From the beginning, Microsoft has tried to set its nascent augmented reality technology, dubbed HoloLens, apart from competing VR solutions. While VR companies like Oculus and Sony’s Playstation VR have focused on showcasing how virtual reality creates new opportunities to explore games and distant worlds, Microsoft’s AR demos have dedicated themselves to showing how augmented reality concepts can overlay and interact with real life. Now, the software giant has revealed the upcoming HoloLens developer edition — and its $3,000 price tag.
Reactions to the developer kit have been mixed so far. There’s no doubt that so-called “mixed reality” games can offer some interesting experiences; Microsoft’s own demo on the show floor showed robots breaking into a mocked-up living room and attacking a player. The spider bots are aware of the layout of furniture and other room objects as well as other creatures generated by the AR title — as a larger robot breaks into the room, the smaller robots scuttle to get out of its way. They can be destroyed by the player and can fire projectiles at him (as shown below).
Unlike VR kits, which all require some additional device support (even if that’s just a mobile phone), the HoloLens is its own self-contained unit. Exactly which hardware components are used in the system is unclear, but we’ve heard rumors of an x86 processor, 60Hz refresh rate, and 2GB of RAM in total. Earlier this year, there were rumors that HoloLens used a custom Intel Cherry Trail processor — whether this is still true with the upcoming developer kits isn’t something Redmond is willing to tell the public just yet. Microsoft also claims to have developed its own holographic processor unit, or HPU, based on a custom silicon design.
The living room demo
The full demo video can be seen below — if you want to skip to the actual game demonstration, it starts around the 1:15 mark.As tech demos go, this one is fairly impressive, but it also raises some questions Microsoft hasn’t historically been good at answering. Once upon a time, the new hot technology from Microsoft wasn’t HoloLens but Project Natal, later called Kinect. Like HoloLens, Kinect was going to revolutionize gaming by turning your entire body into a controller. In reality, turning someone’s entire body into a controller wasn’t actually much fun. It made it nearly impossible to control player movement through a game world or to perform complex tasks. Without buttons to press, players were reliant on swipes or other large motions.
If Microsoft had focused on making Kinect integration game-enhancing — by, for example, allowing players to use military sign language to issue orders to squadmates in games like Battlefield 3 or 4, then the technology might have taken off or at least earned a devoted following in specific titles. Instead, Kinect was generally ignored after the initial flurry of launch titles. By the time the Xbox One launched, Kinect 2 integration was seen as a negative, not a positive.
Microsoft’s living room demo is impressive, but it’s not actually a living room. And these sorts of demos appear to position HoloLens to have some of the same problems as Kinect did — when your controller is your body, you need ample room to move, fire, and engage. People in small houses / apartments (or those that simply own some bulky furniture) are going to be less able to interact with Microsoft’s AR tech in the ways the company seems to think will be most valuable.