Microsoft remains mum on when a consumer edition of its HoloLens augmented reality headset will be released, but it’s at least preparing for that launch. Developers and businesses can begin pre-ordering the HoloLens Development Edition on Feb. 29. The kit costs $3,000 and will begin shipping on March 30. Check out the HoloLens games and apps here.
“At this point in the HoloLens roadmap, broad consumer availability is further down the line as we focus on our commercial partnerships and supporting the developers who will create amazing experiences for HoloLens,” Alex Kipman, technical fellow at Microsoft’s operating system group, wrote on the company blog. “It’s the experiences that developers create today that will one day change the way people experience technology, and the way businesses operate.”
In addition to the headset, each development kit comes with a carrying case, charger and cable, a clicker, nose pads, and straps. The headset has been improved since Microsoft [frortune-stock symbol=”MSFT”] demonstrated a playable Minecraft: HoloLens Edition game at E3 last June in Los Angeles.
HoloLens offers an untethered and self-contained augmented reality experience, which means users don’t have to plug into a PC or mobile phone like current virtual reality offerings such as Samsung Gear VR and the upcoming Facebook (FB) Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony (SNE) PlayStation VR.
HoloLens is powered by a custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) that features Intel 32-bit architecture. It packs enough power to understand gestures and where you’re looking, so it can map the world around you in real time.
Kipman wrote that the virtual world is projected on top of the real world through a pair of holographic lenses that use an advanced optical projection system to generate multi-dimensional, full-color holograms with very low latency.
“HoloLens contains advanced sensors to capture information about what you’re doing and the environment you’re in,” Kipman wrote. “The built-in cameras also enable you to record, something we call mixed reality capture (MRC)—HD pictures and video of the holograms in the world around you that you can share with others even when they don’t have a HoloLens.”
In addition to being able to navigate mixed reality experiences by human gaze, gesture, and voice, HoloLens supports Bluetooth 4.1 devices such as the clicker that comes with the package. Users can use that to point at a virtual location or even target enemies in a video game.
“With HoloLens you can create and shape holograms with gestures, communicate with apps using your voice, and navigate with a glance,” Kipman wrote. “HoloLens understands your gestures, gaze, and voice, enabling you to interact in the most natural way possible. With spatial sound, HoloLens allows you to hear holograms from anywhere in the room, even if they are behind you.”
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While billions of dollars are flowing into the virtual reality business, augmented reality is expected to grow into a $90 billion industry by 2020 according to Digi-Capital. There’s even a new incubator and investment fund from Super Ventures that’s investing $10 million solely on augmented realty startups.
And, as is the case across the technology industry, the price of the components for HoloLens will drop over time, as well the price of the hardware. That’s one thing Microsoft could be waiting on for its consumer launch.
Clifton Dawson, president of Greenlight VR, explained of these kinds of developer kits,
Although the high price of the initial developer kit limits its near-term applicability for many consumer use cases, it opens up the market for more small and medium-sized businesses in industrial and manufacturing sectors, where AR has already been successfully applied but where the expense of hardware, software, and professional development services has historically been cost prohibitive.
SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen believes strategically this higher price point suggests that Microsoft is targeting a wider market of developers than just game developers, which makes sense given the all-around potential of augmented reality.
“For Microsoft to release the dev kits at $3,000 suggests they are entering this market with a higher barrier to entry and are focusing on a broader market than ‘just’ games and entertainment,” van Dreunen says. “Put differently, Microsoft is not in a rush and appear to purposely act slowly to make sure their technology sticks once it releases.”
Van Dreunen believes it will be another 12 to 18 months before Microsoft releases a Consumer Edition of HoloLens.
For now, there are plenty of business opportunities for Microsoft to tap into with this Development Edition.
“We expect more engineering and healthcare companies to start experimenting with this technology very quickly,” Dawson says. “In fact, a third of the VR and AR development studios we surveyed this year said they are already planning support for HoloLens in the next 12 months. It’s early and the technology will certainly take many more years until it is ubiquitous, but there’s no denying the fast-rising enthusiasm for platforms like HoloLens, Magic Leap, and other platforms.”