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MWC: Microsoft debuts HoloLens 2

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Technology conglomerate Microsoft has unveiled its second-generation mixed reality headset, the HoloLens 2, which it says is more comfortable and immersive than its last one.

This announcement was made at the annual Mobile World Congress, currently taking place in Barcelona, Spain.

The term 'mixed reality' refers to the merging of the physical, virtual and augmented realities. Virtual reality (VR) went mainstream in early 2016 when consumer headsets by Oculus and Samsung were released, and augmented reality (AR) gained popularity when the game Pokemon Go captivated millions of people around the world in July 2016.

Wearers of the HoloLens headset can see the physical world around them, but have a virtual layer overlaid in front of their eyes. It also creates 3D holograms and lets wearers interact with them in the real world.

Last year, the first HoloLens made the news worldwide as doctors at a children's hospital in Liverpool, in the UK, started using the headsets when performing delicate surgeries, such as heart operations.

Julia White, Microsoft Azure corporate VP, says: "We have seen mixed reality transform the way work gets done. We have unlocked super-powers for hundreds of thousands of people who go to work every day. From construction sites to factory floors, from operating rooms to classrooms, HoloLens is changing how we work, learn, communicate and get things done."

She says the new era of computing will see the digital world go beyond two-dimensional screens and enters the three-dimensional world.

The HoloLens 2 is a step in that direction. Improvements to this device include it being more immersive. It also has double the field of view of its predecessor and maintains holographic density of 47 pixels per degree of sight.

Wearers can now physically interact with the projected holograms and manipulate them. This is achieved with a new time-of-flight depth sensor, combined with built-in AI and semantic understanding. White says the HoloLens 2 contains eye-tracking sensors that makes interacting with holograms even more natural.

Other enhancements include making the headset more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and more guidelines and use cases so businesses can divulge value from it as quickly as possible.

The HoloLens 2 will be available later this year and will be priced at $3 500 (around R48 500). It is not yet clear if the device will be available to buy in SA.

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