Microsoft’s got an amazing, futuristic headset that’s poised to change how we all use computers. It’s called HoloLens, and it’s genuinely incredible: a standalone computer as a headset that maps the world around you, enabling the user to insert their digital life into reality.
All the items in this image marked with a red arrow are actually holograms, only viewable by the person wearing the HoloLens headset:
And that’s no joke — HoloLens really does this, as I’ve personally experienced twice now. It’s incredibly impressive.
There is, of course, one major catch: while wearing the headset, the view of the world that HoloLens creates is far more limited than what the image above would have you believe. Here’s the video that image is cribbed from, depicting Microsoft’s vision of what HoloLens can do for your life:
In the video, the man wearing the headset is able to walk around his apartment with holograms surrounding him, coming to life all over the room.
That’s only kind of accurate.
The actual experience of wearing HoloLens is similar, but the holograms are only visible through a relatively small window in the headset. Though you can see the world around you, the holograms only show up if you look through a relatively constrained “window.” Not an actual cutout window, but a rectangular space where HoloLens alters the world you see with holograms. Like this:
You need to look directly into that window to view anything. If the man in the video wants to see what’s happening on the TV screen he projected onto the wall, he needs to look directly at it. If he’s looking anywhere else, it disappears.
This was the experience I had with a recent demo of HoloLens, playing Microsoft-owned (and enormously popular) game “Minecraft.” Microsoft actually demonstrated this on stage during the company’s Xbox press conference at the annual game industry trade show, E3, which happened last week in Los Angeles. It looked like this:
Impressive, right? The demo I tried was nearly as impressive, except for the nagging feeling that I was looking into a world through a limited window rather than the holograms simply being part of the world around me. All holograms immediately disappear when outside of your viewing window.
It’s honestly very eerie seeing “real” things in the world in front of you pop in and out of existence. Instead of feeling like reality is being altered with holograms, it’s as though you’re looking through a window into another version of your reality. Which, yes, is just as weird as it sounds.
Here’s a better example of what was shown on stage:
And even that image isn’t perfect, because the hologram is still showing up outside of the lightened window — in reality, when using HoloLens, any holograms outside of that window straight up disappear.
For its part, Microsoft has repeatedly said that the HoloLens headsets demonstrated thus far are prototypes, and the specs are subject to change. That said, Microsoft has also repeatedly said the the viewing window — the field of view — will not change dramatically between now and when the headsets become commercially available.
When that will happen is another question altogether; Microsoft’s only said the headset will launch “in the Windows 10 launch timeframe.” Given that Windows 10 launches on July 29, it sounds like you’ll be able to experience HoloLens for yourself sooner than later.