October 22, 2017

A Year of HoloLens

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Today is December 21, 2015, one month short of the anniversary of HoloLens’ first revealing. I don’t want to wait for another month to write an anniversary article. As we are approaching the end of 2015 and the start of the new year. I would like to look back at the short and long history of HoloLens. As I set my mind to this task, I have realized, this very site (windowscomment.com) is the only dedicated blog site for HoloLens. I have wrote far more articles about HoloLens than any other website on the Internet. I am proud.

A Bit of History

To start, lets watch the first official Hololens video from Microsoft, posted January 21, 2015.

The HoloLens journey started long before January 2015.

In January 21, the WIRED magazine published an iconic online article titled Project HoloLens: Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Holographic Goggles. Most people don’t realize that even the article was posted on Jan 2015, but the article was talking about the their experience with HoloLens back in October 2014. Strange thing is, January 21st was the day HoloLens was revealed to the published, everyone in the media were allowed to write/publish about HoloLens, which essentially made WIRED “Exclusive Hand-On” meaningless. And further, most people don’t realize the HoloLens they saw in Oct. is actually identical to what we see in Dec. 2015. What do those mean? Let me explain.

Clearly, the initial plan was to reveal the HoloLens of today, not the very raw, big Field of View prototype of Jan 21. The article was supposed to be published in Oct 2014. The change of mind is obviously related to FOV issue that everyone have been talking about now. In any case the hardware haven’t updated since Oct. 2014. By the way, WIRED magazine pushed another full length article about HoloLens in its Feb issue (printed version), same article later posted online.

Of course, there had to be a lot more years leading to Oct. 2014. Many people believe the project started 7 years ago. I have seen another Microsoft unofficial blog says 10 years ago.

The earliest leak of the project was March 2011, in Craig Mundie’s speech in Australia. You can find this article online, but I will just post some quote here:

instead of seeing a screen it can beam individual rays of light into your eyes right on your retina … [so] you can look at your phone and see HDTV

Craig Mundie didn’t mention “Project HoloLens”, but it’s easy to connect the two. HoloLens has two critical parts: the spatial mapping and the light engine. I would safely guess that there were two threads that lead to Project HoloLens: the light part is what Mundie talked about, and spatial mapping part is what lead to Kinect. Now they are on Project HoloLens.

Back to January 21, Microsoft was holding a Windows 10 event that day. The big chunk of the event was about Windows Azure cloud platform update. ScottGu was on stage unbearably long. Then it was Windows 10 consumer features: Continuum, Windows Hello. Then Windows 10 developer features: Windows Universal Platform. At the end, Alex kipman went on. No one had heard him outside of Microsoft. He showed the above video, and announced something called HoloLens.

The video was watched 10 millions times during the first two days. The same day after Windows 10 event, the media was demoed the raw HoloLens prototype, which was tethered, with a big enough FOV. The demo includes a collaboration with NASA called Project OnSight. The tech world was shocked to say the least.

Then it come the BUILD conference on April 29. For the first time, the media were shown the close to final product, the same thing shown today. The press was shocked again, but in a negative way. The FOV had because so small that is not even comparable to what was shown in January. Everyone was disappointed. It was unbelievable how this thing was handled all along.

As I said at the beginning, Microsoft knew about this long before January. Why do they show the tethered prototype that was so much different? That’s a question I still don’t have an answer.

After BUILD, HoloLens have been shown during a few other occasions: E3 2015 on June 16 in Vegas, multi-city road show in July. The same hardware, but updated applications.

Recently, Microsoft have announced HoloLens Developer Edition (which is same one available since Oct. 2014) will ship to developers early 2016, for $3K.

Interesting thing during this is the dates: promised and/or missed dates. The above WIRED article said the product will be in developers’ hand during spring of 2015, that didn’t happen. Microsoft said NASA will be using HoloLens in July, 2015 with its OnSight project, that didn’t happen. Instead of OnSite, which requires a large FOV, they started another project called SideKick, which doesn’t require a big FOV. Microsoft had said during the unveil of SideKick, the OnSight project is still on. We haven’t heard anything about it since then.

Apparently, the original plan was to release the product, which is the exactly like what it is today, in July, as I wrote in many articles. The change of plan is due to overwhelmingly negative response.

What Went Wrong?

Microsoft knew the issue long long before Jan 21st. A very polished product was done three month before that. The product looked every bit like a final product. It indeed looks like a product from a product line. I am tired of explaining, but let go into a little detail to make it more obvious so the media nonsense can stop.

Look the HoloLens from my title picture above, and tell what you see. That’s not something you see anywhere on earth. I bet the majority of parts are customized, you can’t find them on the market. And you can’t make a custom order of 500 units for all of those 100s piece of customized parts hardware. It doesn’t make sense for prototype to be made like that. If you look carefully, Windows logo is on too.

The January demoed and the one worn by the cameras shows the technology with a large FOV exists. It is just has to be tethered. You have seen the long cable dragged with the camera. Microsoft have insisted of mobile, portable, untethered, which is great. But what is wrong if you give people a tethered one with a large FOV, which seems to be a make or break feature? I don’t see anything wrong if I am siting at a desktop, with a heavy, tethered HoloLens attached to my PC, exploring Mars surface beside me.

The short answer to the question is: It is a strategy problem, not a technical problem. They could release a tethered version and mobile version at the same time. All the VRs are tethered. Microsoft’s insistence of untethered, mobile is the problem.

The Specs

Regarding to HoloLens specs, this is what we know so far:

>> Weighs about 400 grams, or about the same as a high-end bike helmet.
>> Contains two Kinect cameras(120×120 degree FOV depth sensor), a Cherry Trail CPU, a GPU, a HPU, a light engine, lens and vent.
>> A stand alone PC that runs on Windows 10.
>> Has only three buttons: one for sound volume, one for adjust contract, one for power.

How Big is the FOV anyway?

The most accurate measurement is from doc-ok.org. It is said to be 30 degree horizontal, 18 degree vertical. Why 30×18? Because 30 degree is the definition of “Near Peripheral Vision”, which is what makes sense in your vision, and 18 degree is the “Pure Central Vision”, which is how much you can focus on. However,things beyond 30 degree are still important because that gives you cues on what exist.

I have measured 47″ TV of mine, a 20″ computer monitor o mine, and a movie theater, sitting at normal distance respectively. Here are their FOVs in comparison to Hololens:

47″ TV: 19 x 11 degree
HoloLens: 30 X 18 degree
20″ Monitor: 40 X 23 degree
Movie Threater: 65 X 40 degree

So, the experience is noticeably smaller than a 20″ computer monitor sitting on the desk, but considerable better than 50″ HDTV.

Here is the bonus question: Can HoloLens replace you TV? Well, regarding size, it beats your 50″ HDTV comfortably.

HoloLens as a Computer

I have written tons of articles about HoloLens as a computer. Most of them are speculations at the time, today I can confirm, my accuracy was close to 100%.

HoloLens is a PC running Windows 10. It is every bit a computer, without need for a monitor. It runs all Windows 10 applications, including Edge, NetFlex. You can use it with any wireless or Bluetooth Keyboard, mouse. It doesn’t support touch, but uses air type instead. You can use voice command. You can stream games from an Xbox/PC to it.

HoloLens as a Display

HoloLens is a Computer with out a display, because it is a display itself, It is the most revolutionary display. The thing is, it doesn’t just act as a display for itself. It can also work as a display for other devices: Xbox, a PC, or whatever that needs a display.

Why the Hell Do I Need a Tablet?

The size of the display has been the main factor that categorize a mobile device. With HoloLens, the display is gone. Size no longer matters, because it is virtual. Of course, FOV is still a constraint, but if FOV is big enough, you can have a display range from 1″ to 100″ as you wish, you do that without make the device bigger or heavier. And you get 3D. Why the hell do I need a tablet, or a phone? You tell me.

The predictions

During the year, I have make many predictions about Hololens. Most of them are right on. One exception is the release date. I have predicted July 2015. That’s far off. Without going too wild, here is my predictions for 2016.

1. A commercial release will be sometime toward end of the year. Lets be real, the hardware is ready long long times ago, when developers get apps ready, they don’t want to hold it for years. One main factor that decides the release date is how many business applications will be available. I mean the really ones, not the toy apps that can be done on two weekends. That will likely happen end of the year 2016 or early 2017, because serious business applications take long to build.

2. A tethered HoloLens will be Released along with the current one, mainly for gaming.

3. Current HoloLens hardware will be update to a larger FOV by end of 2016.

That’s all I can say for now.