Microsoft's smartphone killer? Possible future HoloLens takes sunglasses form

Could these prototype sunglasses become part of Microsoft's eventual answer to the smartphone?
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft's prototype holographic sunglasses create a display with an 80-degree horizontal view, a width that usually requires headsets or helmet-sized displays.

Image: Microsoft Research

Microsoft has showed off new techniques it's using to bring holographic projection to a less cumbersome and socially awkward form factor than today's VR headsets.

Microsoft Research has developed a prototype of a pair of normal-looking glasses that can project holograms onto the lens.

The "crude prototype" creates a display with an 80-degree horizontal view, a width that usually requires headsets or helmet-sized displays.

Although the holographic eyewear is a very early prototype for showing holograms in a smaller form factor, Microsoft Research did achieve its goal of demonstrating that defective holographic optics can be corrected.

However, significant hurdles remain to creating a product, including figuring how to create a stereo display. The current prototype is monoscopic.

Still, as Microsoft boasts, it did manage to create high-contrast, high-resolution, and full-color digital holograms in a near-eye display.

Microsoft is also exploring how to reproduce focal depth cues that people use when focusing on different parts of an object. As Microsoft notes, most near-eye systems display everything in the same focus, whereas its prototype is able to display a holographic dragon with each pixel in the correct focus.

A third area it's working on is for users who already need prescription eyeglasses for near- or far-sightedness. Instead of mechanically adjusting the gap between display and lens, which it says doesn't scale so well, Microsoft is exploring a software-based vision correction applied within hologram itself.

"We demonstrate that holographic displays can correct for advanced vision problems entirely in software by pre-distorting the emitted light waves so that they appear correct when viewed by the eye," Microsoft's researchers write.

Microsoft Research presented the prototype and a paper on the techniques at an augmented- and mixed-reality conference last week.

Although Microsoft notes that the hologram project is "not necessarily indicative of any Microsoft product roadmap", it comes as the company hunts for a smartphone-killer.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said the company will make more phones after walking away from its Nokia handsets, only the next device won't look like a phone.

Some inside Microsoft, such as HoloLens creator Alex Kipman, believe Microsoft's headgear, or something like it, will ultimately replace all screens.

Read more about Microsoft HoloLens and smartphones

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