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Has Microsoft HoloLens helped augmented reality overtake virtual reality?

Our VR Mavens discuss the impact of the new holographic headset
Has Microsoft HoloLens helped augmented reality overtake virtual reality?
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While everyone else (with the possible exception of Magic Leap) has been chasing after virtual reality as the next big gaming revolution, Microsoft casually blew our minds by announcing its entry into the augmented reality race instead, just as Google pulled back.

Early tests of the HoloLens have been cautiously optimistic and no small amount of attention has been snatched away from the likes of the Oculus Rift as we're forced to ponder whether augmented reality might trump virtual reality.

It now looks as though it may not be such a simple decision for gamers when the day comes between choosing AR or VR.

It's a question that's likely to remain without a solid answer until both options are commercially available, but we've asked our VR Mavens to chime in on the subject and give us their predictions for how HoloLens might affect reality gaming.

Does Microsoft's HoloLens announcement show the VR/AR market demands more sophistication that offered by solutions such as Google Glass?

Neal Nellans

Neal Nellans

CEO at Ghost Machine

I think that the HoloLens is a unique twist on the AR/VR revolution.

The problem that Google faced, and one that Microsoft must address in the future, is how will developers build an experience that will encourage adoption and bring in new users.

The HoloLens
The HoloLens

In order of this new technology to gain mainstream appeal, the service that the device provides must radically improve or exceed what currently exists, primarily being the smartphone.

If the device is simply an additional extension to the Windows ecosystem, or to the Xbox platform, it will lack the usability to entice casual users to buy it and never reach mainsteam appeal.

Microsoft clearly has the resources to produce a useful and technologically advanced device, but it remains to be proven that there is sufficient interest from the public to support it.

Jeff Minter

Jeff Minter

Co-Founder at Llamasoft

I think AR has a bit of a steeper hill to climb than VR with regard to 'sophistication'.

With VR you're wearing the gear with the express purpose of closing off reality and going to do something specific elsewhere for a while. People already wear quite silly-looking gear for specific sports - bike hats and ski goggles don't exactly look like high fashion but we're happy to put them on to enjoy those sports.

“AR has got to pass the "Would I use this on the bus?" test.”
Jeff Minter

With AR though, you're going to be wearing stuff out and about in the real world, interacting with people in public places, and it's got to pass the "would I use this on the bus?" test.

I think Glass showed that if you make the gear obtrusive, it'll be seen in a negative light by people who see you wearing it.

I suspect that AR will only start to break through to mainstream when the gear can be made as unobtrusive as ordinary glasses, and, at least in the short term, I wonder if trying to put everything in the glasses is overambitious.

Perhaps having the glasses just handle display and location information and wirelessly hand off the processing to a locally held CPU - such as we all have in our pockets anyway these days - might be a better way to go. Oh, and leave the camera on the phone; no matter how innocent the intent I think people will always be distrustful of unobtrusive cameras.

Google Glass was unobtrusive but the camera was an unexpected issue
Google Glass was unobtrusive but the camera was an unexpected issue

I'm sure it will get there, and perhaps a solution such as Microsoft's with larger headgear will work to get things started in the short term, but in the longer term AR needs to become unobtrusive before it's suitable for prolonged public use.

For VR that's not so much of a problem as it's a specialised activity that you'll likely be doing at home anyway.

Stan Kuhn

Stan Kuhn

Founder at Live Game Board

These concepts are always fascinating, and that's where the world of wearables and AR certainly leads to.

We have just prepared beta version or our game Monsters which you can play in mixed/blended reality in front of you just as Minecraft was shown by Microsoft.

While the Microsoft HoloLens seems promising, right now it's still just a vision.

Tom Beardsmore

Tom Beardsmore

Creative Director at Coatsink Software

“AR has more difficult, and different challenges to overcome compared to VR.”
Tom Beardsmore

Oculus' route over the past few years has shown that not only is high fidelity in VR in great demand, but that it's right around the corner.

I've not tried either Glass or HoloLens so I'm less sure about whether AR has reached market potential yet.

There are more difficult, and different challenges to overcome than there are in VR.

It's clear, however, that Microsoft appears to be approaching AR in a different way than Google; more as a home or indoor device than Glass's wear-on-the-street design.

Ana Ribeiro

Ana Ribeiro

Indie game designer

I see HoloLens as a natural way of using technology. The way we use tech these days feels wrong. We separate ourselves from others because we're constantly holding a device in our hands.

“HoloLens will dominate the mobile market.”
Ana Ribeiro

The interesting thing is that it connects data with our reality pretty well. It'll be a transformation on the way we behave as individuals, and especially in society.

HoloLens will dominate the mobile market, and I wonder what Apple is developing right now.

AR will be the new way to interact with technology, which will be used by everyone. I don´t think it will be a big thing for gamers, who always prefer a more immersive experience. And VR is the one for this.

To be honest I'm more interested and excited to work with VR at the moment. The idea of travelling to different realities is what excites me the most and the stronger media for this is still VR.

Guy Ben-dov

Guy Ben-dov

Executive Vice President Business Development, HD games at Anzu

VR and AR are two different propositions, and it's time to separate them given the unique experiences each display technology provides.

In VR, low cost goggles are winning mass market hearts over the more sophisticated VR solutions that are required by premium VR users.

“We're still in research mode and exploration of market segments [for AR].”
Guy Bendov

AR is still very early. We see a wider array of form factors of AR headsets. This suggests that we're still in research mode and exploration of market segments. There might be a light version (like Glass, which, to be fair, graduated from Google Labs and is not dead just yet) and a pro version, like the HoloLens.

Based on the HoloLens vision video, Microsoft's headset providers a surrounding AR display and can provide way more display options, at the cost of a heavier headset. It seems it's geared for the pro market segment, a safer first-step into the AR market and maybe a gateway into the VR headset market.

Scott Harber

Scott Harber

Owner at Sc0tt Games

I think it's less about sophistication and more a case of Google misunderstanding the VR/AR market.

It's self-evident in their promotional videos. Google Glass aimed to become part of everyday life, depicting a man shopping and navigating a city with the help of an on-screen HUD. Meanwhile, HoloLens is positioned as more of a tool for leisure and productivity, depicting people using it in office environments, or using it at home to watch TV and play games.

HoloLens - something to wear inside, not outside
HoloLens - something to wear inside, not outside

In retrospect, the latter was the wiser solution, because it addresses the human aspect of augmented reality. Frankly, no one wants to walk around in public wearing an AR headset.

Having a thousand dollar device on your face that's designed to partially rob you of your visual awareness makes you a target for theft. Not to mention the socially awkward aspects of talking to thin air in public, on a video call that only you can see.

“No one wants to walk around in public wearing an AR headset.”
Scott Harber

All of this is before we get into the creepy implications of putting voice-activated digital cameras on everyone's heads.

However, offering a similar experience in the privacy of your own home, or in your office, is much more socially acceptable.

At home, it means that you can own a virtual TV screen of infinitely-adjustable size, or play Minecraft on your kitchen table. In your office, you can plug it into your 3D modelling software and pretend to be Tony Stark while you work. And most importantly, in those environments, no one cares that you're talking to yourself with an awkward-looking device over your eyes.