HoloLens uncensored: A candid hands-on with HoloLens Development Edition

Forget about curated HoloLens experiences at Microsoft's Build conference. Here's a deep dive into how the HoloLens Development Edition performs when no one's watching.

microsoft hololens mark hachman build 2016
Adam Patrick Murray

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It felt like an undercover operation: On Tuesday night, while Microsoft executives were rehearsing their keynote presentations for Microsoft Build, I was in a hotel room next door to the conference venue, testing out what everyone would be coming to see: the HoloLens Development Edition. 

This is actually the third time I’ve gone hands-on with HoloLens hardware, and it's clear Microsoft has used the last 15 months of HoloLens development to craft a remarkably polished experience. 

Microsoft has already detailed some of the amazing games and apps that will ship with the HoloLens Development Edition, but last night I demoed something new: a proof-of-concept HoloLens business app for Citi created by a company called 8ninths (I'll cover this experience in detail in an accompanying article). Microsoft plans to let Build attendees use the HoloLens to virtually walk on Mars and play with Actiongrams, but on Tuesday I had a chance to boot up HoloLens and try it out in much less controlled conditions: in the real-world confines of a hotel room. Sans Microsoft employees.

The best part: I still haven’t felt the faintest hint of nausea while using HoloLens. This alone might convince VR holdouts to try augmented reality instead.

Surprisingly comfortable

What’s new in the HoloLens? There’s one major improvement that many may never notice: Previous versions required you to dial in your inter-pupillary distance to ensure that the HoloLens doesn't make you dizzy. But now that’s apparently handled automatically.

Physically, the HoloLens remains virtually unchanged. It still resembles a hard plastic sun visor with a pair of sunglasses mounted in front. At just over one pound, I still find it surprisingly comfortable to wear. You’ll need to tighten a small dial in back to ensure that its gently padded headband rests on the brim of your head. And don’t let the weight dip down on your nose, as it can squeeze your holographic field of view down to a narrow wedge. But you can also tip the visor hinge down at an angle if you need to.

Microsoft HoloLens Mark Hachman

Just spin the wheel to tighten or loosen the Microsoft HoloLens. A power button is to the left, and an RFID tag (for security) is to the right.

As before, the HoloLens includes two sets of buttons. The left buttons control the brightness of the holograms, while the right buttons control audio volume. The HoloLens places a pair of small, surround-sound speakers next to your ears. I found the volume loud enough to mostly drown out other sounds, but soft enough so that I could tell other people in the room were talking. That's augmented reality in a nutshell, really. 

Keep the lights down low

Virtual reality (like Oculus Rift) surrounds your head in a bubble of digital data. Augmented reality, meanwhile, superimposes holograms over the real world. Nonetheless, with HoloLens it still helps to keep the shades drawn. Indeed, the HoloLens' holographic images washed out when I viewed them against pale walls.

What's more, when we opened the drapes to get more light in the room, the HoloLens suddenly freaked out, crashing the app we were using. No one in the room was quite sure why that happened, but it suggests that HoloLens is going to be an indoor toy. If nothing else, this version may be unable to accommodate a sharp changes in lighting.

Microsoft HoloLens Mark Hachman

Two pairs of buttons adjust the Microsoft HoloLens hologram brightness, and volume.

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