Technology

Mixed reality is not for home: What is Microsoft HoloLens 2 for $ 3,500 better than the first version?

Yesterday, Microsoft opened pre-order for HoloLens 2 -"Only" for $ 3,500 - and by the end of the year, will begin shipping the devices. However, the company decided to sell them only to corporate customers who want to supply their workers with these headsets. At the moment, the company has not even announced a version for developers. If we compare the second version of the device with HoloLens, which we saw four years ago, it is better in almost everything. It is more convenient, it has a wider viewing angle, better detects the physical objects in the room.

Also added new components - such as the Azure Kinect sensor, ARM processor, eye movement sensors and a completely new display system.

Microsoft HoloLens 2: Mixed Reality Headset for Plants

The headset has a pair of speakers, liftingtransparent shield, and the movements of your hands are read more accurately than before. For video conferencing, an 8-megapixel front-facing video camera is built-in, and the USB-C port is used for charging. In short, HoloLens 2 is loaded with new technologies to the eye. But couldn’t that be the case four years later?

The biggest complaint about the first HoloLens wassimple: you could only see holograms in a relatively small box right in front of you. Turn your head a little bit and they disappear. Worse, their edges disappeared, even if you looked directly at them. It seemed as if you were looking at the digital world through a tiny rectangle.

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The field of view in HoloLens 2 is twice as large. It does not completely fill your field of view - it is still limited - but it is large enough now so that you are not annoyed by extraneous icons. Microsoft claims that every eye has the equivalent of a display with a 2K resolution, but it’s better to take it as a metaphor than for exact specifications. The exact specification sounds like “holographic density of 47 pixels per degree,” which means “pixel density is high enough for you to read an 8-point font.”

As a rule, when a technical product receivesimproved technical characteristics, as in this case, this is due to the apparent strength of the technical iteration: faster processors, larger batteries, more RAM, and so on. But this strategy would not work for HoloLens 2 display. It should have become lighter, not harder. Therefore, Microsoft had to completely switch to another kind of display technology.

Lasers and mirrors

Laser displays are what computers need.on faces. Intel’s Vaunt project used lasers, and so did North Focals smart glasses. Although Microsoft uses the same basic components, it moves in a different direction and goes much further in development.

Lasers in HoloLens 2 shine on a series of mirrors,which oscillate at a speed of 54,000 cycles per second, so that the reflected light can color the display. These two parts together form the basis of a microelectromechanical display system (MEMS). It is quite difficult to do this, but the most difficult part of the MEMS display is to display the image directly on the eyeball.

One of the solutions that companies usedlike North, is a holographic film on the lens that reflects the image directly to your retina. This design has many drawbacks: a tiny display and a low resolution, among other things. But part of the problem is simply to ensure that the display is directed directly into the eyes. North glasses are personalized, and the image may completely disappear in case of alignment violation.

Microsoft doesn't want to deal with suchproblems, therefore, turned to the same schemes that were in the first HoloLens: waveguides. These are pieces of glass in front of your eyes, which are carefully etched so as to reflect the holograms in front of your eyes. Waveguides on HoloLens 2 have become easier because Microsoft uses two glass sandwich plates instead of three.

Putting the whole system together - lasers, mirrorsand wave guides - you get a brighter display with a wider field of view, which doesn't necessarily have to look you in the eye for work. Zulfi Alam, general manager for Optics Engineering at Microsoft, argues that Microsoft is ahead of the development of such systems and that waveguides are necessary for mixed reality. “For the next two or three years there will be no competitors who could come close to this level of accuracy in waveguides,” he says.

Need a wider field of view? Easily. Simply increase the angle of the mirrors reflecting the laser light. A wider angle means a larger image.

Looking for brighter images? Even easier. In order for lasers to produce too small dots, they must have a supply of light. Of course, we have to deal with the fact that the waveguides lose a ton of light, but the 500-nit display also seems bright enough. Microsoft itself hopes to make them much brighter in the final version, depending on the cost of power.

Want to see holograms, not bothering muchwith the fit of your headset? And it is simple. Waveguide does not require special fitting or measurement. You can simply put on a headset and get started. She may also be far enough in front of your eyes so you can wear your glasses.

Simple, easy, simple, right? But in reality, it's all so damn complicated. Microsoft had to create a completely new etching system for waveguides. I had to figure out how to direct the light to the right place in the waveguides, almost photon by photon. “We simulate every photon coming from a laser,” says Alam. The light from the laser is not simply reflected: it splits into parts, into many colors, and then recovers in the right places on the waveguides. “The movement of each photon is calculated and predetermined,” says Alam. This requires a huge amount of computing power, so Microsoft had to develop its own hardware.

And although it is much easier to align with the waveguide,This does not mean that everything is perfect. That is why on the nose there are two tiny cameras aimed at your eyeballs. They allow HoloLens 2 to automatically measure the distance between your pupils and adjust the image accordingly. These cameras also allow HoloLens 2 to adjust the image vertically if it is tilted or if your eyes are not perfectly level. (And they are not even. Sorry).

One of the advantages of such cameras is that theycan scan the retina to safely enter HoloLens 2. After all, they run on Windows and support Windows Hello. They also track where you look, allowing you to interact with users in new ways.

And to the issue of power: lasers, oscillating mirrors, and special chips for all of these calculations, obviously, consume a lot of battery power. But Alam says that despite all this, less energy is still needed than in the alternative. Mirrors oscillate in resonance, so you need less energy to move them - this is a kind of fastest metronomes. Lasers also have less losses than LEDs, and a specialized stone can be optimized for a specific task.

"We are moving towards a form factor that will truly be in the form of points, and all these steps are important in this journey."

All these technologies, of course, are impressive, but notIt is necessary to overestimate image quality. Now Microsoft shows not yet finished product. Tiny halos appear around some holograms, sometimes everything jumps. Most of the functions based on the nose scanners are also not included. However, compared to the first HoloLens, this is no longer a 20-minute annoying demo. This is really a useful thing with the right software.

For workers, not consumers

HoloLens 2 is sold only to corporations, notto consumers. They are designed for the so-called "first-line workers": people in car shops, factories, in the operating room and in the field. They are designed for people who work with their hands and who are inconvenient to use a computer or smartphone in their daily work. Alex Kipman wants to replace a splattered Windows 2000 computer in a corner of a work room. Roughly the same thing Google wanted to do with Glass.

"If you think about 7 billion people in the world,such as you and me - mental workers - will be in the minority, ”says Kipman. For him, the workers will probably repair jet engines. Perhaps selling something somewhere in the retail space. Perhaps it will be doctors who operate you in the operating room.

These are people who, in a sense, did not have access to the technologies that fit in their hands, because PCs, tablets and phones practically interfere with such work.

Fair And this is fully consistent with Microsoft’s new focus on meeting corporate needs rather than trying to release popular consumer products. Yes, it is not so beautiful, but it will work more likely.

In addition, Kipman believes that HoloLensnot good enough to be a real product for the mass market of consumer technologies. “This is the best, highest indicator of what can be achieved in the field of mixed reality, but I will tell you that this is still not a consumer product,” he says.

Why? Because it is not as immersed as you would like. This parameter is twice as good as the previous version, but still not good enough to surprise a person from the street. And the price should fall at least below $ 1,000. The product is simply not ready for everyone.

Kipman says that Microsoft did not spend on advertising such products. She did not promote virtual reality. She did not promote augmented reality. And it will not promote mixed reality.

However, he is a little privy - we saw a lotcustom applications for HoloLens, including Minecraft. So the transition to the commercial market has definitely become a turning point. But this turn fits into Microsoft's large corporate strategy. And the fact that this product is not consumer does not mean that it is not important for the company.

Alex Kipman thinks we are on the threshold"The third era of computing". First, PCs with their open architecture appeared, then phones with their closed app stores appeared, and now he hopes that mixed reality headsets will bring the pendulum back to openness, as Microsoft plans to open HoloLens. The headset works with Microsoft cloud services, but will work with others. Kipman says that HoloLens and Azure are "loosely tied, but tightly pressed."

The main thing is that Microsoft believes that mixed reality will be something big. And it fits perfectly into the concept of the "mirror world", which tipped the future of the third major platform.

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