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Is HoloLens 3 Imminent?

With several major players now developing VR/AR/MR equipment, it is easy to forget those that are apparently on the back-burner. Chief amongst these is the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset.

The HoloLens 2 made its appearance back in 2019 – four years after the original equipment – and was hailed as a huge improvement on the HoloLens. However, there was criticism at the time that the HoloLens 2 was great as a commercial tool but offered nothing to the casual or entertainment user. There was also criticism of the display system – the HoloLens 2 employed lasers that emitted light which is directed towards a series of mirrors in front of the users’ eyes. These mirrors rapidly oscillate at a frequency of up to 54,000 cycles per second, enabling the reflected light to create a visual display. The combination of these two components served as the fundamental building blocks for a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) display. 

The fabrication process for MEMS displays had several challenges, particularly in achieving the desired picture projection onto the viewer’s retina. But this system also resulted in other negatives – notably a small display and fairly low resolution. These factors made what could be a great piece of MR equipment into something quite mundane. Interested parties started looking towards the possibility of a HoloLens 3, which would address these issues.

Following the quiet publication of a new patent, there is excitement that Microsoft have actively started developing the HoloLens 3. A few months ago, Microsoft filed patent number WO2023075953 for a modular head-mounted device with a holographic display. While, like all patents, there is nothing too specific – giving the developer room for movement – it most definitely looks like an upgrade to the ideas behind HoloLens 1 and 2.  

Microsoft’s patent describes a head-mounted device that has sensors, waveguide optics, a display, and an image projection device built into its rigid frame and front and back visor lenses. The plan suggests that the hypothetical gadget will be more portable and feature a modular construction, both of which will be beneficial to the device’s enterprise end-users. The user of the headset can adjust the brightness of the display and attach accessories such a headband, VR headset, glasses temples or a helmet, as stated in the description.

The modular design also means that users can tack on further kits to further boost the device’s capabilities. According to the specs, a module that attaches to the device from behind has the potential to supply extra processing power, memory, and even batteries. The on-board computer most likely is.

Microsoft has fallen behind rival virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) producers in the wake of the Hololens’ development setbacks after the device’s initial market release. Microsoft’s XR vision has seemingly taken a back seat after layoffs and relocations of its immersive technology talent, with the majority of the company’s innovation focus shifting towards AI despite widespread use in healthcare, architecture, engineering, military, and education. However, they appear to have prioritised software development over hardware by keeping on board a large number of MR software engineers, and bolstering their technology in that area. It may be smooth sailing from here on out if the hardware issues with HoloLens 3 can be resolved.

Microsoft have confirmed their commitment to the development of an MR headset. Back in late 2022, Microsoft’s Vice President of MR arm, Scott Evans, stated publicly that a new headset design could soon be in the pipeline. But he went on to explain that a third HoloLens device would only arrive once the technology was ready and the company had ironed out all of the technology issues that dogged the HoloLens 2. At the time, Microsoft expressed that a HoloLens 3 device would debut upon the arrival of a significant step up in performance when compared to previous iterations.

Scott Evans also said that no one wants to be obsolete for 10% better capabilities. This meant that the company was committed to developing the successor to the previous HoloLens iterations but are keen to take their time and ensure that this one is really ready to hit the market in terms of hardware. As we know, the software is already up to specification. 

Keep checking back for more updates on the launch of HoloLens 3, as we get them.