Yesterday, I took a road trip to see the Microsoft Hololens in person. A few months ago, someone posted the details of the HoloLens demo schedule and there was a location close to me, so I secured a spot right away. I’m glad I did, because all of the slots filled up just a few minutes after I submitted my reservation.
When I got there, they checked me in and I watched a short orientation video on how to put the device on your head and adjust it for maximum comfort. Then, they used a cool device to measure the distance between my pupils.
Once they wrote my number on a little piece of paper, they led me to a small room decorated with modern furniture and decor. It was about the size of 1 and ½ standard office cubicles. I entered the room and sat on the sofa to the left. The Microsoft employee went over a few points about the device and assisted me with putting it on my head. He then helped me adjust it for the best fit and a perfect image. My initial thoughts were focused on how lightweight the device felt.
The image on my “screen” was the home screen for a game. They told me that the game would be about stopping an alien invasion by using the three primary modes of interaction (I’m probably missing the exact terminology that they used): Focus, Gestures, and Voice. To “shoot” an alien, you simply looked at it so that the reticle in the center of your vision was over the alien. Then, you “clicked” with your index finger by holding it up straight, then bending it at the first joint – this caused laser beams to shoot from your eyes (a very cool effect). As time passes your “special power” bar builds up. Once it is full, you can access your special power, which is being able to see through the walls and shoot the aliens that are crawling back there. To activate your special power, you have to say, “X-Ray”.
Before starting the game, it required that I stand in the middle of the room and scan the walls by doing a slow 360° turn while it drew a polygonal matrix on the surface and remembered where everything was. It even detected the Microsoft employee and rendered the game around him as he moved about.
The first level was pretty easy, as the alien ship broke through the wall in front of me and little scorpion robots started crawling out. They moved fast, but were easy to shoot. The level after that had scorpions crawling behind the walls and required that I use my super power to see them. I actually felt like I could see through the wall in front of me, it was a pretty amazing effect. The next level took place on the wall to the left. When the ship broke through the wall, a new kind of alien emerged. This one did not crawl on the walls, it hovered in front of me and shot fireballs at me. After the first few fireballs hit me, the game paused and showed a broken windshield in front of me with instructions on how to dodge the fireballs. So, I continued and learned how to dodge the fireballs. The next level had a few super aliens that took about 4 or 5 successful hits before they died, while scorpions crawled on the walls. So, I had to dodge fireballs while shooting the scorpions and shooting the hovering alien.
After successfully completing that level, I got to the “boss” fight. This was an all out assault. Every kind of alien came out and required that I blast it. Plus, a new alien emerged that took many many hits to kill it (I stopped counting after 6). This alien shot out a constant laser beam and started at one side of the room and shot out over the rest of the room. I had to duck to avoid the laser while also avoiding the fireballs from the other aliens and killing them. As soon as my X-Ray built up, I activated it and could then see the bosses weak spot, I hit that a few times and it exploded.
During all of this, I was hearing 3-D sound as aliens spawned beside me and behind me. There were no headphones over my ears, it used an aural engine built into the sides of the device.
Overall, the game was engaging and appropriate to the technology I was wearing. It wasn’t a hammer looking for a nail. I really thought that I’d notice that I was wearing a heavy VR goggle, but I didn’t. I totally forgot that I had anything on. I was fully engaged in the game at hand. I did feel a little awkward ducking and dodging things that weren’t really there, but I felt the Microsoft employee had seen many other people doing this, so he was used to it.
The important thing to note here is that the HoloLens is a self-contained device. It does not have any wires tethering it to another computer. It has an onboard computer running Windows 10. It also has WiFi and BlueTooth built in for future peripherals.
After the game was over (I got the high score of the day 😉 ), I moved to another room where I met with the development team and discussed my experiences. They showed me a short slide show about the device and the partnership they have with the people that make the Unity gaming engine and tools. We talked about the upcoming SDK and the developer edition of the device (with a $3,000 price tag).
As far as virtual reality goes, I’m not sure the HoloLens will be a fully immersive experience. I think it will be less of a toy and more of a tool. If history has taught us anything, it’s that Microsoft is on the right track and is covering all the right bases with this, but they will be too early to the game and no one will buy it. Then, a few years later, Tim Cook will introduce the iReality with Apple VROS and the world will go crazy over it. Microsoft will come out with HoloLens 4.0, but everyone will talk about how Microsoft was too late to the game and how they’re always playing catch up to Apple.
All joking aside, I can see where this device will be extremely useful in medicine, mechanical engineering, and even cooking. I’m sure there are millions of use cases for it, but they have yet to be discovered.
I’m pretty excited about it, but I don’t think I’ll be able to come up with 3 grand to spend on niche electronics any time soon.
A while back, I had a chance to try on an Oculus Rift. It was a little too heavy for me. Plus, when I moved my head left or right, the momentum of the movement caused the device to shake when my head stopped moving, causing my VR experience to jitter. Also, the head tracking was a little slow on the Oculus. With the HoloLens, it fit snugly on my head and did not shake. Plus, the head tracking was instantaneous.
Other people have complained about the field of vision on the HoloLens. I agree that it had less available “screen” space compared to the Oculus, but I believe this is actually a good thing considering my opinion that this will be a tool and not a toy.
Microsoft was careful not to call this “Virtual Reality”, so they are aware of what they are doing.
Overall, I think the HoloLens shows great promise. I personally believe that once the IoT hotness subsides, this will quickly replace it as the hotness of tomorrow. If you’re interested in developing for the HoloLens, now is the time to get started. I think you’ve got a few years before it gains widespread acceptance.