All those early prototype images Magic Leap is so fond of showing off are great, but they rank a far second when compared to a new set of images just revealed by Microsoft in relation to the HoloLens.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Microsoft's Bay Area Team posted images of the early prototype devices that led to the eventual release of the HoloLens. Accompanying the images are direct accounts from the team who worked on the device beginning in Sept. 2012, about two years before the company would unveil the device to the public in Jan. 2015 and kick off the next phase of immersive computing in earnest.
"It's no easy feat for a human to see the real world, to place holographic objects alongside real world objects, and to walk around with a headset on without feeling sick," said Patrick Codd, the electrical engineering lead on the early project, on the company's website. "The research that went into what makes humans nauseated, how to prevent that, and how to make images look sharp was not a trivial task."
So while Magic Leap has consistently reminded the public of how far it has come from its early prototype (most recently at GDC), what Microsoft has just proven is that it has also come a long way, and apparently much earlier than Magic Leap. Remember, Magic Leap's "cheesehead" prototype dates back to 2015, roughly two years "after" the HoloLens was well past it early prototype stage. A little math tells us that Microsoft managed to move from clunky prototype to onstage demo device in less than three years, while Magic Leap, in about the same span of time (give or take a few months), has yet to deliver a live, onstage demo of its device.
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"The Microsoft team broke through tons of barriers, had tons of ideas for algorithms and actually made workable hardware that didn't look nice and was plugged into the wall, but worked," said Roy Riccomini, the mechanical product designer who worked on the early HoloLens project. "We were brought in to make it a shippable product." However, these "new" images of the HoloLens prototype aren't exactly new, we caught glimpses of them back in 2015, but this appears to be the first time we've seen the early prototype team members actually wearing the device.
Perhaps the longer timeline on Magic Leap's part will eventually deliver better results than the HoloLens. But regardless, it looks like the HoloLens team has generally been moving faster to make immersive computing a reality, unencumbered by Magic Leap's CIA-level secrecy and an unending stream of dreamy verbiage from company leadership that only stokes mystery rather than true excitement.
Overall, it's getting increasingly difficult to deny it, so we'll just say it: Despite the differing technological underpinning of each device, the war for the near future of head-mounted augmented reality headsets is shaping up to be a direct battle between the HoloLens and the Magic Leap One.
And these latest images from Microsoft aren't just a friendly reminder that HoloLens got to developers first, it's also a signal that Microsoft has no intention of quietly fading into the background as Magic Leap scoops up all the "mixed reality" attention from developers, industry partners, and end users alike.
No, this isn't just tech nostalgia. These early prototype images, and the anecdotes shared along with them, are a mark of pride in what the early HoloLens team accomplished, and a potent hint that HoloLens version two may have a few tricks up its visor that some (Magic Leap included) may not see coming .