narrow viewing angle. It concerns both vision and sensors. So, it is possible to work with holograms only in the central area, and the periphery does not participate in it. You you can get used to it, like a ski mask or swimming glasses.
Little content. There are only 424 software products in the Microsoft store, and most of them are demo versions. There are very few really useful free applications, and commercial ones cost hundreds of dollars.
Elitism. Officially, the gadget is available for commercial companies and developers at a price of at least 3,000 USD. The version for ordinary users must be available at the end of 2018.

Microsoft HoloLens competitors

There are very few mixed-reality gadgets on the market, and there are no options for ordinary customers at all. We will not compare HoloLens with virtual reality headsets because this is a completely different segment. Therefore, there are two competitors, the first one is not stand-alone, and the second one does not have a release model:
  • Meta 2. It is very similar in design, but bigger and heavier and it can work only with a computer or a laptop. Its performance is higher, and the viewing angle and the field of virtual vision are wider. The price of Meta 2 starts from 950 USD which is three times cheaper than HoloLens.
  • Magic Leap One. This product raised 2 billions of dollars of investment. It is much more compact glasses with full set of functions and machine sensors learning. However the picture quality and the prototype's capabilities turned out to be much lower than the ones claimed.
The Google Glass project should be mentioned separately. Its consumer version was stopped to be produced in 2015, but the option for developers continued to be released in 2017. These are slightly different glasses too because they represent an augmented reality, not a mixed one. This gadget does not attach holograms to the real world, unlike the direct competitors of Microsoft HoloLens.
On the whole, before the real release of Magic Leap One, Meta 2 remains to be the most affordable glasses with the set of functions close to HoloLens. The Microsoft product is more suitable for commercial and educational companies.

Microsoft HoloLens vs Meta 2 vs Magic Leap One

Microsoft HoloLens design and ergonomics

The glasses are like a bulky protective mask with a thick rim and a wide visor in their shape and size. They are smaller in size than the VR from Oculus and HTC, but compared to the elegant Google Glass — it is a real monster. The case is made of plastic and consists of two frames. The inner one is suitable for fixing on the head, the outer one is for adjusting the distance from the face. The front panel is a transparent mask made of strong glass behind which are the main lenses. Over the eyes and in the center of the visor are cameras to create a three-dimensional model of the environment.

As for the structural and control elements, the situation is as follows:

  • Optical and infrared cameras with sensors — two cameras for head tracking above each eye, one depth camera for creating a model of the surface in the center and one — a standard camera for nearby shooting. What’s more, there are sensors of light and navigation which are also situated on the front panel.
  • The speakers are on the outer frame at the bottom on the sides. They create sound environment and broadcast both real and virtual noise, and do it in the right direction.
  • The volume and brightness buttons are on the outer frame at the top on the sides. They are small and quite comfortable, if you get used to them, you find them immediately with your fingers.
  • The power button is on the right side edge of the outer frame. It turns the glasses on / off.
  • The USB connector is on the outer frame at the top on the right. The charger is connected here.
  • The 3.5 mm connector is on the outer frame at the top on the left. It is suitable for headphones.
  • The adjustment ring is on the inner frame at the back at the top. It is used to fix the gadget on the head.
Front panel with a visor and cameras If you know how to wear virtual reality headsets, then the use of Microsoft HoloLens will not cause any problems. Thanks to two frames, the gadget is fixed firmly on the head, you can adjust the coverage and distance from your eyes. The weight of 580 grams is perceptible and is placed more forward, closer to the visor. Therefore, you cannot work too long wearing glasses. A big advantage is the lack of wires. You get used to it after less than half an hour. For a mass-market version a smaller weight and more stylish design would be more appropriate, but beauty is not really so important for performance.

Microsoft HoloLens display and lenses

Unlike virtual headsets, HoloLens uses a transparent visor on the basis of guided-wave optics and two projectors with LQoD displays, HD resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio that are located on the frame over the bridge of the nose. The combiner deals with processing and connects the real world with the virtual one.
The principle of operation is quite simple — prismatic lenses simultaneously let light from the real world (so a user sees real objects) and light from the projectors (so holograms appear). The system works thanks to the total internal reflection, which allows the lenses to pass the light through or to detain it.

Microsoft engineers have done a good job. The fact is that if the diffraction gratings are not correctly installed, holograms will float in the real world and will not be attached to objects, and this will cause severe nausea. But HoloLens does not have such an effect. At the same time, the complexity of the system is several times bigger than in VR headsets.

As for the shortcomings of the glasses, a small viewing angle — only 35 degrees which is clearly not enough for full-fledged work should be mentioned. In addition, holograms are projected only in the center of the lenses, so peripheral vision is not involved here. You get used to it after some time and it becomes convenient to work.
Device lenses

Microsoft HoloLens controller

The native controller is included in the kit and it is somewhat similar to a garage door remote control unit in its design. The device is attached to the finger by an elastic loop, connects via Bluetooth and is charged from the grid via micro-USB. The gadget is simple, it has only one button. It was developed so that users’ hands do not get tired from making gestures. The clicker can be directed to virtual objects and users can interact with them: push buttons, turn on / off, scroll, drag, delete. In fact, it is just a virtual mouse. But it's convenient.

A clicker for HoloLens

Microsoft HoloLens hardware

The system is stand-alone, it operates on the basis of the Intel Atom x5-Z8100 chipset with a frequency of 1.04 GHz, 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory. Prototypes worked on a 32-bit database, new versions — on a 64-bit one. The battery is designed for 16500 mAh, but this is enough for a maximum of 5.5 hours with a moderate load and for 2.5 hours — with a heavy one.

But the main pride and craftsmanship of developers demonstrates HPU, a holographic processor which is responsible for virtual objects processing. It has 24 cores! The processor runs at the speed of more than trillion operations with pixel per second, which is 200 times more than the standard software processing.

The design of glasses does not make it possible to install very powerful hardware in them also because there is no place for coolers. Now HoloLens is cooled passively, i.e. simply by ambient air. If you install a powerful processor, the system will overheat quickly.

Setting up and the beginning of work with Microsoft HoloLens

To enable the glasses, you need to fix them on your head with two frames. It is desirable to ask someone to help you for the first time. After turning on, you need to log into Microsoft Account and to calibrate the system. It takes a few minutes. You get used to the ergonomics and viewing angle after half an hour, not more. To understand how to deal with the device control a clever Microsoft assistant named Cortana helps you. There are four control options:

  • Buttons. These are physical elements on the outer frame which regulate the volume and brightness of holograms.
  • Voice. It is the main way to interact with Cortana plus the holograms control.
  • Gestures. Cameras recognize hand movements and change virtual objects.
  • Controller. To give your hands a rest you can use a virtual mouse with a clicker instead of gestures.
We'll talk a little more about gestures. The main problem is the limited viewing angle and the cameras operation which means that you have to hold your hands almost perfectly smoothly in front of the visor. There are only two basic hand gestures:

  1. Bloom — the opening of a clenched fist, it calls up the start menu.
  2. Air Tap — a finger touching of the mouse click type.
It is a little more convenient to work with the controller, although in terms of its set of functions it is a complete analogue of Air Tap.
Air Tap

Software and games for Microsoft HoloLens

The basic control is carried out through the start menu, all the basic applications are already installed into the device's memory. The menu looks like a standard Windows 10 interface with tiles. There are still very few programs optimized for HoloLens, they are not similar to demo versions which show the potential of the system. But through the glasses you can run UWP — standard applications and games with Windows 10. You can work with them through the clicker and virtual keyboard, but you can always connect physical controllers via Bluetooth, including gamepads.

The official website has 424 applications, most of them are free demo versions. Among applications interesting and useful for ordinary users we can highlight the following ones:
  • Skype for HoloLens. It is a good old Skype, now with holograms.
  • HoloTour. It is a guide of Rome and Machu Picchu with 360-degree video and voluminous sound.
  • Land of Dinosaurs. It is a portal in Jurassic Park full of dinosaurs.
  • Insight Heart. It is the first medical application from the series, a holographic model of the heart.
  • 3dDraw for HoloLens. It is a virtual easel for drawing in 3D.
  • HoloStudy Demo. It is one of the best demos with a series of lessons in geology, physics, chemistry and biology.
  • Fragments. It is a detective game with holographic scenes of crimes.
However, since Microsoft HoloLens is a product for large commercial companies, both the set of functions and the software are oriented towards them. For example, the store has Open-pit mining (OAR) application for training workers in the mining and metallurgical sector and quarry mining. It is convenient and useful, but the only problem is that the program costs 500 USD. Developers plan to continue creating exclusive programs for customers, for example, for NASA, Volvo or Disney, specifically for their tasks. Therefore, mass-market applications and games should not be expected yet.
Start menu view

Microsoft HoloLens packaging and arrangement

The gadget is sold in a beautiful and expensive looking box. There are two smaller boxes inside with cases on zippies. In the set we find:
  • Microsoft HoloLens glasses consisting of a front panel and a frame for the head.
  • Internal frame for more secure attachment.
  • Nose tip for added convenience.
  • Controller-clicker with a single control button.
  • Charging adapter.
  • USB / micro-USB cable.
  • A napkin for lenses.
  • Instruction.
As a result, the system works out of the box, you do not need to buy anything in addition, and even the computer will not be needed. Taken into account the specifics and narrow focus, at the minimum price of 3,000 USD more interesting accessories, for example, controllers or cameras would be desired to see.
Standard set

Problems with the device and recommendations for using Microsoft HoloLens

Since ordinary users rarely buy the gadget, information about possible problems comes from the manufacturer, and only a few experts and journalists from the conferences share with their real experience of its usage. Among the frequent errors that users may come across the following ones can be mentioned:

  • Freezes, slowing down, lack of response from the system.
  • Arbitrary moving and simply crooked holograms.
  • Holograms disappeared from the fixed places.
  • Not working gestures, voice or controller.
  • Error "little free space".
If you still want to buy Microsoft HoloLens, you should know that the gadget supports only English and is not officially available in some countries. Therefore, any hardware or software problems will have to be solved by yourself or you will have to find gadget-savvy acquaintances — the device will not be accepted at the Microsoft service center.

You can read guides, instructions, usage tips and problem solving recommendations on the official Microsoft HoloLens support website (in English).

Microsoft HoloLens - Alternatives

Showing 1-10 of 10 items.
PhotoUSDTitle px.AngleHz.MPGr.
HTC Vive499HTC Vive    1200×1080110°901 pc.470
Lenovo Explorer487Lenovo Explorer    1440×1440110°90 2 pc.380
ASUS Headset583ASUS Headset    1440×144095°90 2 pc.400
Google Glass 3.01,796Google Glass 3.0   640×36013°36
Google Glass 2.01,339Google Glass 2.0   640×36050
DELL Visor 449DELL Visor     1440×1440110°90 2 pc.590
Lenovo Mirage Solo708Lenovo Mirage Solo    2560×1440110°75 2 pc.645
ACV HYPE SVR-FHD153ACV HYPE SVR-FHD960×1080100°70 430
Epson Moverio BT-200898Epson Moverio BT-200  960×54023°60 88
Epson Moverio BT-300956Epson Moverio BT-300  1280×72023°1 pc.69

Microsoft HoloLens - Comparison

Brand Microsoft HTC Lenovo ASUS
Model HoloLens Vive Explorer Headset
Min. price USD
Release 2016/03/30 2016/04/05 2017/10/04 2018/02/20
For PC
Total weight 579 gram 470 gram 380 gram 400 gram
Body weight 579 gram 512 gram 380 gram 400 gram
Dimensions 185×102×95 mm.
AR - See-through
Size 3.6 inches 2.89 inches
Aspect ratio 16:9
Field of view horizontal 30 ° 110 ° 110 ° 95 °
Field of view vertical 17 °
Resolution 1268×720 px. 1200×1080 px. 1440×1440 px. 1440×1440 px.
Latency 22 ms.
Refresh rate 60 Hz. 90 Hz. 90 Hz. 90 Hz.
Focal length
Capacity 16500 mAh
Battery life
Average time 5.5 hours
Operating system
Operating system 32-bit Windows 10.0.11802.1033
Minimum system requirements GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 или AMD Radeon R9 290; CPU: Intel Core i5-4590 или AMD FX 8350; Оперативная память: 4 ГБ или больше; Видеовыход: HDMI 1.4 или DisplayPort 1.2 Windows 10 – Creators Update, Intel Desktop i7 или AMD Ryzen 7 1700, NVIDIA GTX 980/1060 - AMD Radeon RX 480 (8GB), RAM - 16 Гб
Windows 10
Oculus Home
Windows Mixed Reality
Internal memory
Capacity 64Gb
RAM size 2Gb
Model Intel Atom X5-Z8100
GPU - Video card
Model HoloLens Graphics
Memory 114Mb Mb
Front camera
Number 2 pc. 1 pc. 2 pc. 2 pc.
Video recording
Headphone input 3.5mm
Voice control
3DoF Turning head
3DoF Rotation tracking
6DoF Positional tracking
Tracking area 5x5 meters
Games 600 3500 600 600
HDMI 1.4
HDMI 2.0
USB 3.0
USB 2.0
USB type-c
Charger connector
Display port support
HDMI support
Version 4.0
USB cable 2
HDMI cable 2
DisplayPort cable
HDMI repeater 1
Headphones 1
Motion controller
SteamVR Tracking
Lighthouse 2
External position sensor in space
Proximity sensor
Immersion 9
Interaction 9
Comfort 6
Ecosystem 7
Setup 6