I was quite lucky to have a try on this device last September when we scheduled a demo for our company at Microsoft Sydney office, to add to that when I had a first hand demo on this it was only me and the Regional manager for HoloLens at Microsoft covering Asia-Pacific, Japan and China, Rocky Heckman so I have all the time playing around with the device (well 2 hours to be precise). I traveled all the way from New Zealand to Sydney to do this and here is my take on this wonderful device Microsoft had developed.
This was quite a late post since I tried this device last September 13 but after the MS Ignite Conference here in New Zealand it reminded me that I haven’t posted my review on it yet. At first I did not know what to expect with this device, all I know about it was the videos I saw on You Tube about Minecraft.
When I first saw that video shown at E3 I was so amazed as this things was only possible on my dreams when I was a child, now it’s a reality but does it really look like that in real life? I can say it is near but not 100% similar to what you see on You Tube videos. Before we go into that lets discuss the device and this are all what I noticed when I gave it a shot.
When I first saw the device first thing I noticed is that it’s not connected to any computer at all, its a full-blown computer on its own and whats good is that it runs Window 10 so you can run applications that can run on Windows 10 like Microsoft Office, browse the internet or even just watch videos. The specs are quite good as well, it has 64GB Flash Memory and 2GB RAM (2GB CPU and 1GB HPU [Holographic Processing Unit]) with a 2-3 hours of battery time on active use in a 579g device.
There are also tons of sensors on the device and here are some of it : 1 IMU, 4 environment understanding cameras, 1 depth camera, 1 2MP photo / HD video camera, Mixed reality capture 4 microphones, 1 ambient light sensor and that enables Hololens can understand Voice, Spatial sound, Gestures and even do Gaze Tracking. I noticed the sensors do its job really well, all the gestures that I made when I was trying it was interpreted correctly.
Build quality is amazing, it fits well to your head when adjusted correctly and unlike the usual VR Gears it will not smell when used by a lot of people as its does not contact the skin on your face but it is held by tightening that internal ring into your head.
Now lets talk what it can do and whats the quality of the holograms. First thing I asked when I was given the device is the Minecraft game sadly it was not for production yet or I think even a release candidate hence it was not installed on the device I tried, instead they set up an application called HoloTour an audiovisual three-dimensional virtual tourism application where I was warped to the streets of Rome as well as Machu Picchu. At first you will be presented with the Windows Start menu where you control it via pinch gesture (as a mouse click) by moving your head (as a mouse movement), the Start Menu floats in the room as you walk so you can freely use the device while constantly moving without getting dizzy as you can still see the outside world. Once the applications is running it will take over most of the screen but still with visible outside world. It might not be similar experience to a VR headset but I like this more as I can still see the outside world if I wanted to, you can also forget it if you want if you get immersed with the holographic content. The app was great specially the Rome part, I can walk in one of the streets of Rome and interact with some of the objects, even I can see the outside world I felt I was there.
One thing you will notice if you had used Samsung’s VR or Oculus Rift is that the images thrown on the screen don’t feel pixellated even though the resolution of the screen is just 2.3 MP (1920 x 1200), it was quite bright as well as it can block the light on a large lighted window. I quite like the experience even it’s not a full view, once you get immersed then you forget the outside world but since its there you can walk without hitting anything or be dizzy. The holograms can interact with the outside world or the reality so the surfaces can interact with the virtual content.
As we were discussing on what to develop on this I realized it’s quite complicated but its all up to your imagination what you can do, the device can handle it you just need to write or develop it. One complex example is if you place a holographic glass as an example on a real table, you have to accommodate when the table is moved the glass should move with it, or when the table is tilted the glass should fall or ride with the table at an angle. Another scenario is when you leave that room where the glass is on the table, what happens if someone removed the table in the room and you come back in, will the glass be floating or not.
With complex scenarios like this you might need a little bit of help with the MS team hence they are offering this option if you want to develop something, there are few resources out there so if you want to be a pioneer in developing apps for it then its best to do this option. What happens is that you and your team will be travelling to Redmond for a 2 week workshop and develop a working prototype with the Hololens team. It will not be cheap but I guess it’s all worth it.
If you are quite not ready yet to shell out that investment then you can order development kits which only cost US$3000 with this you can easily develop using Visual Studio and try it out on the device. But if you still don’t have the US$3000 then you can just use the emulator at first attempt and once you have a working prototype in there you can convince your boss to get a development kit.
Overall I think this device will go a long way, the things it can do is endless and we as developers are just limited to our imagination. Its our imagination that can make this thing work and hopefully there is lot of creative people out there that can contribute so this device don’t get forgotten in time.