Microsoft opens applications for $3000 HoloLens development kit

Hot on the heels of HTC and its Vive VR headset, Microsoft is opening up shop with a version of its HoloLens augmented-reality headset. Unlike Oculus' Rift and the Vive, however, Redmond isn't making HoloLens hardware available to just anybody. The company is taking applications for a Development Edition of the HoloLens hardware from developers in the USA or Canada. Prospective users also need to be Windows Insiders, and they'll need to be comfortable providing feedback on the AR headset to Microsoft. Applicants deemed worthy of a kit will then need to fork over $3000 for the hardware. 

Microsoft has also revealed the "holographic experiences" that HoloLens will ship with. Since this is a developer release, HoloLens will ship with HoloStudio, an app that developers can use to build 3D content at real-world scale using the HoloLens headset itself. The headset will also include a special version of Skype that will let HoloLens users collaborate using holographic experiences. Another tool that'll arrive this summer is Actiongram, an experience that's meant to allow "creative coders and content creators" to create "emotionally compelling and humorous videos" using holograms.

We've already seen some of the potential that HoloLens holds for gaming, and Microsoft will offer three games with the Development Edition kit. RoboRaid (formerly Project X-Ray) pits players against a swarm of robotic invaders, and it uses a room's walls and furnishings as part of its levels. The company describes Fragments as "a high-tech crime thriller." This game blends its futuristic crime-solving story with the user's surroundings. Finally, Young Conker is a platformer that doesn't share much of that franchise's history beyond the name and a squirrely main character.

Unlike VR headsets that need to be tethered to a PC, HoloLens is a self-contained device. Microsoft revealed more detail about the underlying hardware today, and it's interesting to see what powers HoloLens' version of augmented reality. The headset's brain is what Microsoft calls a "holographic processing unit," or HPU, that runs 32-bit, "Intel architecture" code. This custom chip drives two "HD 16:9 light engines" that the company says can draw up to 2.3 million total light points with a holographic density of 2500 radiants (light points per radian). To make sense of those measures, the company says that the more light points and radiants there are in a holographic experience, the better it becomes.

Microsoft says the first shipment of HoloLens Development Edition kits will go out March 30.

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