Now HoloLens is no longer an American-only luxury, I finally got to try it. And it's that good.
No, I didn't lose my mind and part with approaching £3,000 to buy one, but Microsoft was kind enough to let the public try one out at the Insomnia Gaming Festival. One being the word, because that's all there was, and it was fully booked for three days.
I'm familiar with VR, but HoloLens is something completely new and an experience that's hard to properly imagine until you've tried it. To say it's better than I ever imagined would be under selling it.
The first thing that's a big difference compared to any other head mounted display you may have tried is the lack of wires. This makes a big difference to overall comfort, especially when standing as I was because you don't have to worry about tripping over things. The HoloLens headset itself isn't exactly heavy, but it does feel quite firm when you put it on for the first time.
I'm used to the cushioning you get around your face on VR headsets, the HoloLens doesn't have this. I wouldn't call it uncomfortable, but it's a different type of comfort. I only had a short trial with it, but I'd reserve any final judgement here as the real test is how it feels after an extended period of time.
It sits on the head quite nicely, too, and adjusts a little like my own PlayStation VR with a simple wheel to tighten it up. After all, you don't want your 3 grand sliding towards the floor.
What I've heard the most complaints about regarding HoloLens prior to my own use is the field of view. I understand the criticisms, but I also think they're a little misguided and exaggerated. Yes, it's limited, but it's also not VR. HoloLens isn't creating an entire world in front of you, it's augmenting the one you exist in. Hence "augmented reality." At times you need to move your head around to locate what you should be looking at, but the focus is always in front of your eyes. Which is where it should be.
And honestly, in VR you're never looking at what's at the side of you or behind you. Except when you move and it's in front of you. Exactly the same here. Except you're not always seeing pixels in your peripheral vision.
What you do see that is digital looks a lot sharper than I'd expected. Being at a gaming event, I naturally tried a game (some kind of alien-robot-shooter-thing) and it looked great. Bright colors, sharp graphics and terrific sound. The spatial audio seemed on point with any VR I've tried in recent times, something that's just as important as the graphics for the immersive experience.
Perhaps what I'm most impressed by is the way HoloLens projects images onto the surroundings. The black walls in the photos were bare for a reason; those were the surfaces upon which the alien beasts burst through. And I could blow the wall itself to pieces, too, revealing pipes and such behind. The accuracy was perfect. It really did look as though terrifying things were approaching from the walls.
And while I don't particularly suffer from motion sickness, stints in VR do make my eyes feel a bit sore. I may have only tried HoloLens for a short time, but I felt as fresh coming out of it as I did going in. The difference in experience and that you can see the real world I think makes a big difference and will make wearing HoloLens for long periods less of a drain on the eyes.
So, the verdict? I've been skeptical of how good HoloLens could really be, but once you try it all that goes away. I only tested it from a gaming perspective, but even here there's lots of potential beyond just playing Minecraft on your coffee table.
This technology is incredibly exciting. I can't wait to see it at a more consumer friendly price point. Because you're going to want to try it.