HoloLens: First Impressions

A few days back, I managed to get my hands on the Microsoft HoloLens. A moment I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Thankfully, the experience was everything I hoped it would be. It’s really left me wanting more.

My use of the tech wasn’t gaming related. But that didn’t phase me. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Royal Opera House, for a meeting of digital and cultural people. I should probably preface this by noting that I work for the Museum of London, and I help other London museums with their digital work and skills. At the ROH, they’re currently using new tech to revolutionise the way that they create and curate their shows.

Using VR to make life a little easier

You might have heard about how they’re using VR to allow people to experience some of their shows in 360 degrees. But you may have heard less about how they’re using VR and AR to design these shows. Using the VIVE, for instance, they’ve recreated the stage and stands so that they can digitally insert props and sets. Within the VR recreation, they’re able to experiment with different designs, play around with lighting and move around props. It’s an ingenious use for the tech.

What was more impressive, for me at least, was their use of the HoloLens. Whilst the VR version of the Royal Opera House was pretty remarkable, it still felt innately ‘fake’. By which I mean you can tell that you’re in a virtual environment – the tech’s not yet at the stage where it feels as though your interacting with something real. Then you’ve got the HoloLens, which perfectly blends real life with virtual.

HoloLens adds layers to real life

That’s the point of AR, obviously. But before using the HoloLens, much of my experience with AR was overly underwhelming. Gimmicky, is probably the best way to describe it. But the HoloLens completely opened my eyes to the possibilities. The ROH were using the HoloLens for a really simple task. They’d created a virtual version of the staging for an upcoming show – nothing overly spectacular.

But whilst the execution was simple, the effect was superb. In front of you is an empty stage, but shove on the HoloLens and, all of a sudden, it comes alive. You’re surrounded by a whole array of staging, props and effects. They can animate the sets. Move around the props and add or remove major features – all in a matter of minutes. They can then see how it would look in situ, saving the time and cost of physically creating prototypes.

Using AR to add to the experience, rather than being the experience

It was brilliant to see a real world application for the tech. One that actually worked. This is where I see tech like the HoloLens really coming to life. When they add something extra to an experience, rather than being the experience itself. Virtual Reality is an overly singular experience – at present, at least. It’s not necessarily participatory. The HoloLens, however, encourages you to explore your real environment, to interact with others and remain relatively cemented in the real world.

I think that’s what’s most exciting about the tech. That it’ll be augmenting real life, rather than trying to replace it. That’s what I enjoyed most about my experience using the HoloLens, at least. Now if only I had £3,000 laying around.

But what about you? Are you interested by the HoloLens, or are you more intrigued by VR? Let me know in the comments below!