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article imageMicrosoft HoloLens now available to developers, costs $3,000

By James Walker     Feb 29, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft has announced that the first version of its HoloLens holographic headset is now available for pre-order by developers interested in making apps for the device. HoloLens starts at $3,000 and will start shipping next month.
Microsoft unveiled HoloLens to the world a little under a year ago in a surprise announcement. HoloLens explores an area of technology that few other manufacturers have visited. Microsoft has stepped aside from the immersive virtual reality of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to create an augmented reality alternative, overlaying digital objects on the real world.
The company revealed hardware details on the HoloLens Development Edition today. It is based on a 32-bit Intel chipset but uses a custom-built processing unit, the Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU). This processing unit is what makes the unique HoloLens interaction model possible.
The headset uses gestures and gazes to work out what a user is looking at and which action they want to perform. Voice control allows for direct interaction with apps and quick navigation. Accessories, including a handheld "clicker" to trigger actions, can be connected via Bluetooth to expand the software's capabilities.
The holographic lenses of the eyepiece use an advanced optical projection system that generates multi-dimensional colour holograms with a low latency. Microsoft hasn't revealed the details of how the lenses work, instead saying they have a high holographic density of 2.5K radiants to make holograms appear brighter and richer.
HoloLens is intended to be a standalone device. It works without any wires running to a computer and doesn't require a phone, external markers or scanning cameras. The wearer can walk into any room and begin to use the headset immediately.
Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens
"HoloLens is fully untethered and self-contained," said Microsoft. "It's the only device that enables holographic computing natively with no markers, no external cameras, no wires, no phone required, and no connection to a PC needed. And it’s a Windows 10 device – the interface is familiar, and connected by the power of a unified ecosystem of Windows devices."
HoloLens is a member of the Windows 10 family and is able to run Universal Windows apps from the Windows store. At launch, these include "hundreds" of favourites including OneDrive, Maps, Remote Desktop, People, Movies & TV, Groove Music and Microsoft Office. Once the development hardware begins shipping, more titles will begin to appear from third-party app creators with innovative ideas.
Microsoft has created a few bespoke HoloLens experiences to help inspire developers. These include a special version of Skype that lets people communicate using holograms, even if the recipient doesn't have a headset themselves. People using Skype on any Windows device can interact with the holographic world of the HoloLens wearer. The app is designed to demonstrate how HoloLens can help in remote collaboration and training scenarios.
A second custom-made app lets developers "create 3D in 3D" at a real-world scale. HoloStudio is a 3D design app that lets app creators build new holograms from the HoloLens headset. Models are created using the gaze, gesture and voice actions of HoloLens and can be exported to other 3D modelling utilities for later use.
Skype for Microsoft HoloLens
Skype for Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft has also built three unique games. Fragments is a mixed reality crime drama set in the environment of the HoloLens wearer. It features characters who walk into your home and sit down on your sofa, blurring the line between the digital and real worlds. Microsoft says it "generates memories for you of what digitally happened in your space like it was real."
Young Conker is a platforming game set in your real world environment. The surfaces and objects in your room are used as the platforms in the game, creating very different experiences depending on the room used.
Finally, Project X-Ray has matured into a title known as RoboRaid. Microsoft demonstrated Project X-Ray at its October devices event last year, stunning the audience with a holographic gameplay experience that involved aliens crawling through the walls of your home. The app uses the spatial audio system of the HoloLens headset to force the player to turn around and shoot down the enemies behind them, bringing first-person combat into the home.
The apps are intended as samples for developers to get them thinking about how to use HoloLens in their own products. Microsoft will release the tools required to start making HoloLens apps on March 30, the same day that HoloLens development units will begin to ship.
"I’m thrilled to announce that starting today, developer applicants will start receiving invitations to purchase the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition – which will begin shipping on March 30th," said Microsoft's Alex Kipman, a key HoloLens developer. "Today represents a monumental step forward. This is the first step in our journey to consumers. A step focused on our commercial partnerships and on supporting developers, who will help pave the way to consumer availability with amazing and new holographic experiences."
HoloLens may still be a long way from being a consumer product but today marks a major milestone in bringing augmented reality to homes worldwide. Microsoft has previously indicated it is in no great hurry to put HoloLens on general sale. Instead, it wants to populate the Windows Store with a robust selection of holographic apps first, ensuring consumers have enough content to enjoy on their headset.
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