It's been well over a year Microsoft first teased HoloLens, its new mixed reality headset that layers holograms over the real world. Starting today, American and Canadian developers can finally preorder the futuristic augmented reality goggles. They will cost $US3000 ($4210) and ship on March 30 in the US. To reiterate, this is a developer edition, not intended for consumers. Devs who have applied online and been approved will begin receiving invitations to purchase today Hololens today.
In conjunction with today's preorder release, Microsoft is dishing new details about the hardware, as well as information about its internally built demo applications. Here's what we know:
On the hardware front, we get a nicely detailed list of specifications, including some new parameters we've never heard of before -- this makes sense since, you know, nobody's really ever made hardware quite like this. In particular, these optical specifications are of interest:
- Automatic pupillary distance calibration
- Holographic Resolution: 2.3M total light points
- Holographic Density: >2.5k radiants (light points per radian)
To anyone that's been following the HoloLens release closely, the hardware specifications are kind of a big deal. We no have a full accounting of all the sensors that ship with the headset, which play a big part in what make Hololens unique. In addition to obvious stuff like inertial tracking via accelerometers and gyroscopes, HoloLens will use four "environment understanding" cameras, a depth camera, and four microphones.
In terms of inputs, it will support voice and gesture controls. There will be gaze tracking so that you can use your eyeballs to select different holographic objects. HoloLens will also be able to understand sound around you as another source of information. The 550g headset will last two to three hours on a single charge.
In sum, Microsoft has developed some substantial hardware, and though our earlier experiences with the hardware haven't been bug free, Microsoft's already innovating ahead of other futuristic virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in that HoloLens is completely untethered -- there are no wires tying you to a computer.
What can you actually do with HoloLens? At launch, there will be seven HoloLens demo apps available in the Windows Store, including some games. Before you get to excited about games, though, Microsoft begged us to make it very clear that all of the apps available at launch are strictly for demonstration purposes. They're meant to give developers as sense of what's possible with HoloLens, and aren't really designed to wow the pants off consumers.
The launch apps cover a wide swath of possible uses for HoloLens. For starters. there's a special HoloLens version of Skype, which turns the person on the other end of your call into a Hologram. HoloTour renders a remote location into the room you're in so that you can experience it in 360 -- this sounds a bit like some of the 360 tours that are available for virtual reality headsets. There are a pair of content creator-oriented applications, called HoloStudio and Actiongram.
And the games! First up is RoboRaid, which is the final version of the sweet game Microsoft showed off last spring. It's a first person shooter in which the goal is to defend your home against invaders which burst through the walls. Young Conker is a HoloLens-spin on the traditional platformer. Rather than playing a pre-rendered game, Young Conker tailors game levels to the space where you're in. According to Microsoft, even starting at a different point in a room will make the level a little different. Finally, Fragments is a crime drama that plays out in mixed reality in the space in front of you, allowing you to search for clues and follow storylines in your house.
For now, HoloLens remains a developer product, but it's clear from the sophisticated hardware and smart demo apps that the company is serious about making holograms a part of our everyday lives. There are clearly still going to be bugs to work out, but we've got quite the HoloLens future to look forward to.