Starting this Thursday, developers who have been wanting to try HoloLens will have the chance to experience it for themselves at the Microsoft flagship store in New York. Microsoft is opening the first longer-term HoloLens Experience showcase for developers in a dedicated space at the store, and I got to preview it. I wasn't allowed to take photos or video, but I can share my experience.
The dedicated space at the flagship store will provide an opportunity for developers to experience Microsoft HoloLens first hand and get started on creating for the platform.
The experience starts in a room with a 96-inch TV and reclining leather chairs. A Microsoft rep gives an introduction about the HoloLens Experience showcase for developers, and then shows the "HoloLens - Transform Your World" video on the big screen. You can watch it below.
After the introduction, my interpupillary distance (IPD) was measured. It's the distance between the centers of the pupils in each eye, and is used to properly calibrate the headset. There were three demos separated by room and each demo lasts about 10 minutes. There's an attendant in each room who explains the demo and help you wear the HoloLens. The order of the demos is different for everyone.
My first demo was a game codenamed Project X-Ray. In addition to the HoloLens, I was also given an Xbox One controller. This game lets developers explore the potential of mixed reality gaming and show that HoloLens has both spatial sound and environment understanding. Robots in the virtual world were flying out of the paintings on the wall in the real world. I had to use the Xbox controller to shoot them down, duck away from enemy fire, and move around constantly to make sure there weren't any robots behind me.
The second demo was an exploration in holographic storytelling. I was placed in a retail store environment where I can take a closer look at watches. The HoloLens virtually placed items on an empty table in real life. I was using my eyes to point the cursor on different highlighted items. I was taught how to "air click," which is moving your index finger in front of the HoloLens, like clicking on a mouse. What I found interesting is that retailers can collect data on what the customers are looking at through the HoloLens, and can use that data to improve sales.
The third demo was a first-hand look at how Microsoft HoloLens can be used to create in three dimensions in an experience called HoloStudio. I was placing virtual items in the room and moved around to take a closer look. I was also painting items by selecting colors from the toolbox and pointing at different surfaces of the objects.
Thoughts on HoloLens
The first time I used HoloLens was at Build 2015, so the experience isn't totally new to me. During the Build event, I was dropping a virtual ball on a real table and watched it roll down. I was in a much bigger room with several other people trying on HoloLens. The three demos at the HoloLens Experience showcase at the Microsoft store, however, are different. Each demo is a one-on-one experience in a small room. The attendant can answer your questions or concerns. So what do I think? HoloLens has a huge potential, and I'm glad that more developers will have the opportunity to play with it.
At this point, most consumers will be disappointed. The field of view is a lot smaller than what Microsoft is leading you to believe in their promotional videos. Imagine holding a Surface Pro 4 (12.3-inch display) in front of you at arm's length. Any virtual objects outside that area won't be visible. You also can't get too close to objects. Things start to disappear as you get closer within arm's reach.
Keep in mind that consumer availability is further down the line. The demos I experienced at the developer preview just show what's possible. Microsoft has to start somewhere, and things will get better. On the other hand, the hardware itself already looks very attractive.
How to sign up for a demo
The Microsoft HoloLens Developer Roadshow hololensevents.com just wrapped last month – where all eleven cities were fully booked within the first 90 minutes. Microsoft currently has a long list of developers still hoping to get hands-on time with the device, with hundreds waitlisted in the New York metropolitan area alone. If you're interested, head over to the events site where you can try to get on the waitlist.
Get the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition
Developers can apply to get the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition. It costs $3,000 and will start shipping in Q1 of 2016. You'll need to be a developer in the United States (including Puerto Rico) or Canada where the Development Edition will first be available, and you must be a member of the Windows Insider program.