My experience with Microsoft HoloLens

I got to try a HoloLens today!

After the keynote yesterday at //build, I signed up online to try to get to demo it, and a few hours later I got an email saying I was on a waitlist. I sighed and couldn’t conceive of a way that I would get off of that list (they didn’t require you to confirm in advance or anything, so even if people didn’t show up it would probably be too late to invite someone else), so I sighed and went on with my life.

Then I heard that there was a strict NDA around the whole thing and it was a short demo, so this morning I was consoling myself that it wouldn’t be that great anyway. Literally minutes later I got an email saying I was in for a 12:30 slot! (what’s the opposite of “sour grapes”?)

So I showed up early to a nearby hotel and we waited in line for a while. We were batched in groups of 8 and taken up to the 27th floor. I’ve never been to an event where a company rented out a whole floor of a hotel. (and probably more than one, now that I think about it) It was neat!

As the email said, we were lead into a locker room and told to put away any device that could record anything. (no NDA, though, which is why you’re hearing about it!) Then we went next door where we got a quick intro to the device from some of the people who have been working on it. The main ways to interact with HoloLens are GGV – gaze means where your head is facing is where the “mouse” is, gestures is a simple move of your index finger up and down (like clicking a mouse) to select something, and voice to give other commands. We then were measured for our interpupillary distance (mine is 64!) with a fancy device (which we were assured would not be packaged with every HoloLens; they’re working on fixing this in software), then lead down the hall. Each hotel room had one demo station; mine had two Microsoft employees, which I assume was typical.

So! I got some duplicate explanation and then I got to put the device on. I was able to get a comfortable fit with my glasses, although it took a bit of tweaking. The HoloLens itself was totally wireless, although it clearly communicated with a laptop later on in the demo. It didn’t feel particularly heavy, either.

The first scenario was hanging a sign on a wall. There was a sign on the floor, but it didn’t look right – when I moved closer to it it got further away, etc. I said this and they seemed to know what the problem was; after recalibrating it (or whatever) I put it back on and it worked. The motion and head tracking worked very well – the holograms really looked like they were in a physical spot in the room! They weren’t quite as bright as I would have liked, but they were fairly clear. I was able to walk around the sign and see the back as well.

One big downside is that the field of view is a lot smaller than I had thought/hoped. It’s wide enough that you can use it, but it’s definitely not immersive like the Oculus Rift. I feel like it was maybe the center third of my vision both horizontally and vertically, althouhg I could be way off.

Anyway, I was able to interact with the sign by looking at it and “clicking” to pick it up, then it followed my gaze. To put it on the wall I had to say something like “scan wall” (probably not the actual words) and then the depth finding went to work and in a few seconds was showing me a cool mesh over the detected surface. It worked surprisingly well and looked very cool. I realize that this is really not that different from what Kinect does, but seeing it in front of your eyes makes it seem way more space-age-y 🙂

So I put the sign on the wall and that was that.

The next demo was a 3D model of an underwater scene. After just walking around it and looking a bit, I got to use spray paint to change the color of things. At the start of the demo the toolbox was over in a corner of the room, so I kept looking over there and clicking to select a color. Changing tools was done via speech, like “spray paint”, “move”, “copy” and the like. The voice recognition was almost flawless, and the more I “clicked” the more impressed I was, because it never missed a click even though I didn’t raise my hand up in front of my face or anything and I was purposefully a bit lazy about the motion. Kudos!

The final demo was taking a 3D model of what was (for legal reasons) definitely not an X-wing, changing some colors on that, and exporting the new model to a website, which all just worked. Then the short demo was over, modulo the T-shirt and poster I got.

So…what do I think?
– The actual functionality worked pretty darn well, better than I expected given how paranoid they were about recording devices and the like.
– The headset was comfortable enough, although I only had it on for like 10 minutes.
– The field of view keeps it from being too immersive.
– I’m not sure what the future is for HoloLens. For some niche markets, like 3D modeling or diagnosing mechanical problems remotely or whatnot it seems like a really good idea. The demo they had at the keynote about Joe Consumer pinning apps to walls…I’m not convinced that’s going to be a thing that people will do.
– It was a pretty cool experience and I was a little giddy coming out of it 🙂

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