Until today, the only thing we could say for sure about the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition was that it was going to be expensive. Now we can confirm it: The developer edition of the holographic headset has a sticker price of $3,000. But we also know a lot more about Microsoft’s first augmented-reality viewer, like when it’ll be available for pre-order (today!), when the headsets will start shipping to qualified developers (Wednesday, March 30!), how developers can go about making holographic apps, and the components that will drive the experience for viewers.
To be sure, HoloLens remains in the development stages. There’s still no word on when you’ll be able to stroll into a store and buy one. For now, only beta testers in the Windows Insider program can even apply for HoloLens. There’s a limit of two HoloLenses per application, and Microsoft says the first orders will start shipping on March 30.
To create apps for the headset, developers need to be running Windows 10 on a PC loaded up with Visual Studio 2015 and the Unity 5.4 gaming engine. You don’t need to tether HoloLens to a computer to actually run apps, as the headset boasts its own 32-bit Intel CPU, a brand-new Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU 1.0), 2GB RAM, 64GB of onboard solid-state storage, and a battery that gets up to three hours of active usage time. The headset weighs a shade under 1.3 pounds—a bit heavier than the rumored one-pound weight of the upcoming Oculus Rift consumer version, probably because all the HoloLens’s components are built into the headset. The Oculus needs to be tethered to a computer to work.
The HoloLens display begins with a pair of transparent waveguides. In the HoloLens, the waveguides are clear lenses that allow lightwaves from your surroundings to blend with digitally created holographic images. The HoloLens’ images, which are created by two high-definition light engines inside the headset, create the illusion of computer-generated objects hovering or resting in the real-world spaces around you. The Development Edition headset automatically calculates the distance between your pupils—essential for nailing the 3-D effect of the holographic objects—which is a useful new feature for sharing the headset. In a HoloLens demo late last year, Microsoft had to measure interpupillary distance for each person and input that data into the headset manually.
On the headset itself, there are volume controls to adjust the built-in speakers or 3.5mm headphones, brightness controls, a microUSB port, and built-in Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1 LE connectivity. The headset also comes with a remote control, a case, extra nose pads, and a strap in case you don’t want to wear HoloLens like a pair of glasses.
Three grand gets you a lot of sensors. The HoloLens is stocked with six cameras (four that survey your immediate environment, one to calculate depth of field, and a two-megapixel/1080p shooter to capture your own stills and video), four microphones, an ambient light sensor, and an inertial measurement unit that combines accelerometers and gyroscopes. Those sensors will give developers a chance to play around with eyesight tracking, gesture control, voice control, and spatial audio when they’re coding apps.
Because augmented/holographic reality is a concept without much precedent for developers, Microsoft is releasing a few “experiences” that serve to show what’s possible with the platform and stoke developers’ creativity. A few of them have been demoed before, such as RoboRaid (a renamed version of Project X-Ray) and the HoloStudio 3-D modeling playground. But the majority of them are brand new, such as Skype for HoloLens, a mystery game called Fragments, and a squirrel-in-your-house game called Young Conker.
Microsoft says all the apps are meant solely to inspire developers, and that they “should not be considered consumer-facing.” All the playable demos are free, and developers will be able to download them via the Windows Store.
Microsoft did not provide comment on how this model matches up with the planned consumer HoloLens.