Microsoft HoloLens UK release date, price and specs: When will the holographic computer hit the consumer market?

With its formidably futuristic name, the Microsoft HoloLens is billed as the first self-contained, holographic computer – a device which permits you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the 3D world around you. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is… unless you’re a business or developer, that is. 

The Microsoft Hololens was, however, put to good use recently at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize in November, whereupon finalists were able to view holographic, full-scale models of their architecture. The device performed the gratifying task using Trimble’s SketchUp Viewer. 

Microsoft’s HoloLens has now been available in the UK for quite some time with developers beavering away on new projects and businesses slowly starting to adopt the augmented reality headset in experimental workflow tests.

Since its developer-only release, Microsoft has revealed a slew of other AR headsets powered by Windows 10 and built by OEM partners like Acer and Dell. It’s still unclear exactly how these devices differ from that of HoloLens – beyond the fact both look like more traditional VR or mixed reality devices than HoloLens’ goggle-like appearance.

READ NEXT: AR, VR and MR: What’s the difference?

It’s easy to get carried away about HoloLens. Not only is it a seemingly revolutionary device, bringing hologram-like visuals to the real world, it’s also a pretty cool concept to work with. However, it’s worth remembering that – yes, while Microsoft has demoed some AR game concepts – this is first and foremost an enterprise-level device. Microsoft doesn’t see HoloLens coming to the consumer marketplace any time soon and it may never even find its way there at all.

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Microsoft HoloLens: UK release date and price

HoloLens Development Edition and Commercial Suite are both currently available to buy in the UK via Microsoft’s website. There is one caveat, however – you need to be a business customer or developer to be able to snap one up. Picking up a Development Edition will set you back a cool £2,719 and for the paltry price of £4,529 you can own HoloLens Commercial Suite. In the US Microsoft is selling HoloLens for $3,000 and $5,000 respectively.

The exact details of Microsoft’s long-term strategy for the HoloLens aren’t clear, but they inevitably include the potential for it to be rolled out as a consumer device. In an interview with BBC Click, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed that HoloLens was a “five-year journey”, starting in 2016. Microsoft has teamed up with Acer and Dell to bring cheaper mixed reality headsets to market over the coming year, but neither make use of the HoloLens name and, ultimately, offer up different experiences to Microsoft’s in-house headset.

What is Microsoft HoloLens?

Microsoft HoloLens is the first completely wireless, self-contained holographic computer on the market. To put it in simple terms, it projects images over your vision so they appear as holograms, providing you with more information about the world around you or changing the way you perceive a space.

Microsoft’s device is known as an augmented-reality headset, although Microsoft states that HoloLens is a “mixed-reality” device similar to that of IBM’s Project Alloy headset. Unlike virtual reality, which takes over your entire vision and hearing to transport you to another environment, augmented reality complements the world around you.

How does Microsoft HoloLens work?

If you think Microsoft HoloLens sounds like witchcraft, you’re not far from it. Actually, that’s a lie – it’s actually incredibly simple, but it’s taken a long time for the technology to become small and portable enough to be contained within a single unit. Microsoft boasts of its “specialized components” – think sensors, optics, and a custom holographic processing unit – that enable the gadget to “go beyond the screen”. A veritable enigma, then…

Basically, within the headset are two see-through holographic lenses that display images projected from HoloLens’ two high-definition “light engines”. Combine this with four “environment understanding cameras”, a depth camera, an “Inertial Measurement Unit” and an ambient light sensor, and you have images that react and respond to the environment around you. These aren’t holograms in the strictest terms but are close enough.

What can Microsoft HoloLens do?

Microsoft is designing HoloLens to be used in the workplace first and foremost. We’ve seen examples of it in 3D design, allowing viewers to experience their creations as scale models or full-size so they can walk around and view them. We’ve also seen it being used in health care to provide patient analysis, or in education to teach people about human anatomy.

Outside of the strong business use cases, we’ve also seen HoloLens demoed at events such as E3, where Microsoft showed how Minecraft could integrate near-seamlessly into multiplayer across PC, Xbox One and HoloLens. You can see it in action in the impressive GIF below.

Microsoft also states that you can use Windows 10 apps effortlessly with HoloLens too, allowing a wide variety of applications to run almost out of the box. One example shown in the past are pinned Skype conversations or video players. One developer even used Microsoft’s Windows 10 Xbox app to stream Halo 5 to a virtual TV screen inside his HoloLens. The future is one where nobody owns a TV anymore.

What’s Microsoft HoloLens like to use?

First and foremost, Microsoft HoloLens is not being sold as a consumer product. This means the experience that we had with it was somewhat limited in terms of its actual potential. Still, from our hands-on time, it was apparent that the biggest issue with HoloLens is its rather limited field of view. Its visor means you can see your surroundings perfectly, but the holographic element is, as Adam Shepherd put it: “like trying to watch a film through a cardboard tube”.

You can read the rest of our HoloLens impressions in our hands-on.

What’s the difference between HoloLens Development Edition and Commercial Suite?

You may have noticed that HoloLens comes in two flavours – Development Edition and Commercial Suite. If you’re wondering what the difference is, and why one is almost twice the price of the other, there’s absolutely nothing setting them apart in terms of the core HoloLens hardware. Instead, the extra cost of the Commercial Suite comes from the addition of enterprise-grade software features to help companies showcase HoloLens’ technology in the workplace. It also comes complete with a snazzy box and snazzy video, totally worth the extra grand and a half.

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What powers Microsoft HoloLens?

Microsoft HoloLens is entirely self-contained because inside the headset is a small and powerful computer. Currently, there’s no official word on what Microsoft has stuffed in there but, according to PC World, an unnamed source “familiar with the hardware” claimed it was running off a future version of Intel’s Atom processors.

That looks to be backed up by this alleged list of HoloLens specs, posted by Windows Central using diagnostics tool AIDA64:

•    OS – Windows 10.0.11802.1033 32-bit
•    CPU – Intel Atom x5-Z8100 1.04GHz, Intel Airmont (14nm), 4 Logical Processors, 64-bit 
•    GPU/HPU – HoloLens Graphics
•    GPU Vendor ID – 8086h (Intel)
•    Dedicated video memory – 114MB
•    Shared system memory – 980MB
•    RAM – 2GB
•    Storage – 64GB (54.09 GB available)
•    App memory usage limit – 900MB
•    Battery – 16,500mWh
•    Camera photos – 2.4Mp (2048×1152)
•    Camera video – 1.1Mp (1408×792)
•    Video speed – 30fps

The ‘HPU’ stands for Holographic Processing Unit, which deals with all the data from the HoloLens’ accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer sensors to process gestures and head movements. 

Is anyone else making HoloLens devices?

Microsoft initially announced that other manufacturers would be coming on board to develop their own HoloLens devices, as Microsoft sees this as a new platform for both enterprise and consumer markets. Since then, Acer has brought a device to developers and seen IBM’s Project Alloy is also in production. Dell, HP and Asus are also all working in VR headsets too, with Dell making some major strides into the sector for enterprises.

Meta is another company working on an augmented-reality device, and Google is said to be building something similar with its mysterious Magic Leap programme. Another alternative is VR technology, such as Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. These headsets may still be expensive, but they’re a darn sight cheaper than the money Microsoft is asking for HoloLens and can offer up somewhat similar experiences for most users.

Can I play Pokémon Go on Microsoft HoloLens?

No, but the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you’d think thanks to a fan-made HoloLens Pokémon game.

Developed by software creator Kenny W, and animated by Beastcramps, PokéLens is an attempt at bringing Pokémon battles into the real world in a more tangible way than Niantic’s Pokémon Go. HoloLens wearers will be able to see augmented-reality Pokémon battles taking place right before their eyes, with a traditional attack select menu floating in front of their face to issue out commands. In one stroke of genius, you can even control your critter by simply shouting your command out wildly into a public space like a moron.

Obviously, Kenny W’s creation won’t ever see the light of day beyond a cool tech demo because it’s evident that Nintendo will come down on him like a tonne of bricks if he did. But, still, it’s nice to see some real creativity coming out of HoloLens developers beyond the office-based applications Microsoft is pushing. Now, if only the price of a HoloLens unit would drop to something a little bit more pocket-friendly.

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