Microsoft's Build conference keynote gives us another look at HoloLens

Microsoft's Build conference kicked off yesterday with a three hour keynote. Build is aimed at developers and so of course was the keynote, but towards the very end we got another look at HoloLens.

HoloLens is Microsoft's augmented reality system. With so many companies driving towards virtual reality, Microsoft is going a slightly different way. Augmented reality projects digital graphics over the real world by way of a pair of glasses. This means you're not as isolated as you are with a VR visor and can still see and interact with the real world while using HoloLens.

For the stage show Microsoft had a camera rigged up to see HoloLens projections and that display was shown on a screen above the stage where a presenter was interacting with HoloLens projections to show off the tech.

Microsoft was presenting HoloLens as a tool for teaching, and also demonstrated its use with architects who could supplement physical models with digital, HoloLens-projected mockups. And then there was the cute virtual dog ad the cute virtual extension to a small physical robot. But what I found most intriguing was a living room simulation where a user essentially replaced the physical screens in his house with virtual HoloLens screens.

So for example he has a video playing in a small window on one wall, and pins a window of Skype contacts to another wall. On an end table is a virtual weather widget telling him what the weather is currently like at a vacation destination. Then as he moves to another part of his house, he commands the video window to follow him. It detaches itself from the wall and floats along beside him until he pins it again, then stretches it to take up an entire wall, giving him a virtual 10' screen to watch his movie on.

Really this is better seen than described. Here's a video of the entire keynote; the HoloLens demos start at the 2:30 mark:

I find the potential of this technology very exciting, but we'll see how well it works in practice. In theory you could replace your computer monitors and your TV with HoloLens, but it'll depend on how steady and how opaque the virtual windows are. I don't want to be typing on a virtual computer screen that jitters in space in front of my eyes, and I want to be able to look away from it. It would need to stay firmly in place once pinned. And unless you have a huge blank wall, you'd want video screens to appear very opaque so you don't see door frames, pictures or clutter behind the movie you're trying to watch.

And of course there's the question of price. For movies in particular you're going to need a HoloLens for everyone watching so they're going to have to be affordable. That might be asking too much for the first iteration.

Microsoft is confident enough in the technology that they said they had hundreds of HoloLens for developers to play around with at Build. But they weren't confident enough (or the devices aren't cheap enough) that they're sending everyone home with a HoloLens set!

I'm looking forward to hearing reports from the developers attending Build. I'm personally more excited about AR than VR since AR seems like it'll be a lot less claustrophobic. There's no launch date in site for HoloLens though, so for now we'll all have to be patient.

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