Hands On With Microsoft HoloLens

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Hands-on: Microsoft HoloLens.

With HoloLens, the holographic computing platform that stole the show at today’s unveiling of Windows 10, Microsoft showed once and for all how valuable it is for the company to weave together its consumer and business product development.Here’s a bold prediction: Microsoft will deliver the ability to stream your PC game library to an Xbox One console, and they’ll make the official announcement by the time E3 2015 rolls around.The device and its accompanying software, called the “HoloLens” and “Windows Holographic” respectively, look similar to virtual reality headsets already on the market. However, Microsoft’s device projects 3-D content into the physical world already around you rather than putting you in a different virtual world entirely.

Microsoft recast it as the bleeding edge of the Windows 10 platform and the foundation of a new computing interface, beyond the voice and touch commands that now complement or replace the mouse and keyboard. The company pitched the HoloLens and Windows Holographic as tools to help investors, designers and scientists interface with their work in ways never before possible. You move your head around to aim the cursor and click it by holding your index finger straight up and then bringing it down toward the thumb as if you were pressing a huge mouse button in the air. The HoloLens can also power augmented reality gaming, which blends the virtual and physical worlds for a unique entertainment experience that’s not possible on standard gaming consoles or computers. It’s not saying whether other companies will be able to build their own versions but it probably wouldn’t say no if the likes of Dell or HP wants to jump in.

Xbox head Phil Spencer teased reporters during a group Q&A at their Windows 10 press event, saying that “People ask about the streaming in the opposite direction–can I stream from my PC to my Xbox?–and I’ll just say it’s something that we’re really looking at.” I guarantee Spencer and company are doing more than merely “looking at” the functionality. There’s no word yet on how much the device will cost, but the company did say it would be available around the same time as its new PC operating system, Windows 10. The company isn’t saying how much a HoloLens will cost or when it will be broadly available but it’s likely to cost less than a high-end computer. Chief Executive Satya Nadella said it’s intended to be accessible to consumers as well as business users, though the latter seems to be a primary target. We just have to kind of work with the physics of time and work it through.” The actual hardware requirements for streaming a game from, say, your main gaming PC to another device like an Intel Compute Stick, Nvidia Shield, Macbook Air, or Razer Forge TV are minimal.

For Steam games specifically, all that’s needed is a CPU (preferably a quad-core) with built-in H.264 decoding on the client computer (or console, as it were). If this emerging category takes off, Microsoft now has a chance to become a big player – not just because the HoloLens is exciting but because it’s putting HoloLens supporting software into Windows 10 and therefore tens of millions of PCs in the next few years. As Spencer mentioned, the real obstacle is one of development and optimization, but having Windows 10 at the core of both host and client platforms would feasibly simplify those coding headaches. But Microsoft is rapidly changing my mind, and I’m certain I’m not alone in this.) It would also establish further cohesion of Microsoft’s ecosystem.

But the HoloLens still adds much needed sizzle to Windows 10, which is otherwise the solid and straightforward upgrade from Windows 7 that corporate tech users in particular have been wanting for years. Take a look at this sentence, which is Microsoft’s guiding philosophy for Windows 10: “Technology should be out of the way and your apps, services and content should move with you across devices, seamlessly and easily.” What has Microsoft already done to embrace this? Perhaps most importantly, HoloLens gives the company the sort of demo that students will line up to try at recruiting fairs and enterprise customers will tell their friends and families after their next trip to Redmond. Three demos of the system were given to press and analysts in Redmond today in a warren of showcase rooms in the basement of the Microsoft visitor center.

Sleek production models are on display but the demos are done with sci-fi looking test units that have battery packs that hang on the chest and clusters of lenses and computer components that strap onto the head and connect to cables dangling from the ceiling or connected to a nearby PC. And while it wouldn’t eliminate the desire for Steam Machines among the ever-diminishing faithful, it could certainly threaten the initiative — provided it ever sees the light of day.

The electrician – using a Surface computer – appeared in a small window in the HoloLens wearer’s field of vision and explained how to install a light switch. Look, I know there are people championing the death of Windows and the rise of Linux — and their reasons are often valid — but it’s just not going to happen. You can buy one of these mythical Steam Machines and use Valve’s Steam OS to play 1/20th of the possible PC gaming catalog, or you can build a low-cost machine to just stream 100% of your library to any other room in the house. When the “customer” looked toward a row of tools on a tabletop, the electrician talked through the procedure and could point out a tool by drawing on her tablet. And we’ve seen companies like Alienware capitalize on Valve’s delays by designing their own console-like UI and re-purposing prior Steam Machine hardware (previously not upgradeable) to an upgradeable console-like PC.

Not to mention the fact that Windows 10 finally looks like a reason to jump ship from our beloved Windows 7. (And Linux, frankly, is still a nightmare for gaming.) The only reason I can think of that Microsoft wouldn’t venture down this path, is that they stand to lose a small chunk of change should people choose the PC version of a multiplatform game over the Xbox One version. After calling for a shovel, I used the click gesture to build a ditch across a sideboard and prevent a group of zombies from attacking one of the castles.

But Microsoft takes it to a higher level with HoloLens by mapping the environment, instead of just projecting things on top of it on a screen, and powering more complex interactions with it. With the HoloLens on, you’re transported to a literal recreation of Mars built from images taken by the Mars rover, which appears parked to the side as you walk around the breathtaking scenery. Microsoft wrapped in productivity and communications tools and made something remarkable and useful enough that JPL plans to use the system with the actual rover on Mars this summer. Investors who wanted Microsoft to spin off the group behind HoloLens and focus on enterprise software might have made a little extra cash in the short term.

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