Microsoft has been carefully laying the groundwork as the go-to vendor for augmented and virtual reality. First, they’ve been testing the HoloLens in environments as varied as underseas research stations and medical schools. They debuted Windows Holographic in June 2016, lining up a roster of hardware partners and promising a virtual reality environment that users can access and work within across all devices.
The Windows Holographic announcement listed hardware partners including Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, HTC, Acer, ASUS, CyberPowerPC, Dell, Falcon Northwest, HP, iBuyPower, Lenovo and MSI. And today, Microsoft announced the next component in their virtual reality portfolio.
According to today’s blog post by Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President, Windows and Devices Group:
Next year, we will be releasing an update to Windows 10, which will enable mainstream PCs to run the Windows Holographic shell and associated mixed reality and universal Windows applications.
Intel will be working with Microsoft on a specification for mixed reality ready PCs and head mounted displays, with a target date of December 2016 for release at the Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC) conference in Shenzhen.
Microsoft Starts Holographic Hub for Reality Technologies
(Bloomberg) — Microsoft Corp. unveiled a new platform based on its Windows 10 software catering to virtual and augmented reality technology developed by other companies.
Windows Holographic will enable rival headsets, such as HTC Corp.’s virtual reality device Vive, to interact with Microsoft’s own Hololens as well as each other, Executive Vice President Terry Myerson said at the Computex trade show in Taipei on Wednesday. Partners will be encouraged to build personal computers, displays and accessories for the platform to develop experiences mixing the reality technologies.
Microsoft has been investing in Hololens to build practical applications for its augmented reality headset. Last year it teamed with Volvo Car Group to bring the technology to automotive showrooms. The company has started shipping developer kits costing $3,000 to customers so they can then develop applications for the headset.
“We began shipping Microsoft Hololens in March and customers across industries are embracing the potential of mixed reality already,” Myerson said in a blog post. “I can’t wait to see what our partners do with Windows Holographic.”
Attracting new customers will be critical to securing broad adoption for Hololens. Among those partnering with Microsoft on Windows Holographic are Intel Corp., Qualcomm Inc., HTC, Acer Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd., it said.
Opening up the platform gives partners the chance to improve on rival products and monetize their content, said Nick Parker, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Original Equipment Manufacturer division.
“We bring a store,” he said. “What we’ll see is partners start to take their capabilities, how they can bring it together with other partners to create a unique device that may be independent.”
Microsoft’s Windows 10 software is already running on more than 300 million active devices. The company said over 80 million virtual reality devices are expected by 2020.
“However, many of today’s devices and experiences do not work with each other, provide different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals, and content,” Myerson said “And most virtual reality experiences can’t mix real people, objects, and environments into the virtual world, making creation and collaboration difficult.”
Microsoft will unveil further details of the platform at the winHEC developers’ conference in the fall, Myerson said in his blog post.
My experience in trying out Microsoft’s HoloLens
During Microsoft’s Build 2015 Conference in San Francisco I had the opportunity, as did many others, to get a live demo of Microsoft’s ground breaking HoloLens device.
You may recall that Microsoft surprised everyone back in January during their big Windows 10 consumer event and showed off HoloLens for the first time.
The super-secret product received a very positive reaction at the time and members of the media whom attended that event had the chance to try out a prototype of the device which was still tethered to its computing source.
Fast forward about 100 days to this week at Build 2015 and the device, still in development, was available for members of the media and developers in attendance to try out untethered.
The environment for the demo was very controlled and security was ever present in and around the spaces it was held in.
We started off from Moscone Center West in a small group, a total of five individuals were in my group, and we walked with a Microsoft escort to a nearby hotel. From this point forward we were never without a HoloLens Ambassador or other representative from Microsoft.
When we exited the elevator for our first stop, registration, we were given our credentials in a room and had the chance to check out a HoloLens display unit which was stored behind plexiglass. It was at this stop that our bags, including all electronics, were stored in lockers for the first time because we were not allowed to take any recording devices to the next step.
We were then escorted to a temporary tented venue on the hotel’s outdoor patio for a sit down live demo of HoloLens and Skype. Two members of the HoloLens team did this with one on stage and one backstage on a Windows 10 computer. Since only the wearer of HoloLens is able to see the holograms the special cameras were there to film the demo and show it on large HD screens in the room. We were able to see how two people, one on Windows 10 and the other using HoloLens can interact with holograms from both sides of the conversation.
After this approximately 15 minute demo we were once again on the move and taken back to retrieve our gear. We then headed up to another floor with our ever present escort and security stationed in different spots along the way.
We arrived in a new room with lockers and once again stored our gear and then proceeded across the hall to a room where we were shown how to put on HoloLens and shown gestures to interact with the holograms. We also had the distance between our pupils measured as this data was necessary for our live demos trying out the HoloLens.
After a brief delay we were once again on the move but this time, one by one, we were dropped off into rooms as we walked down the hall for our live demo of HoloLens. We were greeted by two individuals – our guide and a tech – who would take us through our HoloLens experience.
Once the HoloLens was on we very quickly jumped into the demo, called Keystone, which was a scenario for HoloLens to be used by architects to plan, design and iterate a new building in a city block.
I was able to drag a mouse icon from a computer running 3D modeling software used by architects to a physical layout of this city block where the new building was intended to go and was being displayed through HoloLens. I could interact with the holographic building and its dimensions to adjust its height and layout just as if I was looking at the computers screen but instead I could see the changes in holographic 3D.
So far it was very cool to say the least.
Next my guide on this tour of HoloLens showed me what looked like a person standing across the street from the holographic building and I clicked on it to immediately be standing in that spot to see how the building would look from the ground level. My view was actually a full 360 degrees and I was able to turn around in my spot to see all around me and in all directions including up and down. The effect was seamless and resulted in a magic moment for me as someone had early mentioned we would likely have at some point in the demo/first use of HoloLens.
Next we moved into the second part of the scenario and I was taken a few steps further into the room to look into a corner composed of what looked like two brick walls. As the scene came to life in the HoloLens device I found a note that had been left for me from one of the contractors. I clicked on the note using the gesture I had been taught earlier and heard Richard, yes Richard, tell me about a change he wanted to make for a door that in its current location was blocked by a critical piece of structure that could not be moved.
After listening to this message from Richard who was represented by a blue colored holographic humanoid shape with a head, arms, legs etc. I was able to review the recommended changes right there on the spot through HoloLens to see exactly what the door would look like in its new location.
As I was looking at the recommended changes I was also able to look through the walls to see where electrical wiring and plumbing were in this wall. Unfortunately, the new location of the door would work but a pipe needed to be moved. Using HoloLens I left a brief message for Richard to make sure that pipe was relocated as the new door location was completed.
With that my HoloLens experience was over. I thanked my guide and tech and headed out to meet the other members of my group to retrieve our bags and once again be escorted downstairs to the hotel lobby to wrap up the tour.
I wore my glasses throughout the experience and they did not interfere with the process in any manner and I did not experience any kind of weird sensations such as vertigo or dizziness as some have described in the past from VR style devices.
HoloLens was impressive. The potential is there to revolutionize so many industries including education, science, architecture, gaming and many others just like we saw in the Day 1 Build keynote.
However, I have a concern about the perception of what HoloLens is capable of doing.
Both of the big public demos of HoloLens, the first back in January and the second during the Build 2015 Day 1 keynote this week, used special cameras to show the audience what the user was seeing through HoloLens.
Here is an example from the Day 1 keynote:
In this view we can see multiple holograms around the user’s space.
After trying out HoloLens I am now aware that although there may be multiple holograms in the space only the ones that are in my direct line of sight, in what equates to a square box stretched to the top and bottom edges of my directly ahead field of view, are visible at any given time. The other holograms are present in the space, just as we see thanks to the special cameras used during the demos, but it is not a full peripherally filled experience. You end up moving your head around a lot to take in the entire scene directly ahead of you.
Now this does not mean HoloLens is a failure of any sort – it is bleeding edge creative technology that is still in development as evidenced by the strict rules and heavy security during my demo today. This is some terrific technology and, like I said earlier, this is going to change so many industries however, as people watch the demos and see all the holograms in one scene using the special cameras it may lead to a perception that the HoloLens provides a complete immersive experience for the user.
The reality is that the user only sees what is directly in their line of sight and nothing peripherally but what is in your field of view is highly interactive in ways which have never been experienced before.
With that having been said – this is an experience unlike any other and I, along with many of you, will likely be standing in line to purchase this device when it hits the market.
Here is a gallery of still images of the HoloLens which was on display in the registration room and below is a short video of the same device. These should give you a good idea of its size and look. The device I used felt like very high quality construction and was light and comfortable to wear.