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HoloLens 2 vs Magic Leap Features: Battle of XR Headsets

If there is anything that defines the last decade, it has to be the rise of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed cross reality (XR) as something that has left the realms of what could be, and become what is. It was always a dream of science fiction writers to have head-worn devices that imprinted virtual worlds onto the real one, and now it’s not only a reality, but these devices are available to anyone willing to pay. And with prices coming down, they are becoming more accessible, but what should you be buying in the near future?

The two major devices currently on the market are HoloLens from Microsoft, and Magic Leap from, well, Magic Leap. These aren’t cheap and nasty devices that rely on your mobile phone to power them, but stand-alone computing systems that you wear. This means that they have all their processing power onboard, making them ideal for use anywhere. Let’s look at the main areas of interest with XR devices and see how these two top-range devices compare.

Processing Capability. The HoloLens 2 keeps it all in the headset, making it the physically bigger of the two, while the Magic Leap keeps the computing separate, and connected by a trailing cable. This means that you have a lighter headset with the Magic Leap but you also have a pint-sized computer stuck in your pocket.

While their specifications may be different – with the HoloLens 2 slightly better – they are both suitably powerful enough to handle the graphics seamlessly, so your AR experience will always be enjoyable with either product.

Control. This is where the two devices really separate. The Magic Leap comes with a hand-held ‘control’ controller, giving the user six-degrees of freedom, but also allows hand tracking via the on-board cameras. The HoloLens 2 relies on hand tracking and this has been much improved for the latest version of the device, easily identifying all ten fingers of the user with ease and allowing excellent manipulation within the system. This is definitely more refined than the Magic Leap.

Display. In terms of the actual visible area, the HoloLens 2 wins again, with Magic Leap losing some of the content on peripheral vision, but the HoloLens isn’t perfect in this department either and has a tendency to cut projections off as they moved out of the holographic part of the display. 

On the face of it the HoloLens 2 would seem to be a clear winner on just about every count, but both devices are currently only available from the company websites, so are price-controlled, and the HoloLens 2 is nearly $1,000 more expensive than the Magic Leap. So, while it is the better device at the moment, it’s probably not $1,000 better! 

Furthermore, Magic Leap has numerous entertainment partnerships, which are clearly directed at consumers rather than enterprise users, so becomes more appealing for the casual user.  Whether there is likely to be a mass market for XR depends upon what developers feel that they can achieve. On top of this, Magic Leap is a good platform, and with HoloLens 2 on the market, they know what they need to do to play catch up, so the next iteration of the Magic Leap is likely to be much better again, but there again, so is the HoloLens 3, when it arrives.

We at Unity Developers have one of the Magic Leap hardware access units and are busy assessing its worth, so watch this space.