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Hello HoloLens: Virtual New Reality for the Real New Year

Microsoft could be about to turn the promise of virtual reality into, well, a reality, said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. The company unveiled a prototype of the Microsoft HoloLens, a “wondrous” pair of high-tech glasses that overlay three-dimensional holograms onto the environment around you. During one demonstration, I put on the headset and saw a scene from the video game Minecraft superimposed on a real living room. A Microsoft minder showed me how to use my hands to select a virtual hammer—a tool in the game—and instructed me to smash the coffee table in front of me. “She wanted me, in other words, to use a digital object to interact with a real one.” I waved my index finger, brought the hammer down, and was stunned by what happened: The coffee table shattered into digital splinters and then disappeared. “HoloLens had perfectly erased the coffee table from the environment.”

This device isn’t just a fancy toy, said Jessi Hempel in Microsoft thinks it will usher in “the next era of computing,” in which workers will one day swap their keyboards and monitors for virtual reality headsets and “compute in the physical world, using voice and gesture to summon data and layer it atop physical objects.” I got a glimpse of this new reality in a hands-on test with HoloLens. I sculpted a digital model of a plastic snowman that could be produced on a 3-D printer and had a holographic Skype call with a motorcycle designer in Spain, who helped me “paint a three-dimensional fender atop a physical prototype.” The big question is whether a tech dinosaur like Microsoft can perfect HoloLens without messing it up, Devindra Hardawar in “Given its history, there’s no guarantee it won’t.” The last time the company released a supposedly groundbreaking product, in 2012, the laptop-tablet hybrid Surface, it was “a fiery train wreck of a device that I wanted to catapult out the window.”

Still, HoloLens already looks as if it has more potential than Google Glass, said Christina Warren in Glass was designed to be an always-on “smart companion” that users would wear in the car, at work, and at home—something few people wanted to do. The HoloLens, in contrast, is “something a person would only wear for short stretches of time” and for specific tasks, such as playing a video game or holding a teleconference. “By setting the expectation that HoloLens isn’t something you wear all the time,” Microsoft could make it into “an experience that you eventually want to have everywhere.”

-As seen in The Week
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