What is Microsoft Hololens?
Hololens is a special project at Microsoft aimed at building a computer you wear on your head. This head-mounted computer is being built to offer a unique computing experience, where you reach out with your hand and make a click gesture with your finger to interact with apps that float in front of you in the real world. It's currently available as a Developer Kit to Microsoft partners that want to build unique experiences suited for interacting with the real world and the computer at the same time.
This is a Developer Kit? What does that mean?
Basically, a Hololens Developer Kit is something close to what Microsoft wants to sell, but not 100% ready for everyone just yet. There could be some adjustments to the hardware, and there will absolutely be adjustments to the software, but the core ideas are enough for app developers to build for a future where people like us can buy Hololens and use apps on Hololens. Even though it is only supposed to be available to developers right now, Hololens is an impressive advancement in the way we think about wearable computers.
Hololens is its own computer? It doesn't need to connect to anything?
That's right! Hololens contains a whole computer in the headband, which runs a special version of Windows 10. You can still connect Hololens to a computer for maintenance and data transfer, but when in use Hololens is built to be enjoyed while sitting on a couch or standing in your office.
The special display and gesture recognition technology in Hololens removes the need for a traditional mouse and keyboard for most things, so it is able to act as a mostly standalone system in its current form. This one of several significant differences between Hololens and something like the Oculus Rift. The other significant difference is the way the display works, using Augmented Reality to allow you to see the rest of the world around you instead of immersing you in an entirely new environment.
Augmented reality? It's not a Virtual Reality headset?
Virtual Reality typically refers to an environment that completely replaces the one you are currently in. Hololens takes the world around you into account and includes information and menu system alongside the real world, which is a process called Augmented Reality. The difference is significant, especially when it comes to how you interact with apps and games. Having your display draw a chess board on a table in front of you is an incredible experience, and it's one Hololens is uniquely set up to do.
What can you do with Hololens?
First and foremost, Hololens is a Windows 10 computer. This means you can install and use a number of Windows 10 apps, and the headset gives the illusion of projecting those apps on the wall or ceiling. This is great if you want to watch a video on YouTube or stream Xbox One games from the console to your headset, but Augmented Reality can go a lot further than acting as a projected Windows 10 display. 3D holograms can be set anywhere in the room and interacted with from every angle, and those holograms can be deeply involved. One of the more popular example of this is Minecraft, as in the demo the voxel world you create is drawn on the world around you. This means the areas you mine and explore are built on top of your furniture, and you can wander around to see everything. just by walking in your living room.
Minecraft sounds cool. Is this safe for kids?
Like any head-mounted computer with special displays, there's no immediate harm to children but there should be limits placed on how long the headset is worn. Microsoft is not currently recommending the headset be used for any specific time by children, especially since this is only a Developer Kit right now, but reasonable judgement is called for here. Anyone under the age of 13 should avoid using the headset for more than 30 minutes at a time. Unlike a Virtual Reality headset, however, there's almost no chance of your child walking into walls with Hololens on.
I'm supposed to walk around wearing this thing?
Absolutely! Microsoft has worked hard to create experiences that directly encourage lots of movement. This doesn't mean you're going to be dodging lasers or fighting zombies up close like you would with the HTC Vive, but there are absolutely examples of wandering outside and using Hololens to help you tend to your garden. This means you walk out to your actual garden, and Hololens maps out your environment and encourages you to make Augmented Reality changes so you can see what those changes would look like before grabbing hedge trimmers.
You may not want to walk around a grocery store with Hololens, but walking around your home or office is absolutely something you are encouraged to do.
I love this. How do I get Hololens right now?
Unless you are a developer, you probably want to hold off on getting Hololens just yet. However, if you're really itching to get your hands on one of these headsets right now, you can grab one on the Microsoft Store. The Hololens Developer Edition is currently $3,000, and Microsoft has not made any comments on the final retail price of Hololens, but it's there now if you absolutely must have it.