HoloLens is Heading to First Wave of Developers

Posted on February 29, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 0 Comments

HoloLens is Heading to First Wave of Developers

Microsoft announced today that it has begun notifying the first wave of developer applicants that they can now purchase a HoloLens developer kit, which will begin shipping in one month. Additionally, the software giant has revealed the HoloLens hardware specifications, and some initial, aspirational HoloLens apps.

“Today represents a monumental step forward, a step toward creating an ecosystem of amazing holographic experiences,” Microsoft’s Alex Kipman explains. “It’s the experiences that developers create today that will one day change the way people experience technology, and the way businesses operate. It’s a future that I can’t wait to be a part of.”

Noting that the future of personal technology is holographic—which is to say not confined to two dimensions or bound by screens and pixels—Kipman claimed that a grounding in Windows 10’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps was key for developers to take advantage of this future. HoloLens is a Windows 10 device, of course, and “all UWP apps can be made to work with HoloLens.”

For those who can’t afford the $3000 HoloLens developer kit—or simply weren’t invited to purchase one—take heart: Microsoft will deliver Visual Studio projects and a HoloLens emulator when the first developer kits begin shipping on March 30. It has also significantly expanded the HoloLens documentation, guides, and tutorials that are available at dev.windows.com/hololens. All of this content is of course free.

HoloLens hardware hardware details and specs

As you may know from my previous write-ups—in particular, seeHands-On with Microsoft HoloLens, Hands-On with (a Near Final) Microsoft HoloLens, and Hands-On with Microsoft HoloLens: Third Time’s the Charm—HoloLens is a fully-untethered and self-contained headset with holographic lenses, wrap-around positional (spatial) sound, and multiple sensors. And the real magic of this device—despite continued concerns about its relatively small field of view—is how well the holograms it displays seem to “stick” in the real world. The effect is quite realistic and makes the holograms seem part of reality to the user.

Today, however, we’ve learned more about the hardware that makes up HoloLens. Kipman describes the device as being powered by a 32-bit Intel architecture and a custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU). “The HPU is custom silicon that processes a large amount of data per second from the sensors,” he explains. “This allows HoloLens to understand gestures and where you look, and maps the world all around you, all in real time.”

The key to that stickiness I mentioned above is that HoloLens creates very low-latency holograms using an advanced optical projection system. This “pins,” or “anchors” the holograms to the real world objects you’re viewing. It also does this with an “optimal holographic density” of 2.5K radiants. “The more radiants and light points there are, the brighter and richer the holograms become,” Kipman says.

Sensors in HoloLens—four “environment-understanding” cameras, a depth camera, a phone/video camera, a mixed reality capture sensor, four microphones, and an ambient light sensor—help the HoloLens user interact with their environment by voice and air gestures that are similar to, but more advanced than, what we see today with Xbox Kinect. You can also navigate with glance, which is of course unique to HoloLens, and hear holograms from any direction using its built-in spatial sound capabilities. Bluetooth 4.1 support enable accessories like the Clicker, which will ship with HoloLens and offer more fine-tuned selection capabilities.

Here’s a complete rundown of the specs:

– See-through holographic lenses (waveguides)
– 2 HD 16:9 light engines
– Automatic pupillary distance calibration
– Holographic Resolution: 2.3M total light points
– Holographic Density: >2.5k radiants (light points per radian)

– 1 IMU
– 4 environment understanding cameras
– 1 depth camera
– 1 2MP photo / HD video camera
– Mixed reality capture
– 4 microphones
– 1 ambient light sensor

Human Understanding
– Spatial sound
– Gaze tracking
– Gesture input
– Voice support

Input / Output / Connectivity
– Built-in speakers
– Audio 3.5mm jack
– Volume up/down
– Brightness up/down
– Power button
– Battery status LEDs
– Wi-Fi 802.11ac
– Micro USB 2.0
– Bluetooth 4.1 LE

– Battery Life: 2-3 hours of active use with up to 2 weeks of standby time
– Fully functional when charging
– Passively cooled (no fans)

– Intel 32 bit architecture
– Custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU 1.0)

• 579g

• 64 GB Flash
• 2 GB RAM

What’s in the box
– HoloLens Development Edition
– Clicker
– Carrying case
– Charger and cable
– Microfiber cloth
– Nose pads
– Overhead strap

OS and Apps
– Windows 10
– Windows Store

What you need to develop
– Windows 10 PC able to run Visual Studio 2015 and Unity 5.4

Initial HoloLens experiences

Microsoft also provided information about the first HoloLens experiences it will make available to developers so that they can experience the unique capabilities of this platform.

“Each of these experiences have been delivered to highlight unique capabilities of HoloLens and to illustrate for developers how they can be used in every day applications,” Microsoft’s Kudo Tsunoda explains. “It is our hope that these example applications can be used as a jumping off point for how any developer can create amazing 3D content for HoloLens.”

These experiences include:

HoloStudio. This app lets the user create 3D objects at real-world scale using gaze, gesture and voice. HoloStudio exports to 3D Print and Sketchfab, and integrates with OneDrive. I was able to interfact with this app in my first and third HoloLens experiences, and can vouch for the fact that it is pretty impressive.

Skype. This app provides a “a best in class example of how you can build a holographic application that can be enjoyed by people who don’t have a HoloLens,” Tsunoda says, and shows how holograms can be used for remote collaboration and training. This was one of the better HoloLens demos from my first hands-on experience, where someone helped me fix an electrical outlet remotely, in a little floating window.

HoloTour. This is precisely the kind of experience I personally envisioned for HoloLens, a way to virtually visit a remote location on earth (as opposed to Mars), and similar to the Google StreetView app for Google Cardboard, which I find so compelling. But HoloTour goes beyond what’s possible in VR (as per Cardboard) because you can “physically walk around spaces and get up close to objects while remaining untethered from a PC, phone or other device.” The spatial sound capabilities are also put to use so that when you walk around, say, Rome, “the sounds of the city surround you – just like you were actually there.” Oh man.

Fragments. This holographic game is a “mixed reality crime drama that unfolds in your own environment,” where you investigate clues and solve crimes. Characters in the game come into your home, sit on your furniture, and talk to you, “bridging the uncanny valley of your mind and delivers a new form of storytelling like never before.”

Young Conker. This platformer game Conker tailors each of the levels you play to your real world so that everyone gets a unique experience. And that experience changes from room to room, so if you play the game in different locations, it changes. “Since the environments are real world ones instead of digitally created, it puts the development focus on making the gaming mechanics fun,” Tsunoda says.

Roboraid. Available to all Windows 10 users in the Windows Store, this game—previously called Project X-Ray—was originally shown off at the October 2015 Microsoft hardware event, and I got to go hands-on with it last December during my third hands-on time with HoloLens. It’s a first-person holographic shooter where alien robots break through the walls of your home and attack.

Additionally, Microsoft is previewing a new holographic storytelling medium called Actiongram that will debut for the HoloLens Developer Edition “starting this summer” Actiongram is a new way to tel stories using mixed reality capture, so I guess it’s a sort of 3D Sway. I’ve not experienced this one.

Exciting stuff.


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