On Monday, Microsoft released a flood of new details on the first, developer-focused version of its HoloLens holographic goggles—including a release date and information on the HoloLens' apps and hardware.
The HoloLens, first announced just over a year ago, is a standalone device from Microsoft that actually overlays three-dimensional holograms into your field of vision. The technical term for what HoloLens does is "augmented reality." It's very cool, even if consumers like you and me still have to wait a long while for the official release.
The first piece of news: The Microsoft HoloLens Developer Edition goggles will start to ship to qualified developers on March 30th, according to a blog entry. This first version of the HoloLens, intended as a first peek for those developers who will be building the holographic apps of the future, will cost $3,000. You have to apply to Microsoft directly, starting today, before you'll be allowed to buy one.
Second, Microsoft announced, in a separate blog entry, the apps that will come with the HoloLens Developer Edition:
- HoloStudio, described by Microsoft as "the first program of its kind, allowing people to easily create 3D in 3D—at real-world scale." In other words, it lets you build holographic models.
- Skype, a hologram-enhanced version of the megapopular voice chat app. It lets HoloLens wearers talk with people using Skype on their phones or PCs. But if the person on the other end of the line also has a HoloLens, they can see each others' holograms, meaning they can work together.
- HoloTour, which places you in a holographic recreation of global landmarks like Rome and Macchu Pichu.
- Fragments, a game described as "a mixed reality crime drama that unfolds in your own environment." Microsoft says that "it blends the line between the digital world and the real world more than any other experience we built."
- Young Conker, a Mario-style platforming video game that uses your own space to generate the levels in which the titular Conker has to hop around.
- RoboRaid, previously known as Project X-Ray—a robot shooting gallery that Microsoft has previously shown off.
None of this software is quite ready for a commercial release, Microsoft says. The goal is really to show developers the potential of HoloLens, and what it's capable of by giving them an array of ideas for different ways it could be used.
When it comes to actually building apps, the HoloLens actually runs on a custom holographic version of Windows 10. Microsoft is trying to make it as easy as possible for developers already familiar with Windows to bring their apps to holographic life with HoloLens.
On a side note, Microsoft also announced that this summer, HoloLens Developer Edition will get Actiongram, a software tool for making "mixed-reality videos" that integrate real-life with holographic special effects.
Finally, Microsoft disclosed the hardware specs of the HoloLens, including its two to three hours of battery life with "active use" and its two-week standby time. The specs also reveal that the HoloLens uses a "custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU 1.0)" and has 64GB of memory.
It also comes with a "Clicker" controller for interacting with holograms, and a nifty carrying case.
The HoloLens still has some issues to be ironed out before it's truly ready for mass adoption, namely its high cost and its still-very-slim hologram viewable area. And Microsoft is being very careful not to repeat its past mistakes with the Kinect, released before it was truly ready.
But HoloLens is inching closer to a real thing—and maybe, just maybe, it'll be enough to kickstart a holographic revolution.