Microsoft had said pre-orders would begin last month. But still, the preorder milestone is coming just over a year after Microsoft first unveiled the HoloLensduring an event at company headquarters. Microsoft has provided early models to people at NASA, Case Western Reserve University, and Cleveland Clinic. Now just about any developer who wants one of the official Development Edition models can sign up to buy one.
“We believe that the future will not be confined to just two dimensions — the future of technology is one that more closely mirrors our real world environment,” Alex Kipman, technical fellow in Microsoft’s Operating System Group and the figurehead of the HoloLens project, wrote in a blog post. “Technology coexisting in our real, three-dimensional world, beyond screens and pixels. We believe that the future is holographic, and as a result, we will continue to empower the developers who will help bring that future to life.”
By opening for preorders, HoloLens is taking a big step toward widespread commercial availability. But it’s coming after Google has made its Cardboard virtual reality headset available (more than 5 million have been shipped) and Samsung has launched its Gear VR headset to the general public. And it’s happening after Facebook’s Oculus Rift consumer edition became available for preorder for $599 and as preorders for the HTC Vive consumer edition begin (also today). And at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, LG showed off the LG 360 VR headset that works with the forthcoming LG G5 smartphone. Neither the headset nor the phone is for sale yet.
But, of course, these are all different from the HoloLens because they completely block out the world around you, so you can’t interact with it in the way that you can with the HoloLens.
Apple, meanwhile, is the dark horse — it’s unclear whether the company will come out with augmented reality or virtual reality technology.
The trick here is that while the holograms that people will be able to see with HoloLens might sound fancy, they’re actually Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, and any UWP app that was originally meant for desktop and mobile can be run on HoloLens, as Kipman points out.
Today Microsoft is revealing the first demo applications that developers can try out to get a feel for what’s possible with HoloLens.
One of these is called Robo Raid. Formerly code-named Project X-Ray, it involves looking around a room while wearing a HoloLens headset. You can see through the walls, and when you come across a scorpion-like creature, you can shoot it. The experience makes you feel like it is blending the room with animated creatures, which can only be seen through the glasses.
Another demo is called Fragments. In this one, the setting is a kind of crime drama. You can look for clues hidden in the actual room. Animated bits of the screen will come to life when you find a clue.
There’s also a platform gaming experience with Microsoft’s Rare studio character, Conker, from Conker’s Bad Fur Day. The squirrel is skinnier and younger than in the past, but the animated character will jump around the room, bouncing from place to place and climbing up the walls. He’ll appear to be bouncing around your own furniture as you look at him through the glasses.
HoloTour is a new app that presents users with 360-degree panoramic displays of far flung places like Rome and Machu Picchu, with spatial sound and the ability to walk around a given place.
Skype runs on HoloLens, and there’s a HoloStudio app for designing three-dimensional things … in 3D. HoloStudio can work with OneDrive and Sketchfab.
Finally, Actiongram is a new “holographic storytelling medium” that will allow anyone to make their own “mixed reality” experiences that work on top of the surrounding environment.
Microsoft today is also releasing HoloLens documentation, guides, and tutorials to build applications that will work on HoloLens. An emulator and Visual Studio projects will come later, Kipman wrote.
Here are the specifications for the HoloLens Development Edition headset:
- Optics: See-through lenses (waveguides), 2 HD, 16:9 light engines, automatic pupillary distance calibration, 2.3 million total light points in holographic resolution, more than 2,500 radiants (light points per radian) in holographic density
- Sensors: 1 inertial measurement unit (IMU), 4 environment understanding cameras, 1 depth camera, one 2-megapixel photo and HD video camera, mixed reality capture, 4 microphones, 1 ambient light sensor
- Human understanding: Spatial sound, gaze tracking, gesture input, voice support
- Processors: Intel 32-bit architecture and custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) 1.0
- Battery life: 2-3 hours of active use, up to 2 weeks of standby time; works when charging
- Memory: 2GB RAM
- Storage: 64GB flash
- Connectivity: Micro-USB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.1 low energy
- Wi-Fi: 802.11ac
- Audio: 3.5mm headphone jack, built-in speakers, volume up/down
- Other components: Power button, brightness up/down, battery status LEDs
- Weight: 579 grams (1.27 lbs)
The HoloLens Development Edition kits come with a headset, an overhead strap, a clicker, a charging cable, a microfiber cloth, nose pads, and a carrying case.
Developers who haven’t already applied for an invitation to preorder the HoloLens Developer Edition — Microsoft must accept your application before you get an invitation — can do that here.
GamesBeat lead writer Dean Takahashi contributed to this report.