Sunday, November 08, 2015



Ten minutes with the HOLOLENS and perhaps 15 minutes more with MS developers and MS evangelists do not make me an expert on the HOLOLENS.

Nevertheless, here are my non-expert second impressions. (Note: My first impressions were MS videos and various online stories about the device.)

Before starting, it is important to understand that the traditional and the more literal definition of a hologram is: a recorded image of a wave field of light through which light is passed to recreate a three dimensional image in space. It does not seem that the HOLOLENS creates holograms in this sense; to MS, a hologram is just any digitally created, apparently 3 dimensional figure, in space. (The result is similar, the technology seems to be different.)

One more thing: the HOLOLENS is potentially terrific, but everything depends on the final product that is released, first to developers, then to the public; and even on the later evolution of the product. Currently it is still in development, and the final product could be different in any number of ways. Everything said here should be considered “hypothetical”. For example, in everything below… “Can” should be “could”; “will” should be “may”, etc.

Here are the headlines…


• is excellent for Augmented Reality. It can be used to acquire information about anything it sees and present that to the user. It should be able to do anything the first version of Google Glass suggested, but better.
• is able to create a sense of its local, current environment by using its distance sensors to map the environment and create an internal mesh (similar to Project Tango). Software can then allow an interaction between digital created objects and the real environment.
• is good for Mixed Reality, where virtual characters and objects (not just text and information) are placed within the field of view. Based on the version I saw, and what I have read, the HOLOLENS can potentially do this well, but it still needs better hardware (for example, a larger field of view for the digital images) and lots of software.
• can be immersive, though differently from the Oculus Rift or Gear VR which block out the current environment. Instead, the HOLOLENS can create an immersive aura within the user’s physical, actual environment. (Immersive theater – eg SLEEP NO MORE – takes place in a real place too, not just in your head. And, of course, a naked person lying on your bed in your own bedroom would be pretty immersive also.)
• is a complete and quite powerful computer – which explains why it is expensive. It is untethered to a standalone computer, so you can move around with it.
• is able to connect wirelessly to a local or remote computer, so it can be used for remote communication with other people (for example to collaborate on a repair on a remote object, or for videoconferencing), and it can offload heavy-duty processing (for example, to enable deep searching).
• includes 3D 360 degree audio headphones, distance sensors, cameras, a microphone, and head tracking hardware.
• can be controlled by voice input, and by hand gestures in the air.
• is very good looking.

The current version had some minor problems for me.

• I found the headset uncomfortable -- made entirely of hard material, it does not have the comfort of a foam contact. Also, though it supported my glasses, it pressed on the bridge of my nose.
• The first unit I used seemed to have the text running at a slight angle. They changed the unit.
• While moving around – in particular bending down -- my fingers were not in the right position for a “click” gesture.
• And the sound was at first a bit muffled. They adjusted it.

It is not at all clear what utility software will be provided when the HOLOLENS becomes available to developers. It seems likely that many of the interesting applications will require a lot of programming. The more utilities are provided, the easier and more powerful it will be for developers. Currently, it seems like any kind of Windows 10 programming, together with Unity, comprises the supported software. The HOLOLENS -- as MS has said many times -- is a “Windows 10 Computer”.

It was great to be able to get any time at all with the HOLOLENS and with developers!

There were, however, some minor problems with the demo:

By the way, before trying this preview of perhaps the most advanced display device on Earth, my visit to the demo room began, ironically, with a trip to a candle-lit restroom; apparently no one at MS could figure out how to turn on an electric light there.

• I felt rushed.
• They could have spent more time adjusting the device before the demo started.
• The demo was just a short first-person shooter experience; the demo could have been longer and exhibited some non-game attributes of the device.
• The game was not that interesting, actually, and it did not really highlight the ability of the device to create impressive 3D objects in the whole space. As noted before by other people who have tried the HOLOLENS, the FOV for rendered text and images in the current version of the device is much less than the demo videos would lead you to believe.
• It did not include any opportunity to “twiddle” with the game/device to see how things worked.
• There was for me no sense of the 3D sound the system is capable of – if it happened, it went by too quickly, while I was trying not to get killed.
• After the demo, there was a lame feedback questionnaire on a computer.
• Then we (three of us at a time) were rushed through a session with the developers. I asked only some of my questions.
• And although they asked, they did not seem very interested in our feedback on the device.

Here are some questions that did not (surprise, surprise!) get answered:

• What are the specs for the hardware???
• Developer editions are $3,000 sometime in Q1 2016, but what is the schedule and price target for the general release?
• What utilities will be in the software when it is released to developers?

The HOLOLENS has distinct hardware parts:

• Input sensors, including a state-of-the-art 3D “camera +…” system for gathering environmental data including the distance to objects, and head tracking.
• An advanced (but not yet perfected) system for outputting visual and 3D/360 audio information to the user, while allowing the user to see and hear the actual physical environment.
• A specialized, game/audio/video/VR advanced, head-mounted computer.
• Communications devices to interact remotely with people or computers.

If the components of the HOLOLENS were unbundled (not an option that was discussed), some uses may require only some of the hardware. Similarly, other components, such as a phone, specialized cameras, or integrated wearables could potentially be bundled in as added options.

What are some things it is good for?

• Augmented and Mixed Reality applications.
• Because the computer is specialized (and head-mounted) finding generalized uses for the computer (thus amortizing the cost) may be difficult, and most applications of the HOLOLENS will need to justify the cost of the whole package for a specific application.
• One set of possible applications could be any general use where the ability to carry this powerful computer around on your head can be convenient. For example, students may find it a convenience to have a whole study room available on their head. 
• People who need hands-free complex information while operating in a real space could use it. There can be many scientific, medical, and industrial applications.
• The ability to communicate remotely while sharing a view of the same space may make it very valuable for industrial training.
• Videoconferencing.
• Serious gamers may love it.
• If the device can be passed from user to user in a sanitary way (eg no head lice?), then units could be pooled at a VR theater or gamesite.
• With the same caveat, units could be pooled at museums, tourist attractions, and other similar places. It could be used to give information at art sales, concerts and other places where you need added information while still present in the space.
• Porn.
• Transmedia, (possibly interactive), live, theatrical presentations where live actors are coupled with added pre-created content.
• Location specific games.
• Mapping real spaces, then exploring them remotely.
• Exploring mixed real and imaginary places.
• Shopping. (for example, a virtual mirror – or placing potential purchases in a real setting -- curtains? couch? How does it look in my living room?)
• Advertising.
• While some applications can be symmetric – both the creation of the app content, and the user employ a HOLOLENS -- other applications may be a-symmetric: created WITH a HOLOLENS, but FOR a different target device; created with no HOLOLENS, but targeting a user wearing one; or (if the HOLOLENS were modular) created by the developer with some components of the HOLOLENS for a user with different components. For example, there may be applications that need only the distance sensors, or only the visual input, or only audio output, enabling a simpler, less expensive version of the complete device.
• Sensors for handicapped users: visual sensing with audio alerts for the visually challenged; speech-to-text for the hearing impaired.
• Workers in hazardous environments could use coupled sensors analyzed by the powerful onboard computer to monitor environmental conditions while maintaining visual and audio freedom in the space.
• While it might not be safe for a driver to wear one, mounting the visual input system on a vehicle could supplement the GPS for driving info; or a passenger/navigator could use the device for in-travel directions and other information.
• There’s no reason why the HOLOLENS should not be able to incorporate (optionally?) other devices, like a phone, a camera, a radio, and be linked to other wearable devices, etc.

The Wikipedia page for HOLOLENS (see link below) lists some applications that have been announced or demonstrated, including, in particular, a collaboration with NASA.

(And of course I have plans for my own HOLOLENS application(s) as soon as I can obtain the developer edition!)

All in all, the bottom line is there is still work to be done on both hardware and software and, because it will be expensive, the applications must be valuable enough to justify the cost of purchase. But, most important, the HOLOLENS is potentially a tremendously valuable device, with many important possible applications, and it is REAL.






HOLOLENS EVENTS (HOLOLENS is RIGHT NOW touring the country with on-head demos!)






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