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The development kit includes the HoloLens headset, a clicker, extra nosepiece, charger and carrying case. Image via Microsoft.
The development kit includes the HoloLens headset, a clicker, extra nosepiece, charger and carrying case. Image via Microsoft.

It has been more than a year since Microsoft announced the HoloLens, and we’ve seen an impressive range of on-stage demos since then. But Microsoft has closely controlled the experience so far. Today, that’s starting to change, as Microsoft sends out invitations to developers to purchase the $3,000 development kit.

Microsoft's Alex Kipman
Microsoft’s Alex Kipman leads the HoloLens team.

The kit includes the HoloLens headset, an extra nose pad, a charger and a carrying case. It also ships with a clicker, which leaked last week and allows users to click on objects without straining their fingers. The whole package will ship on March 30, which coincides with Microsoft’s sold-out Build developer conference.

Microsoft also announced some more details about the HoloLens development kit hardware. While it is hard to ascertain the computing power of the device thanks to a custom Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit or “HPC,” there are some interesting stats in the specs list.

For example, the device is based on a 32-bit Intel architecture, which means it will be one of the few devices that runs the non-64 bit version of Windows 10. The HoloLens also has just 2GB of RAM, the same as an iPhone 6s.

The smartphone comparisons don’t end there though. The whole rig is passively cooled like any modern cellphone, meaning there are no fans whirring in the user’s ear as they’re exploring a holographic Martian landscape.

As for battery life, the device will produce holographic images for just 3 hours on a single charge, but is fully functional while charging. It can sit in standby mode for up to two weeks.

The device also has a host of sensors, including four microphones and an ambient light sensor. Cameras include a depth camera, four “environment understanding” cameras, and an HD camera for “mixed reality capture,” which records exactly what the user sees through the HoloLens, allowing them to create clips like this:

The company is also bundling seven new apps with the developer kit that showcase the power of the augmented reality headset. These aren’t apps that will necessarily go out to consumers, but provide developers an example of how to write code that takes full advantage of the device’s power.

HoloTour. (Credit: Microsoft)
HoloTour. (Credit: Microsoft)

For developers, the most useful app will likely be HoloStudio. The app allows developers to create holograms that can be used within their own apps. It also shows off how the HoloLens uses gaze, gesture and voice for control.

There’s also the HoloLens version of Skype. However, instead of two people looking at each other, they’re both looking at the same hologram while talking. For developers working on an app in different parts of the world, this allows them to talk about a holographic element they’re working on.

In the same vein, HoloTour transports the user to a virtual location. By combining spatial sound and the see-through nature of holograms, users can get fully immersed in a virtual version of Rome while still avoiding obstacles around their home or office.

Of course, the HoloLens is also shipping with a number of games. Fragments is a crime drama that tasks player with finding virtual clues in the real world.

“Trust me, the first time one of our Fragments characters comes in to your home, sits down on your sofa, and strikes up a conversation with you it is an unforgettable experience,” Microsoft vice president Kudo Tsunoda said in a blog post.

There’s also Young Conker, a platformer that uses shelves, tables and chairs as the platforms. According to Tsundoa, each level is unique to the room it is played in. Of course, there’s also a first-person shooter, RoboRaid, where users defend their home or office against an alien army. Again, it uses spatial sound along with gaze, voice and gesture control to build out a life-like virtual world.

Lastly, there’s Actiongram, which lets users shoot movies with holographic elements. Of the seven apps, this is the only one we’ve gotten a peek at, albeit through a leak. Last week, Twitter user WalkingCat found some files linked to the app that showed off interactions and the user interface inside the HoloLens.

Developers can already access APIs and documentation to start building apps ahead of the dev kit shipping. And developers who don’t get picked for the first batch of HoloLenses won’t be left out; a HoloLens emulator and update to Visual Studio to be released on March 30 should let them start testing their apps in a virtual augmented environment.

Microsoft is sending invitations to buy the HoloLens to select developers today. Developers who haven’t signed up can do so now at the HoloLens developer portal for future rounds of dev kits. The HoloLens will ship March 30.

Here’s a full list of specs for the HoloLens, as provided by Microsoft:

Optics

  • See-through holographic lenses (waveguides)
  • 2 HD 16:9 light engines
  • Automatic pupillary distance calibration
  • Holographic Resolution: 2.3M total light points
  • Holographic Density: >2.5k radiants (light points per radian)

Sensors

  • 1 IMU
  • 4 environment understanding cameras
  • 1 depth camera
  • 1 2MP photo / HD video camera
  • 4 microphones
  • 1 ambient light sensor

Human Understanding

  • Spatial sound
  • Gaze tracking
  • Gesture input
  • Voice support

Input/Output/Connectivity

  • Built-in speakers
  • Audio 3.5mm jack
  • Volume up/down
  • Brightness up/down
  • Power button
  • Battery status LEDs
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • Micro USB 2.0
  • Bluetooth 4.1 LE

Power

  • Battery Life
    • 2-3 hours of active use
    • Up to 2 weeks of standby time
  • Fully functional when charging
  • Passively cooled (no fans)

Processors

  • Intel 32 bit architecture
  • Custom-built Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU 1.0)

Weight

  • 579g

Memory

  • 64GB Flash
  • 2GB RAM

What’s in the box

  • HoloLens Development Edition
  • Clicker
  • Carrying case
  • Charger and cable
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Nose pads
  • Overhead strap

OS and Apps

  • Windows 10
  • Windows Store

What you need to develop

  • Windows 10 PC able to run Visual Studio 2015 and Unity 5.4
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