When the Oculus Rift hits next year, it will be a landmark moment for virtual reality, and a paradigm shift in how we interact with software. But what’s going on with Microsoft’s HoloLens, those future-forward eyeglasses that promise to float holograms in the environment all around us?
Early reports say that the experience is incredibly lifelike, but with one big catch: The holographic field of view is relatively small. Rather than an immersive view of virtual holograms all around you, The Verge describes the effect to be “like looking through a letterbox.” And they point to this new video, posted by Microsoft, as the most accurate rendition of what it’s actually like to use HoloLens that’s come yet. (Specifically, focus in on 0:48, 1:24, and 1:37 to get a good look at the letterbox effect.)
It’s too bad, because Microsoft looks to be making technical tradeoffs in order to ship this device at a reasonable price point. But as a member of Samsung’s VR team told me recently, the worst thing that can happen in this strange new world of video headsets is for people to have lousy or underwhelming experiences because they’ll write the technology off. It’s too early to condemn HoloLens v1 just yet, but why wouldn’t Microsoft just start at the absolute high end? Charge $10,000 if you have to, but prove out the experience and blow people away. Iterate to make the technology smaller and cheaper, and by the time consumers can afford it, their curiosity will be fully piqued.
Ultimately, HoloLens is a much more ambitious project than Oculus Rift. But if HoloLens can’t deliver an articulate vision of its future from day one, there may not be a day two or three for Microsoft’s platform.