Microsoft Makes Hololens Available for Developers
Microsoft shared at Build this last week that its HoloLens is now available to developers to begin working on and testing. The augmented reality (AR) headset has been shown many times in the past year, and it’ll ship with a suite of programs and capabilities meant to spark the imagination of the development companies who will hopefully be working to showcase what the hardware has the ability to do.
The feedback from Build conference attendees has been positive and they are very excited. Microsoft demoed programs created by NASA, Case Western Reserve Medical School, and some of its own inventions. The headset will ship with a number of programs including RoboRaid, which Redmond demoed last year to great success, Skype (with a screen projected in midair) and HoloStudio a 3D design application that lets you design holograms, “place” them on reality objects, and create “mixed reality” programs that blend reality objects with holographic material.
Other programs available at the beginning include Actiongram (for recording and seeing holograms), HoloTour (a holographic programs for visiting various real-world destinations), Fragments (called a “high-tech crime thriller,”) and “Young Conker,” a platform name that focuses on the tales of a younger Conker the Squirrel from Conkers Bad Fur Day — presumably with reduced swearing and sexual content.
Over at Anandtech, Brett Howse spent time with the headset directly during different developer meetings; he loves the platform. He ultimately came away from the tests very impressed, but noted that the formats and tests Microsoft fielded weren’t very complex, yet the hardware still seemed to have trouble perfoming at times. One of the changes between VR and AR headsets is that Microsoft’s HoloLens explicitly isn’t attached to your PC via a wired piece. On the better side, that means you can actually engage in physical activity while using the equipment. The bad part is, of course, is that battery length and available processing power are both less when compared to what an Oculus, Vive, or similar VR headset can manage.
The most current and recent version of HoloLens has two 16:9 lenses with a holographic resolution of 2.3 million total light points and 2.5K radiants (light points per radiant). When translated into English, it means there’s enough holographic horsepower to make images appear bright, colorful, and detailed and almost lifelike.
Microsoft isn’t being very up front about the other parts of the device, but we know HoloLens contains one IMU (inertial measurement unit), and multiple cameras, mixed reality capture sensors, multiple microphones, and one “ambient sensor.” The CPU is a 32-bit Intel processor (almost definitely based on Cherry Trail), and the device also contains a custom Holographic Processing Unit, or HPU. Microsoft built the HPU itself, and whatever the abilities of the hardware, the company isn’t sharing.
The estimated battery life is 2-3 hours of active use, and up to two weeks on standby.
Is This a Niche or Next Big Thing For Technology?
It’s not clear as to what exactly to make of HoloLens, or what Microsoft’s future ambitions are for the product. All of the Microsoft research has been developing new and interesting concepts and new products for 25 years, including Cortana, Kinect, Illumiroom, and now HoloLens. Many of these projects are new and there is nothing like it on the market — Kinect may not have caught on in the gaming sphere, but it’s been used in a number of other programs and research areas.
Microsoft seems to have put more planning and projection into its AR project than Google ever attempted with Google Glass and the $3000 price tag and specialized use cases should prevent any repeat of stereotypical “glasshole” experiences. VR and AR are more aligned than in others — the use cases for each technology are very different that there’s no compelling reason they can’t both be on the market. Their uses are different, but AR and VR are facing the same problem. Over the next few years, each must win development teams, new users, and creative designers over to the idea of optimizing software for their respective technologies, while showing massive benefits as to outweigh the initial cost of entry.