Holographic computing: Are you seeing what Microsoft sees?

"There are good use cases for such a product in the professional market, but..."

Holographic computing, a Microsoft term for what is also known as computer-generated holograms, enables holograms to be viewed and interacted with by using a headband device, the HoloLens.

This device contains the optics, audio, and embedded computer needed to generate holograms by sensing where the user is looking, and registering taps made with the finger in space to control holographic-based applications.

Microsoft HoloLens was made available to both press/analysts and developers to try out at the recent Microsoft Build 2015. The result?

“Ovum sees the current version as being of interest in a number of professional applications, including the ones demonstrated by Microsoft in architecture/civil engineering and medical training,” says Michael Azoff, research analyst, Ovum.

“Microsoft also envisages a consumer version, but much will depend on affordability and household-ready robustness, and it may take a few generations of the device before a consumer device is ready.”

Unlike virtual reality (VR) systems like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, which are 100 percent immersive in a virtual environment, Azoff says the HoloLens has a see-through visor that combines real space with holograms and is therefore an augmented reality system.

“VR head gear also needs to be tethered to a computer, whereas the HoloLens is a self-contained computer with CPU and GPU embedded within the headband,” he adds.

“It also contains an additional chip, a new Microsoft invention, which is a holographic processing unit (HPU) designed to support holographic processing requirements.”

According to Azoff, the HoloLens devices demonstrated at Build 2015 all had tinted visors, meaning it would “make sense” for photochromatic lens to be used in future models.

HoloLens will spark novel application development

For Azoff, the possibilities for HoloLens-based applications will spark the imagination of developers, but this is likely to be in the business/professional domain in the first generation of the device.

“The user interacts with hologram applications by tapping the air (in the augmented reality or virtual space they are tapping holographic controls) and moving parts of the hologram,” he adds.

“Microsoft showed how holographic creations can be rendered physical with the aid of a 3D printer.”

Going forward, Azoff believes possibilities for HoloLens expand when the device interacts with the IoT.

For example, an engineer may inspect an IoT-enabled aircraft engine and be able to inspect it for faults with holograms indicating parts that need attention.

“The holographic viewing area of the visor is a projected rectangular space within the centre of vision and is not the whole width of the visor, but it is large enough for practical use,” Azoff adds.

“Again, new generations of the device can be expected to increase the holograhic viewing area.”

A significant advantage for developers, according to Azoff, is the fact that the HoloLens is part of a portfolio of devices that are all Windows 10-enabled, so that developers can easily build applications using familiar Microsoft tools and languages.

“There are good use cases for such a product in the professional market, but whether the first-generation device takes off as a consumer product will depend on its price point and the number of applications and games developed for it,” he concludes.

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