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Are Microsoft's HoloLens glasses cool or not?

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Reuters/Microsoft Corp./File

(Read caption) Microsoft Corp on Wednesday unveiled the holographic lens device that allows users to see three-dimensional renderings of computer-generated images. The device has no wires and looks like a visor. It ups the stakes in the emerging market for virtual reality, being targeted by Facebook Inc's Oculus.

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On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that it will dive into the virtually untapped world of holographic computing with their upcoming HoloLens. But before you go imagining Star Trek-like holodecks, where Data dresses like Sherlock Holmes to solve crime, allow us to adjust your expectations a bit. A lot more like Virtual Reality than a true hologram, it requires the user to wear a headset to see 3D "holograms" that can interact with the environment around them.

Like Google Glass Glued to a Kinect

To over-simplify it (in a way that would probably make the Microsoft engineers weep), HoloLens is essentially an Xbox Kinect glued to two Google Glasses, then fit into a pair of giant sunglasses (like the kind grandma wears after she's been to the eye doctor's). The two Google Glass-like projectors display a stereoscopic image onto the sunglass lenses, tricking the users eyes into seeing 3D images. The Kinect-like bit gives the headset spatial recognition, the images that the user sees can interact with the environment.

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In this way, the images that HoloLens "projects" don't have to be floating in space, but can be "attached" to a point in real space. Imagine, HoloLens can hang a virtual calendar on your real wall! Or a 3D model you're working on can look as if it's sitting on your desk at work! Of course, no one else will see these things, so an outside observer will see you reaching out and waving your hands in the empty air. Were it not for the clunky glasses that allow all this to happen, those around you might think you've gone off your rocker as you reach out to spin a virtual globe, or pinch a virtual map.

Rebranding as a "holographic" system and avoiding any mention of "VR" was a very clever move on Microsoft's part as "virtual reality" immediately calls to mind terrible 90s films about Lawnmower Men and brings with it a certain hilariously awful stank of failure. "Holograms" sound way more exciting and current.

What Counts as a Hologram Anyway?

However, coolness aside, using that term immediately sidetracked our office discussion and we began debating what a "hologram" even is! Some of us argue that a hologram shouldn't require glasses to be seen. Think of Star Wars: Did Darth Vader need to wear special glasses to see Emperor Palaptine? No — though now that we think about it, Vader was kinda wearing special equipment. Anyway!

Others around here tried to argue, "Who cares, it's still pretty cool."

What do you say, reader? Are these holograms? Even if they're not, is it still cool? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jeff Somogyi is a media editor for dealnews.com, where this article first appeared.