Let’s get this right out of the way: HoloLens, Microsoft’s response to the virtual reality resurgence of late, is incredibly cool. It’s not necessarily impressive, but it is undoubtedly neato. You throw it on like any other VR headset but it instead opts for an augmented reality experience, altering what you can already see rather than replacing it wholesale.
If you saw the Microsoft press conference earlier in the week, then you’ve seen what they’re selling you. The Minecraft demo is the goal for the product, and it kind of delivers on that; you certainly are seeing things that aren’t there. The odd part is the field of view.
Namely, it’s not that great. The stage demo and the special camera rig to display it shows it as an all-encompassing experience. It’s not that. Imagine you are peering through another smaller seamless window in the headset about the size of a deck of cards hovering a foot or so in front of you. That’s what you see. It’s disappointing but not necessarily jarring.
Preceding a demo of Halo 5: Guardians, there was a super high to-do about a multiplayer briefing. The area was mocked up to be a UNSC facility with UNSC scientists milling about. It all felt very much like a marketing coma-inducing simulacrum. The lab coats measured our interpupillary distances and then we were sent on our goggled way.
You look to the left down a corridor and what you see is almost unbelievable. It would have been breathtaking if survival in the video game industry required some amount of emotional culling. It was a Halo waypoint. Not a poster of one plastered on the wall or some styrofoam approximation hung from the ceiling. It was a waypoint, counting down the meters until you reached it.
Once you got there, you were directed to another room. In it was a window. Well, not a real one, but one projected by HoloLens. Peering through, you can see all manner of Pelicans and marines and whatnot. This is no longer some PR-purchased estimation of Halo. This suddenly became the UNSC Infinity.
Turning around, there’s a briefing table with a hologram of the Infinity floating there. You can actually use a virtual pointer to spin it around, which was pretty fun just by itself. But then it’s replaced by Spartan commander Sarah Palmer detailing how the new Warzone mode works.
All the while, you can walk around the table, circling the future like a hungry shark. It tracks just as well and you’d like it to with no stuttering or jumping. With no hanging circuitry or wires, the headset is light, too, almost leaving you to forget it’s even there on your noggin.
The magic, however, begins to falter due to the aforementioned viewing real estate. You pretty much have to be backed up all the way to see everything in a way that doesn’t feel like peering through a mail slot. Forcing you to physically accommodate the limitations of the system breaks the sensation of being aboard a UNSC ship and suddenly you’re back in a room with several strangers wearing things on their heads.
It’s an odd feeling, for sure. I’ve worked with this technology before from the engineering and programming side, so knowing its actual limits based on current research and development has tempered by excitement, but experiencing it all in the context of a world I know fairly well makes it smile-inducing all over again.
And knowing it’s still not all quite there similarly curbs giddiness. The field of view is the biggest problem, but it also leads into an issue with proximity. The closer you get, the more the illusion of immersion breaks not only because you stop seeing everything at once but also because you start to see jagged edges and some slightly ragged tracking. It’s at a low degree and a rarity, but it’s enough.
There’s not quite an applicable use for this just yet. There wasn’t much to get from this that you couldn’t get from the Warzone trailer and it’s definitely not plausible for this to exist in every player’s house (not that Microsoft would even consider that option, but still). It was slick, though, and absolutely does the job of getting the idea of what’s possible with HoloLens stuck in your mind.