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5 Things To Know About Microsoft's HoloLens 2 Mixed Reality Headset

HoloLens 2 shows great potential over HoloLens 1 in terms of better compute power, the Azure Kinect Integration for full hand tracking and potentially object recognition, a larger field of view, eye tracking, USB-C charging and potentially accessories, and its balanced design, according to DataMesh CEO Jie Li, whose company has been testing the mixed reality headset.

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, the second generation of its mixed reality headset, is expected to start shipping this year.

Microsoft executive vice president of artificial intelligence and research Harry Shum, speaking at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai today, said the device would be available as soon as September.

But Microsoft, which unveiled the HoloLens 2 at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona in February and has been accepting pre-orders, would not confirm the exact timing of the headset’s availability. The company previously said HoloLens 2 initially would be available in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand.

“As we announced in February, Microsoft HoloLens 2 will begin shipping later this year,” a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement. “We have started collecting expressions of interest for HoloLens 2 pre-orders and, as part of our standard practice for gathering feedback, have shared near-final prototypes with some customers, but have not announced a date for general availability.”

Microsoft released its first HoloLens in 2016 and, since then, mixed reality has transformed the way work is done at construction sites and factory floors to operating rooms and classrooms – even the International Space Station -- Julia White, Microsoft Azure’s corporate vice president said in a February blog post about HoloLens 2.

At Microsoft’s Inspire partner conference last month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the “mixed-reality cloud” was a new commercial opportunity that’s being unlocked.

“It's [the] bridging of business process and any application across the boundaries of what's virtual and what's physical,” Nadella said. “HoloLens 2 is an absolute breakthrough.”

New Features

HoloLens 2 is designed to be more immersive and comfortable.

Microsoft said it’s improved its visual display system, so holograms are more vibrant and realistic, allowing text and intricate details of 3D images to be viewed more easily, at lower power. It’s also doubled the headset’s field of view, which it said is akin to moving from a 720-pixel resolution television to a 2K television for each of a user’s eyes. The headset’s new time-of-flight depth sensor combines with built-in artificial intelligence and semantic understanding to enable the direct manipulation of holograms, allowing users to touch, grasp and move them and have them respond more like real-world physical objects.

Features aimed at wearability include a light carbon fiber material and a new “dial-in fit” mechanism that allows for more ease and comfort in putting on and wearing the headset.

Microsoft also has announced that open-source web browser company Mozilla was creating a prototype Firefox Reality browser for HoloLens2.

The HoloLens 2 also can be customized to fit customers’ particular needs for the environments in which they work.

DataMesh Testing Of HoloLens2

DataMesh, which provides enterprise solutions that streamline data collection, distribution and collaboration, is one of Microsoft’s mixed-reality partners that’s been testing HoloLens 2 and porting apps in the last few months, according to CEO Jie Li.

HoloLens 2 shows great potential over HoloLens 1 in terms of better compute power, the Azure Kinect Integration for full hand tracking and potentially object recognition, the larger field of view, eye tracking, USB-C charging and potentially accessories, and its balanced design, according to Li, whose company has offices in Beijing, Redmond, Wash., and Tokyo.

“We are already working with several manufacturing and service industry customers to enable them with our Digital Twin solutions,” the DataMesh CEO said. “One of the projects is to create a full simulator for heavy machinery operator training overseas – 300 (to) 400 locations -- and HoloLens 2 is the only device currently capable of delivering the minimal experience for real operation, not just a demo. We are expecting much greater adoption in every industry during HoloLens 2’s lifecycle.”

HoloLens 2 Apps And Solutions

Microsoft and its mixed-reality partners are developing applications for HoloLens 2.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 solutions include Remote Assist, a mixed-reality tool for collaboration among employees working together from different locations; Dynamics 365 Guides, which helps employees learn by doing with step-by-step instructions and is available in preview; and Dynamics 365 Layout, which allows users to design spaces and walk others through them at a real-world scale.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based software developer Trimble plans to release the Trimble XR10 with HoloLens 2, a hard hat version of HoloLens 2 for front-line construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing workers deployed in safety-controlled environments. The hat, which will work in conjunction with Trimble’s cloud-based Trimble Connect for HoloLens collaboration platform, has a suggested retail price of $4,750.

Partner Anticipation

Myplanet managing director Greg Fields said employees of the Toronto-based software development firm can’t wait to get their hands on HoloLens 2.

“We see pent-up demand by enterprise companies for the ability to collaborate on complex product definition with employees located around the world, where everyone feels present,” said Fields, whose company is a Microsoft mixed-reality partner. “The new HoloLens 2, with Azure Cloud, promises to give teams crazy high-resolution renders of 3D versions of products that teams can collaborate on building, all before a product is physically produced. This technology could, sincerely, allow teams to decrease time and cost of building and testing products, allowing everyone to be lean and agile.”

Microsoft mixed-reality partner BGC Engineering, a Vancouver-based consulting firm that provides professional services in applied earth sciences, said it’s ready to take advantage of the improved ergonomics, resolution and user experience advantages that will come with the release of HoloLens 2.

“In anticipation of the release of HoloLens 2, we have upgraded the development of our Ada Platform holographic visualization software to use MRTK2, which is Microsoft’s development toolkit for the new hardware,” said Keith Lay, BGC Engineering’s digital marketing manager.

As one of Microsoft's earliest mixed-reality agency partners, technology and creative design company U.Group has been working with the original HoloLens since nearly the beginning and is extremely excited about the potential of the HoloLens 2, according to Jordan Higgins, head of immersive experience at the Arlington, Va.-based company.

“It's an evolutionary step in comfort with a near 50/50 weight distribution that makes it more comfortable for longer periods of time which, with our work in immersive training, will mean longer sessions and more results,” Higgins said. “We're also really excited about the new user interface and interaction capabilities, which will enable new ways of user interacting with holographic content and experiences. Azure's new mixed-reality cloud services will also be a huge step forward, with things like spatial anchors driving transformative (internet of things) and digital twin solutions with real-world physical locations and remote rendering, allowing for much higher quality holographic content. We're excited to see how it will help our customers in the NFL and military train more effectively and unlock new ways of visualizing data in the world around us for the modern workforce."

HoloLens 2 Pricing

HoloLens 2 is priced at $3,500 per device, but there also are bundled packages.

Bundles with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist start at $125 per month, per user.

The HoloLens 2 Development Edition, which includes free trials of Unity Pro software and PiXYZ Plugin along with $500 in Microsoft Azure credits, is $3,500 per device or $99 per month.

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