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Microsoft HoloLens: Everything you’ll ever need to know about Microsoft’s AR device

Microsoft HoloLens is here for developers, but what does that mean for consumers?

Microsoft’s HoloLens has gone rather quiet lately. Its announcement at the start of 2015 generated a tonne of hype, with developers itching to go hands-on with the device. The first hardware was eventually released to developers and enterprises in March 2016 – but we’ve still not had a sniff of when we can expect a consumer-oriented release.

This doesn’t mean that HoloLens is dead. Far from it: a whole suite of interesting applications and experiments has been quietly evolving. HoloLens technology is helping designers visualise the cars and houses of tomorrow; transporting people to new worlds; reviving historical monuments; and proving that augmented reality is the future.

Until we consumers are actually able to go hands-on with a HoloLens in an everyday environment, however, it’s all just tantalising potential. Until then, here’s everything we know about Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Microsoft HoloLens: Everything you need to know

Microsoft HoloLens release date: When’s HoloLens coming out?

Microsoft made the HoloLens available to developers and enterprises back in 2016. Shipments started on 30 March 2016 to those in North America, with a release in Australia, Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand and the UK following on 12 October 2016.

Since then, Microsoft has added Singapore and the UAE to the list – but there’s been no word about when it might get a proper global rollout, nor any hints about when it will be available to consumers.

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Microsoft HoloLens for consumers: Will Microsoft be making a HoloLens for the home?

Ever since the arrival of the developer and enterprise editions of the HoloLens, commentators have been asking Microsoft about a consumer edition.

While there’s been no official commitment to producing a consumer headset, a recent blog post from Alex Kipman in Microsoft’s Operating System Group has confirmed that a new version of HoloLens is in the works, using custom AI chips as part of HoloLens’ Holographic Processing Unit. There’s also a focus on understanding object persistence and work on collaborative spaces.

If this does come to market in the next year or two, it still may not be a consumer product – simply an upgrade upon the previous developer and enterprise editions of HoloLens. However we also know that Microsoft is working with Dell, HP and Asus to create HoloLens-based headsets, which suggests that consumer devices are very much on its roadmap.

And if things seem to be moving very slowly, that might all be part of the plan. In an interview with BBC Click, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he saw HoloLens as a “five-year journey” – so perhaps we’ll see a Microsoft-branded Consumer Edition of the HoloLens in 2021.

Microsoft HoloLens price: How much does HoloLens cost?

If you’re able to buy a HoloLens – which basically means, if you’re a developer or a buyer for your company – you’ll find that these devices aren’t cheap.

To purchase the HoloLens developer edition, you’re looking at £2,719 or $3,000. If you work for an educational institute you can get 10% off the asking price when you purchase three or more kits at the same time.

And if that sounds steep, picking up the “Commercial Suite”, as the enterprise edition is officially called, will set you back £4,529 – or $5,000 – per unit. The same 10% educational discount can be applied on the Commercial Suite if you’re from a qualifying institute.

That sort of price may make the HoloLens a tough sell for organisations who might simply wish to trial the technology – so Microsoft has also begun a rental scheme for the device. Working with partner company Abcomrents, Microsoft is letting users take short loans on HoloLens devices so they “can evaluate before purchasing or increase their inventory temporarily to support tradeshows and events.”

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Microsoft HoloLens features: How does HoloLens work, and what does it do?

Although the HoloLens currently comes in two flavours, the only difference between the developer edition and the Commercial Suite is what comes in the box. The hardware is exactly the same, but the Commercial Suite comes with enterprise-grade software and features to make it easier to showcase what HoloLens is capable of.

How does HoloLens work?

The technology inside the HoloLens is actually pretty straightforward – once you’ve overcome the hurdles of fitting a capable computer into a headset. In front of your eyes, two “holographic” lenses display images projected from its two high-definition “light engines”.

Meanwhile, the input from four “environment understanding cameras” – plus a depth-sensing camera, an “internal measurement unit” and an ambient light sensor – is used to make virtual objects appear and behave as if they were part of your real-world environment.

What can HoloLens do?

The HoloLens was conceived as a workplace-first product. It can be a powerful tool for collaborative working, for training workers or for other educational experiences. In the field, we’ve seen it used for visualising 3D architectural renderings; for auto prototyping, without the need for models; and for medical training, without the need for real bodies.

The HoloLens is also supposed to support regular Windows 10 apps; we’ve seen this showcased in the form of a floating Skype video call overlaid on your vision, while a virtual video player app is pinned to the wall of your home.

When it comes to possible consumer applications, there’s a whole world of potential yet to be explored. At E3 2016, Microsoft showed us how HoloLens could put a fresh perspective on Minecraft, and we’ve also seen a demo of Halo being streamed from an Xbox into a HoloLens headset. This might not sound revolutionary, but it allows you to play games on a cinema-sized virtual screen – without taking up any space at all in your home.

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Microsoft HoloLens hardware: What are HoloLens’ specs?

Microsoft has managed to cram an awful lot of computing power into a small unit – yet, impressively, it only weighs 579g, around 100g more than the HTC Vive.

Intriguingly, the specifics are a little hush-hush; for example, Microsoft has talked about its Holographic Processing Unit (HPU), but it hasn’t revealed what’s inside, nor who manufactures what parts. Even so, we’ve been able to pick apart a fair amount of technical information. Here’s what we know:

Optics2 x Holographic lenses (waveguides)

2 x HD 16:9 light engines

Automatic pupillary distance calibration

Holographic Resolution2.3 million total light points
Holographic Density>2,500 radiants (light points per radian)
SensorsAmbient light sensor

Inertial Measurement Unit

Depth camera

2-megapixel photo / HD video camera

4 x environment-understanding cameras

4 x microphones

Human UnderstandingSpatial sound

Gaze tracking

Gesture input

Voice support

Connectivity3.5mm audio jack

802.11ac Wi-Fi

micro-USB 2

Bluetooth 4.1 Low Energy

Processors1.04GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8100
Memory2GB RAM
OSWindows 10

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