Unlike other head-mounted computing systems in the works, Microsoft’s new glasses-based virtual reality device, HoloLens, doesn’t need to be connected to a phone or computer. ”We’ve unlocked the screen,” one developer said during the presentation at its Windows 10 event this afternoon.
Similar to existing Kinect technology on the Xbox, HoloLens allows wearers to interact with computer programs and games in three dimensions, using their hands and speaking commands.
During the presentation, a developer walked onstage wearing HoloLens, and used her finger and a 3D-modeling program called Holo Studio to build a quadcopter drone before the audience, which could then be sent to a 3D printer.
Microsoft also showed a video of a NASA scientist sitting at a computer wearing HoloLens glasses, then stepping away from the desk into an immersive hologram of the surface of Mars. It’s not yet Star Trek’s Holodeck (video), but it’s not so far off.
Microsoft was the ruler of the desktop era, but was crushed by the smartphone boom. With HoloLens, the company seems to be placing itself at the front of the queue for what it sees as the next wave—the virtual era.
The issue, as with Google Glass and any new in-your-face technology, is whether the average person will be prepared to wear something so bulky and obvious. That being said, there must have been a time when walking down the street using a mobile phone, or even sitting at a desk in front of a screen, looked equally jarring.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to Quartz’ request for information on when the HoloLens would be available, or how much it will cost.
One note on the terminology that Microsoft chose: Microsoft repeated said that HoloLens produced “holograms.” (Oculus Rift, the other prominent virtual headset eventually making its way to the market, refers its imagery as “virtual reality,” and Google Glass has “augmented reality.”) Merriam-Webster says a hologram is a “three-dimensional image reproduced from a pattern of interference produced by a split coherent beam of radiation,” meaning a hologram would really be projected in the air, not onto a pair of glasses.
Microsoft hasn’t yet announced the kind of holograms that science fiction movies have led us to expect, but it seems to have created a new lexicon to differentiate itself from its competitors.