MICROSOFT'S HOLOLENS NOW AVAILABLE TO DEVELOPERS
By Joel Hruska - ExtremeTech |31st March 2016
Microsoft announced at Build this week that its HoloLens is now available to developers. The augmented reality (AR) headset has been demoed multiple times in the past year, and it'll ship with a suite of applications and capabilities meant to spark the imagination of the development teams who will hopefully be working to showcase what the hardware can do.
Early feedback from Build attendees has been positive. Microsoft showed applications created by NASA, Case Western Reserve Medical School, and some of its own creations. The headset will ship with a number of applications including RoboRaid, which Redmond demoed last year, Skype (via a 2D screen projected into mid-air) and HoloStudio, a 3D design application that lets you create holograms, "place" them on real-world objects, and create "mixed reality" applications that blend real-world objects with holographic material.
Other applications available at launch include Actiongram (for recording and viewing holograms), HoloTour (a holographic application for touring various real-world locations), Fragments (described as a "high-tech crime thriller,") and "Young Conker," a platform title that focuses on the adventures of a younger Conker the Squirrel from Conkers Bad Fur Day - presumably with less swearing and sexual innuendo.
Over at Anandtech, Brett Howse spent time with the headset directly during various developer sessions; you can read his account of the various activities here. He ultimately came away from the experience impressed, but noted that the models and demonstrations Microsoft fielded weren't very complex, yet the hardware still seemed to have trouble keeping up at times. One of the differences between VR and AR headsets is that Microsoft's HoloLens explicitly isn't tethered to your PC via a wired connection. On the plus side, that means you can actually walk around while using the equipment. The downside, of course, is that battery life and available processing power are both limited compared to what an Oculus, Vive, or similar VR headset can manage.
The final 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). Translated into English, it means there's enough holographic horsepower to make objects appear bright, colorful, and detailed. The CPU is a 32-bit Intel processor (almost certainly based on Cherry Trail), and the device also contains a custom Holographic Processing Unit, or HPU.
Estimated battery life is 2-3 hours of active use, and up to two weeks on standby.
Niche or Next Big Thing?
I'm not sure what to make of HoloLens, or what Microsoft's long-term ambitions are for the device. Microsoft Research has been developing interesting concepts and potential products for 25 years, including Cortana, Kinect, Illumiroom, and now HoloLens. Many of these projects are cutting-edge - Kinect may not have caught on in gaming, but it's been used in a number of other applications and research areas.
Microsoft seems to have put more thought and effort into its AR project than Google ever did with Google Glass and the $3000 price tag and specialized use cases should prevent any repeat of stereotypical "glasshole" behavior.
Over the next few years, each must win developers, users, and designers over to the idea of optimizing software for their respective technologies, while demonstrating sufficient benefits as to outweigh the initial cost of entry.