Microsoft Hololens

Review after a week using the augmented reality device

Review

The last few days I had the honor to test the Microsoft HoloLens and do some application development for it (special thanks to inovativ for this!). The HoloLens is a device that integrates the digital world into the physical world. It is possible to snap applications to your wall, or put them on your table. Recently Microsoft showed a demo where the Hololens is used as the “new workspace.” They think that in a few years all physical displays are replaced by virtual displays provided by the Hololens.

Windows Holographic

The Hololens uses a version of Windows that is called “Windows Holographic.” It is a stripped version of Windows which is able to launch Windows Store Apps. Although the Hololens is using the Windows App Store, not all store applications are available for the Hololens. Applications should be targeted for the Hololens

At the moment you can only buy the Hololens Development Edition. It is a package that you can use to test your own created applications on the Hololens. At this early time (when only Developers can have a Hololens) the app store is a little bit empty. I guess the amount of apps will increase when the device gets more popular.

A dislike on Windows Holographic is that you have to use your head to move the “mouse pointer.” The mouse pointer is in the center of the display. When you move your head, the mouse pointer is moving with you. Apps (for example Microsoft Edge) have a fixed position in your room. Using your head to move the mouse pointer is a little but clumsy when you want to use the keyboard. It would be great to use your hands to point at the holograms.

A big like is that you don’t need any other devices than the Hololens itself. The Hololens operates by itself and doesn’t need any other devices. Competitors of the Hololens need a PC to render the images.

 

The modern workspace

Recently Microsoft did a demo of a modern workspace targeted on designers, engineers and collaborators with the Hololens. They pulled up a workspace that looked a lot like a big multi monitor setup. This traditional desktop was projected by the Hololens. The cool thing of this desktop was that is is also able to display a jet engine. So the new desktop is not only monitors and applications, it is also possible to show 3D models of things you create on that desktop.

I am an IT-pro wanted to experience this desktop all by myself. The first thing you notice when using such desktop is that not all of your displays (actually applications) are in sight. You need to to point your head to a display to see it. The Hololens is only projecting on a big square in the center of your eyes; it does not project on the edges. As in the real word, stepping away from the desktop lets you show a wider view. I don’t consider this as a problem since you can only focus on one screen at a time. The bad thing on this is that you are also missing updates from the other screens.

How does it work

The HoloLens is actually a head-mounted-computer with a couple of sensors in it which are comparable with the Xbox Kinect. The sensors create a 3D-map of your room and do some magic to determine your position in the room. Holograms are placed in the room and due to the position magic you are able to walk around the holograms.

The HoloLens displays its holograms through a set of translucent screens, ones that allow for injection of holograms into your line of sight without completely blocking you off to the world. The display is able to show colors, black is showed as transparent.

 

App Development

It is very easy to create applications for the Hololens. The Hololens uses Windows Store apps. You can use the following tools to develop software for the Hololens:

  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 (update 2 or later)
  • Microsoft Hololens SDK
  • Microsoft Hololens Emulator
  • Unity3D

You can develop your application in two ways:

  • Windowed – The regular Windows Store Apps. The Hololens displays them as a window that you can snap to your wall or put on the table.
  • Full screen – These applications don’t have a window. They are showed as if you were in the skybox of the 3D scene. You can actually walk through your application.

The Hololens comes with a emulator, you can use the emulator to test/debug the application you are building. It is also possible to test/debug the application directly on the Hololens. The last option is much better when you want to test 3D applications. It is very hard to navigate your way in a 3D world on the emulator.

The tools that Microsoft has given to develop applications for the Hololens are great. Also tools from 3th party vendors (Unity3D) are good to use. Even in this early stage (some tools are still in beta), all development tools are stable.

In a couple of days, I will do a blogpost about development for the HoloLens.

Conclusion

The HoloLens is the start of a new era. I don’t think that people wil buy TV’s or PC’s in the future. I guess instead of buying a new PC, they will buy a virtual machine in Azure, and use that machine power on the HoloLens.

The HoloLens a first generation augmented reality device. As with all “first generation” devices, it is not perfect. In it’s current form it is very hard to write a letter or e-mail. But the job Microsoft did is amazing. You can place apps as Hologrames in your room, walk around them without any framedrops. The development environment is very advanced and user friendly. The HoloLens is the future!

Likes

  • Great integration from the digital world in the real world
  • Stable augmented reality with almost no frame drops
  • Great development environment
  • Snapping applications to your wall or put them on a table
  • The Hololens operates by itself; no need for other devices
  • It works; you can walk around the holograms as if it were real objects.

Dislikes

  • You have to use your head as mouse pointer
  • In a room with a lot of lights, holograms are getting transperent
  • The Hololens is nog projecting on it’s edges.

Specifications

  • Display: 2x HD 16:9 see-through holographic lenses
  • Sensors: Inertial Measurement Unit, 4x camera, 4x microphone
  • Processor: Custom Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit, Intel 32-bit architecture
  • Ram: 2GB
  • Storage: 64GB
  • Camera: 2MP Photos, HD Video
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi (A, C), Bluetooth 4.1 LE, Micro-USB 2.0
  • Power: 2-3 hour active use battery life, 2 weeks standby.
  • OS: Windows 10 Holographic
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