Microsoft Opens NY Studio to Showcase HoloLens Headset

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Closer Look at Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Since Microsoft’s surprising January reveal of the HoloLens, the company has been on an 11-city nationwide roadshow to recruit developers to write apps for the augmented reality platform.With the Microsoft HoloLens, an augmented reality headset, the Redmond-based firm is trying to get developers excited about its potential as early as possible, opening a HoloLens experience section in the company’s new 5th Avenue retail store in Manhattan.

Units are now wireless and a heck of a lot easier to put on, but ultimately it is Microsoft’s fully realized vision of a mixed reality environment that truly impresses. It’s easy to imagine HoloLens’ potential in the gaming sector, but there are other uses cases in a variety of verticals that could prove entertaining and/or efficient. We’ve run down how HoloLens works with an in-depth hands-on earlier this year, explained why it isn’t a gimmick, and told you when the dev kit arrives, but it’s worth repeating that HoloLens isn’t virtual reality. But what makes this scene remarkable, and really cool, is that the battleground is an actual physical space inside a room at Microsoft’s flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City.

Microsoft has opened up a portal to let developers check out the $3,000 hardware ahead of the Q1 2016 Developer Edition ship date, but folks interested in seeing the hardware are asked to sign up for an appointment before dropping by. I’m being treated to a demonstration of Microsoft HoloLens, the Windows 10 based holographic computing system that I first got an early glimpse of last January.

Microsoft had invited me on Tuesday to the fifth floor of its new store for a special preview of what will be an ongoing, by appointment-only HoloLens Showcase for developers. HoloLens presents a virtual projection of computer-generated “holograms” that look and act like they’re part of the real world and may or may not look like the latest renderings from Redmond. I kept trying to wear them like glasses on the bridge of my nose, but the proper placement is to have the lenses floating an inch or two above your nose.

Digital objects take on an expansive sense of scale and depth because you can move around them and view them from different angles, with their shadows reacting to the lighting. My experience, and the ones most developers will see in the store, was designed to show off the presentation, building and more immersive capabilities of HoloLens. The outer one can adjust up and down and closer and further away from you face and the inner one has a tightening ring so it can clamp down securely on your noggin. The headgear was connected to a box hanging around my neck that apparently contained all the computing power required to make this bit of gee-wizardry possible.

In one of the demos I experienced back then, a woman appeared in a window laid in space over the real physical objects of a room and by effectively reaching out into my world to draw arrows and diagrams, helped me install a light switch. Unlike smartphone-based VR headsets and computer-tethered rigs designed primarily for gaming, the HoloLens headset is a standalone Windows 10 computer. Before I could even put it on, a Microsoft employee used a pupilometer to measure the distance between my pupils; whenever a final HoloLens version is released to consumers, such pupil measuring capabilities will be built in. You interact with it in three ways: By using your gaze as a mouse-pointer for digital objects, by making speech commands, and by pointing your index finger. Instead of creating a glossy one-sheet on a new watch, HoloLens was able to show the watch in 3D, simulate the internal gears, even replicate the ticking sound.

The good news is that at no point was my ability to see the rest of my surroundings cut off, which is important since I had to be able to see the real and virtual combined and, often, was walking around the room to see the 3D images from all sides. I noticed the limitations of that during a demo for Project X-Ray, a game in which flying robots bust out of the (real) walls around you and fire lasers at your face. Or you can use an “air tap” in which you which you raise your hand with a fist about foot in front of you and tap down and then back up with a single finger, a gesture that performs the functions of a mouse click. You can view holographic objects from various angles and distances, just like physical objects, but they do not offer any resistance if you come in direct contact. That is because fundamentally, HoloLens is just a Windows 10 PC, albeit one you wear on your head with a room-sensing IR blaster and a holographic display built in.

Microsoft also sees HoloLens making the process of designing and printing 3-D objects a snap, which could help push that technology further into the mainstream. In the “HoloStudio” demo, you can place virtual objects in a real-world environment to visualize your remodeling or redecorating before doing any heavy lifting. I finally got some virtual hands-on time with HoloStudio, a 3D design tool that lets you build 3D environments and even out put them on 3D printers and VR platforms. Now imagine how a real watch designer might use such a holographic presentation to explain and show off features, and even learn through “heat maps” which parts of the watch viewers gazed at most often, adjusting the presentation (quite literally) on the fly.

It’s free, and the three-part demo takes about an hour, but Microsoft says the waiting list for the showcase is already a couple hundred developers deep. But on this day, I had the most fun combatting those aliens in the Project X-Ray game, so codenamed because of that x-ray feature that let me see through the actual walls of the room—at least they appeared to be the actual walls. Using that information, HoloLens let me place a virtual sign on the wall, create 3D fish and even spray paint Star Wars X-Wing fighter that I’d placed at my feet. And in no small part, Microsoft also hopes it inspires developers to fork over the $3,000 for the HoloLens Development Edition headset, which starts shipping early next year. Interacting with most of HoloStudio menus and objects was usually a combination of looking at what I wanted to manipulate — basically visually positioning my cursor, which was almost never an arrow — and then tapping in the air with one finger to select.

Without a doubt, the best part of my demo suite was Project X-Ray (see photo above), a mixed-reality game that blends your room with attacking alien robots.

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