back to article Microsoft HoloLens or Hollow Lens? El Reg stares down cyber-specs' code

The first rule of Microsoft's HoloLens is you do not talk about HoloLens. When you're given a demo, you may not take photos, you may not shoot video, and you may not record audio. Given a moment to think about it, this is a strange requirement. After all, everything you see through HoloLens itself is an optical illusion. You …

  1. thames

    Virtual Practicality?

    So it's "virtual practicality" then? It doesn't really exist in our world, and it only works in the imaginary world of a Microsoft marketroid's presentation? Why this is unprecedented!

    I expect to see this follow the trajectory of the MS Kinect - loads of hype, followed by public disappointment with the reality of it, and then disappearance into oblivion as only the most die-hard fanbois maintain any interest in it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Virtual Practicality?

      The sad thing about Kinect is that the hardware and software is powerful and has so much potential. But it is artificially limited by Microsoft's bone-headed approach, restricting how people and developers are "allowed" to interact with it.

      Did you know that you are not allowed to sell or use any peripherals with Kinect? No $5 plastic steering wheel for racing games. No $5 plastic guns for rail shooters. No peripherals at all, period.

      Peripherals would add so much to the experience. Imagine a reasonably realistic F1 steering wheel for an F1 game. It would bring with it the critical sense of immersion that is missing from Kinect titles, helping greatly to give the player the feeling that they are really driving an F1 car.

      But no, we all must do things the MS way, because they always know best. Except they don't, and now they've shown us this again with the ridiculous limitations of their HoloLens.

      1. Cryo

        Re: Virtual Practicality?

        "Peripherals would add so much to the experience. Imagine a reasonably realistic F1 steering wheel for an F1 game."

        They have those, only they're not not for use with Kinect, and are not $5 peripherals. A flimsy plastic steering wheel floating in the air is not going to provide a much more realistic racing experience than your bare hands floating in the air. They're certainly not going to "give the player the feeling that they are really driving an F1 car". For that, you're going to need something sturdier connected to a base, securely attached to a table. And if you're already doing that, it won't cost much more to add some basic sensors and a wire connecting it to the game system, removing the need for a Kinect entirely. There you a have your typical racing wheel peripheral, readily available for PCs and consoles, starting at prices significantly less than a Kinect sensor. Cheap floating wheels 'could' be made for the Kinect if Microsoft allowed for it, but it would still be highly unlikely that they would provide as good of a racing experience as the console's standard controller.

        I do agree that cheap peripherals for other types of games might work though. A hilt for sword games, or a stock for shooters would undoubtedly feel a lot better than just swinging your arm around and pointing. I suspect that the accuracy probably still wouldn't be quite up to the level of other motion controllers with built in sensors though, like the Wii MotionPlus, so Microsoft might not want such direct comparisons to be made.

  2. phil dude
    Thumb Up

    linux, FOSS drivers, API

    So will other OS's be able to use this interface?

    This is a real test of M$ wanting to be useful to humanity....

    A neat tool should have as many users as possible - e.g Firefox vs IE

    If the Occulus Rift ever appear on the market, we might see widespread adoption...AR vs VR are sort of orthogonal markets, but I guess we'll have to see....

    P.

    1. streaky Silver badge

      Re: linux, FOSS drivers, API

      Missing a fundamental point here - it will be, at the end of the day, running windows internally. If you can write code targeting windows .net then I'd imagine the simple answer is "yes", and that includes developers working with Linux and OSX - the key is you're still building for a windows target, you're just using "some other other OS" to write code for it. Unless somebody fancies reverse engineering it, tying it to GPL and all the patents that will underlying it and not get the wrath of either Stallman or Microsoft's legal team.

    2. CheesyTheClown

      Re: linux, FOSS drivers, API

      Does the underlying OS matter at this time?

      It seems more important to build up the tech itself.

      Of course, it sounds like major parts of the Apple or Google app stores can be running pretty quickly

  3. Cliff

    Clever engineering

    It's still clearly an early days product, but I'm impressed with the level of smart that went into this. It may need to step up with a wider field of view, etc., but it's actually genuinely original R&D that seems to be heading for the market. XBox was once doubted, Nintendo was streets ahead, so Microsoft can do this if they stock at it, don't encumber the licences too much, and get a little bit lucky with the launch and press response.

    1. streaky Silver badge

      Re: Clever engineering

      I thought the discussion of FOV was a bit cheeky of 'reg actually - they know full well it's a dev product, and increasing the coverage is just a question (most likely) of fab which I'm sure they're thinking about. Can't see how they will let a product crash into a wall just for that.

      Some people won't make the connection is why the article bothers me a bit. Truth be told I'm not even sure the reg hack concerned did given what was said.

  4. CheesyTheClown

    Let's see if I'm clear

    1) They have awesome head tracking

    2) They have awesome 3d scene mapping

    3) They have functional development tools

    4) Unity is being integrated

    5) They have managed to get semi transparent LCD working

    6) They have headmounted the PC and I didn't read complaints about heat

    We can assume

    1) Microsoft didn't bet the farm unless their LCD team made guarantees about shaped, full FOV panels

    2) Microsoft looks like they're prepared to inevest 10 digit sums into it

    3) Microsoft is trying to be cool... and people are going for it.

    4) Microsoft is one of the biggest 3d game companies in the world... they probably could find someone to make apps

    5) It'll be SOOOOOOO weird if a Bill Gates company makes cooler stuff than John Carmack :)

  5. Teiwaz Silver badge

    "early development hardware"

    How early exactly?

    Doesn't seem like it'll be out in time for Xmas by the sound of it.

    Releasing it with any inherent 'disappointment factors' is a sure way to result in failure. 3D alone won't guarantee success, look at the Nintendo 3DS.

    The Technically will understand that this is innovative tech with a few flaws, but the rest of the population will probably not see that.

    It does look interesting, but I'd be disinclined to buy should it require the rest of microsofts ecosystem to function.

    1. Roger B

      Re: "early development hardware"

      I think I read somewhere else its not expected out this year, but possibly 2016, (although maybe that was Project Morpheus)

      We are obviously still in early prototype mode at the moment though, they really need to sort out the FoV, the on stage demo gave a lot of people the impression this was what the user was seeing, where as you are currently looking through a letter box, moving the angle of your head shows you a wider angle to one side of that world.

      As the article states its a standalone product, the full unit is basically an odd shaped PC strapped to your head, it sounds, you need nothing else to use it apart from an understanding of .Net to create the apps, or a guide for the app you want to use.

      The idea of it being able to "map out" your room or maybe house sounds fantastic for a horror game, maybe some kind of Friday the 13th horror, with the killer wandering around your house, walking into your field of view as you try and escape, unfortunately I would imagine the first generation commercial release will be hugely expensive that it will only find a market in industry with designers and engineers. Version 2.0 will hopefully be cheaper and available for the home user, maybe.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: "early development hardware"

        It's a 'pc' Interesting.

        I'm sure the all in one approach is certainly better should it's application be mobile oriented, but a think a connected and/or connectable to a base system (i.e a GP computer) would offer more flexibility.

        I do wonder if this is not going to end up being a limiting factor in terms of the devices application (not to mention inclusion/reliance on some sort of 'app store' for s/w installation which would wall it up nicely against all but major corporate licensing).

    2. Cryo

      Re: "early development hardware"

      "3D alone won't guarantee success, look at the Nintendo 3DS."

      But the 3DS has been very successful. It's sold over 50 million devices so far, during a time when there has been massive competition in the portable gaming market from cheap tablet and smartphone games. Granted, a lot of this comes down to people wanting Nintendo's games, but from a technical standpoint, the 3D display is a big selling point differentiating it from what tablets can do.

      In any case, 3D visuals alone are not the major selling point of Hololens. Rather, it's the augmented reality provided by a wearable computer that can make objects appear and be interacted with in one's environment. The 3D visuals are just a part of that.

      1. Roger B

        Re: "early development hardware"

        The 3DS has fantastic 3DS especially on the newer model with the face tracking, you do need to be looking at the screen dead on though, if you turn your head away, you can see it flicker as you look back. The AR on the 3DS is also a lot of fun, but in a way is limited a little like the Hololens, you need to keep the character in the middle of the screen to get the best effect, its pretty cool being able to move "around2 the object on the screen as well, the fishing game is great!

  6. Jim84

    The lack of wires is cool but...

    ...a lack of wires has got to limit the graphical power. And as an early large function of the Hololens and other headsets seems to be gaming, surely this is an Achilles heal.

    Still Witricity have been promising to make wireless power over a few feet real for some time now. It if is not vapourware then perhaps MS could use or buy their tech. Even in that case though it would be better if they figured out how to screen share the output of a desktop PC's graphics card to the Hololens. I know that current screen sharing introduces lag, but surely there must be some way around this? We're not talking Gaikai over the internet streaming of 3D, just streaming in the same room.

  7. Mage Silver badge
    Boffin

    3D? Hologram?

    No. It's a 3D simulation using a pair of 2D images at fixed focal length, Stereoscopic.

    Seriously misnamed and overhyped.

    Prolonged use will cause bad headaches and eyestrain.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: 3D? Hologram?

      Actually the headaches, nausea, and the medical issues have plagued 3D devices in the past. If this is true of Hololens it will die in the market.

  8. returnmyjedi

    The reluctance of the Microsoft humanoids to discuss the innards at this point is hardly surprising in alpha kit, as there will be negotiations going on with whomever provides the chips n bits.

    My main worry is that I recall watching a documentary about a spaceship whose crew all went a bit mad thanks to a game played on similar headsets (can't remember the name but the captain was a Frenchman with a Yorkshire accent).

  9. Trigonoceps occipitalis

    "So what's it good for?"

    Oh come on! We're all experienced in things Internet.

    PORN obviously.

  10. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    No Holography In Evidence. It's More Of The Old 'Pepper's Ghost'.

    In keeping with our ever increasingly annoying era of Bad Science, there is no holography in the HoloLens. Some marketing dweebs grabbed the term, abused it and glued it onto something tangentially related to actual holography. Here is some reading:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper's_ghost

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holography

    Shame on today's profusion of bad marketing. I'm reminded of enhanced 3G mobile phone technology being marketed as '4G' when in fact it is nearly impossible to find actual 4G technology anywhere in the world, despite it being a finished standard with available hardware. What's that about? Now the marketing whizzes are throwing around the concept of '5G', making everything go incoherent. (0_o)

    1. Uffe Seerup

      Re: No Holography In Evidence. It's More Of The Old 'Pepper's Ghost'.

      Not so sure about that. Microsoft has not said anything either way, except for mentioning that they've had to develop a "holo chip".

      I have quizzed some of my colleagues who were at Build and tried them. Specifically, they said that they focused on the objects in the real world, and that the holograms appeared sharp when focusing at the distance.

      That, to me, suggests that there's more going on than simply stereoscopic lenses. If they were simply lenses that overlay an image a few centimeters from your eyes, the image would be blurred when you focus your eyes on an object 2 meters away. Try for yourself: Hold a finger in front of your eye and see if you can focus on that at the same time as you look at an object even just 50 cm away (and vice versa).

      The limited viewport seems to be a dealbreaker. If they do not solve that it will see very limited usage.

      But at this point you have absolutely *nothing* substantiating your claims that it is simply stereoscopic lenses, while there are at least some indication that there's more going on.

  11. Russle

    Never liked 3d,

    it makes me have headache. My friend bought 3d tv and he never used it. When we tried to watch movies it only took ten minutes before we went back to the old smaller tv.

    Why strain and hurt and have headaches and burning eyes.

    I can see employees going blind after ten years of being forced into wearing these all day by the corporations.

  12. Vladimir Nicolici

    "Could Microsoft one day come up with a version of HoloLens that extends the hologram window to reach the wearer's peripheral vision, so that there isn't such a stark separation between the hologram world and the real one? Maybe. But it hasn't yet, so don't be fooled."

    It clearly could, since you forgot to write in the article that the previous prototype demoed to the press 90 days ago had a larger field of view.

    In my opinion there are a few possible reasons for the smaller FOV in the current prototype:

    - The processing power of this unit is not enough for a larger FOV (the previous prototype was attached to a separate computer and external power).

    - Some component of the projection system would be too expensive with a larger FOV.

    - They are afraid to make it too immersive, so it doesn't make people sick after prolonged use.

    If the issues are technical they would seem to be solvable by either waiting for Moore's law to give more powerful processors, or by waiting for the tech to become less expensive.

    If it's a matter of "let's not get people sick", I hope they make the FOV configurable.

  13. TimChuma

    PORN!

    Lovely porn! Wonderful porn!

  14. Adam Jarvis

    Tech (wear) where there is no one right answer.

    We're getting to a point, where Tech is getting difficult to nail down what is the best solution, its become very subjective.

    You can guarantee that the second gen of Apple Watch will break previous features that users grew to enjoy, but 'advancement' means, they get dropped, replaced by something else. Each advancement, is not always pluses (pros) anymore, negatives (cons) are showing up in subsequent versions, more often than not.

    Its getting difficult to pin down the one 'right' best solution and its probably because you can survive without this type of tech. Just because its mega complicated to achieve, doesn't mean it necessarily adds that much to the way things have been done up to now.

  15. Riskie
    FAIL

    3D Microsoft Bob

    3D Microsoft Bob, you know how this will go

  16. Sirius Lee

    What is the point of this article?

    Why did you bother writing this article? Microsoft told you not to expect a finished product, that there would be glitches. Then you write an article that is a gripe about how its not a finished product. Is there some perverse sanctification you attained writing this? What is cathartic?

    I am perfectly capable of imagining what might go wrong, how seem-less it might *not* be. I am much less able to imagine what it *could* be, what the potential for such a device *might* be. I have not had the fantastic opportunity to try it, I have not had the opportunity to talk with the designers and product managers about how it could potentially be used. If I had that opportunity, I really hope I would not have been a tw*t and asked moronic engineering questions.

    It must be incredibly frustrating at events like Build when showing off something new because the audience is, for the most part, a collection of conservative Luddites without any imagination and an insistence on asking the same inane questions.

    It reminds of the time back the late 90's when Bill Gates showed off a handheld touch screen. Was the potential of this crude early device seized upon by those lucky enough to have a go? No. It was derided for being too heavy, too low res, having a short battery life. In other words all the same thoughtless engineering crap. Disappointed by the underwhelming response Microsoft did not push the project any further. But another organization, one with a more creative constituency did, and the rest, as they say, it history.

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

  17. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Is this another blow to the twitching near-corpse of the Oculus Rift?

  18. Sil

    Disappointing but who knows

    Obviously, if the first commercial iteration of the HoloLens only enables a small rectangle of holographic goodness, this will be very disappointing.

    We are at the beginning of may though, and MS told us the HoloLens would be available 'in the timeframe of Windows 10'.

    This gives the company many months to improve the product before it's commercialized.

    This is a product that could be truly revolutionary. If you don't care for the many documented problems of the non revolutionary Apple Watch and don't begrudge it for marketing a product that obviously isn't ready, can't you give MS a little leeway?

    Also you complain about MS not allowing for filming or photographing the HoloLens but at least you could test it.

    How many journalists or developpers could get their hand on the Apple Watch while in development? How many could film or photograph it? Let's try not to have double standards.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HoloClub: Rule 2?

    "The one thing your humble Reg hack can say with certainty is that the hardware does exist."

    Odd thing is, every phantom project states that nearly verbatim. Are holograms illusions of manifested reality? Is this Dreamscape or Lawnmower Man? As per rule 2 of Holoclub: Access Denied.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The narrow field of view is a recent thing

    According to Ars Technica, the narrow field of view is a recent development. The Ars Technica guy had a go at one a while back (much earlier hardware), and it had a view field of view.

    They've probably downspec'd the hardware or something since the early days. If they bumped it up to Final Fantasy Tech Demo specs (4x Nvidia Titan's, 8 core cpu) it'd probably be wide FoV again. Not exactly consumer affordable though. :/

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