Review: Microsoft’s HoloLens Mars Trip

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Hands-on: Microsoft’s HoloLens a new way to see your world.

In its Wednesday presentation unveiling the new HoloLens 3D headset, Microsoft showed off a number of exotic applications, from exploring the surface of Mars to designing a drone.Microsoft’s Windows 10 launch event saw the launch of Windows HoloLens and the HoloLens headset, which are some of the most intriguing products the company has unveiled in the recent past.

Instead, with its new HoloLens headset, the company is offering real-world examples to show how you might use three-dimensional digital images – or holograms – in daily life. The Windows HoloLens is similar to an augmented reality experience (the kind many apps on smartphones aim to give) except that this is much more advanced, because users can wear a headset, like Virtual Reality goggles, to experience holograms in real life. The clip, posted on YouTube and shown above, shows a man playing Minecraft, its landscapes and buildings painted across the vertical and horizontal surfaces of a living room. Instead of watching movies or TV shows on a physical television, families will be able to watch them on a virtual screen floating in the air in front of them.

Microsoft HoloLens allows you to pin holograms in your physical environment and provides a new way to see your world. * Microsoft HoloLens features see-through, holographic, high-definition lenses and spatial sound so you can see and hear holograms in the world around you. Microsoft says these holograms will transform your digital content (a say a picture or a graph or a game you’ve been playing) into real, physical objects in the room which you can physically interact with. In fact, Microsoft has also found the first adopters for the HoloLens: Scientists at NASA, who the company says will use HoloLens to explore Mars using images captured by the Mars Curiosity Rover. Last week, it suspended consumer sales after many people balked at the notion of wearing a digital camera and Internet-connected device on their head. While immersed in a virtual world, users are best advised to stay seated or keep still to avoid collisions with physical objects they cannot see in the real world. * What does it mean to have holograms on Windows 10?

At the same time, because HoloLens is transparent, it won’t isolate families who are watching a show together the way older 3D goggles would have done. Windows 10 is the first platform to support holographic computing with APIs that enable gesture and environmental understanding on an untethered device. More than five years ago at a big games conference, Microsoft revealed the technology that it eventually named Kinect, a device that used cameras and other sensors to let people play games with gestures and voice. Samsung and Oculus VR – which Facebook bought for $2 billion last year – are developing gaming headsets that essentially block the wearer’s view and replace it with an imaginary world. According to Microsoft’s official page on the HoloLens, the headset doesn’t require cords, wires or phones or tethers, has a transparent lens and advanced sensors, has built in spatial sounds, and is powered by Windows 10.

Seeing the technology for the first time, the director Steven Spielberg said, felt like “an historic moment, a moment as significant as the transformation from the square-shaped movie screen to Cinemascope, and then to IMAX.” That device, too, was unfinished, along with the games that were supposed to exploit it. For most of us, watching movies, TV shows, and sports is a social experience, and it would be a lot less fun if each of us was isolated in our own virtual world. As this Engadget piece notes, based on the images of the device one can see “at least four cameras or sensors on the front of the HoloLens prototype.” Microsoft has not given away too many details on what they can do or what exactly they are capable of. No matter, though: Microsoft whipped up a short movie to show a model family, with impeccable grooming and skin, playing all manner of games using Kinect.

As for the “holographic processing unit” , Microsoft explained during the presentation that it was needed because the set was processing terabytes of data in real time to understand gestures, voice and map the environment. In the movie, it was easy to miss the disclaimer that said, “Product vision: Actual features and functionality may vary.” Initially, Kinect, sold as an add-on to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console, was a stunning hit.

In the three months after it was released in Nov. 2010, Microsoft said it sold 10 million of the devices, earning it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest-selling consumer electronics device. After slow sales of the console, mostly because of the added cost of Kinect, Microsoft reversed course and began selling a cheaper Xbox One without the device.

Now it’s hard to find many developers bothering to write games for the Kinect, an understandable decision since they can no longer count on the device being present in homes with an Xbox One. What’s also clear is that many consumers didn’t feel the value of a Kinect justified the extra $100 Microsoft was charging to get it with the Xbox One. We spoke and used hand gestures to place digital markers on different rocks, in an exercise simulating how scientists might use the system to direct the rover’s exploration.

Microsoft HoloLens, a holographic lens device, allows users to see three-dimensional renderings of computer-generated images. (Courtesy: Microsoft Corporation) But another exercise brought home how useful the gadget might be. There were wires dangling everywhere from the headset, some of them tethered to a heavy box that you had to hang around your neck during the demonstration. Kipman called HoloLens ”the next step” in moving ”beyond today’s digital borders.” Microsoft executives talked about other uses – from helping a surgeon learn a new operating technique to designing objects for 3-D printers.

Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor costs $150 to $250; HoloLens headsets combine Kinect-style sensors with several other components, so they’re likely to cost even more. Eventually, they’ll be cheap enough that most households can afford to own several, just as many households today have a collection of iPods, smartphones, and tablets.

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