Getting Your Head Round HoloLens: Everything the Creative Industries Need to Know
For the past couple of years, Virtual Reality has unlocked huge opportunities for creative businesses as we’ve seen VFX studios, production houses and agencies unveil specialist offerings and figure out how to make the technology work for their clients. Last week, however, LBB took a trip over to Lift London, Microsoft’s creative studio to get our mitts on something that could trump VR: HoloLens, the mixed reality headset.
Although not available as a consumer product, HoloLens is available for developers and businesses. Groups like JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Volvo Cars and Activision are already getting stuck in and creating applications to help transform their organisations – but what’s really exciting for us is the potential HoloLens has for the creative and marketing industries, both as a platform to help clients and a tool for creation.
The dev kit is already in the market in the US – and will be out in the UK at the end of November, so expect to see a lot more chatter about HoloLens in the very near future. With that in mind, we caught up with Leila Martine, Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft, to get the down low on what HoloLens means for creatives… and to have a go ourselves, of course.
In fact, Microsoft is already working with companies like Framestore to explore the creative potential of HoloLens. “While we don’t have anything specific to share, we are seeing tremendous enthusiasm from creators and developers and with HoloLens,” says Leila.
So HoloLens… What Is It?
For the uninitiated, HoloLens is a headset that allows users to see 3D holograms mapped onto the real world. Images are projected onto the transparent visor and smart sensors track your real life environment to ensure that the holograms interact. Unlike virtual reality, which places the user in a completely digital world, HoloLens blends the real and digital worlds – which is why Microsoft use the term ‘mixed reality’ to describe it.
By sensing your surrounding environment, HoloLens can ‘pin’ holograms to different surfaces – whether that’s a YouTube screen on your wall, or a new 3D character design standing on your coffee table.
According to Microsoft, then, HoloLens offers something different to both virtual reality and augmented reality.
“With a technology like HoloLens, capable of delivering mixed reality experiences, you can combine elements of your digital and virtual worlds, ultimately transforming how we can create, connect, and explore. With AR, the user sees a layer or screen of data that overlays the real world. While this data can be contextual to the user’s location, or where the device’s camera is pointed, it is not the same as being able to see holographic objects pinned, or anchored, to specific physical locations or objects in the real world. With VR, the user is completely immersed in a computer-generated reality, or virtual world. While immersed in a virtual world, users are best advised to stay seated or keep still to avoid collisions with physical objects they cannot see in the real world.”
The HoloLens differs, then, from the now-defunct Google Glass, which was a smaller headset and one which simply overlaid information on the world. Google has, though, invested in the mysterious Magic Leap, another mixed reality project. However there’s no real date set for Magic Leap’s debut and there are few hard details out. So while screenless, mixed reality holographic computing is the future, HoloLens is currently the only game in town if you want to get hands on and start developing.
How does it work?
One of the big surprises with HoloLens was that the headsets we used were entirely self-contained – untethered, for example, to another PC. The whole unit is, ultimately, a light-weight Windows 10 computer that sits on your head. Even the sound system is self-contained, with built-in speakers that pump the audio straight to your ears.
The headset tracks your physical environment with a depth camera and four environment sensing cameras – so again there’s no external cameras needed to figure out where you are in relation to the room you’re in and where you’re looking.
Running the show is a power chip, the HPU (Holographic Processing Unit) that handles the environmental data from the sensors and the holographic output, which are projected onto the headset’s lenses.
Interactions are governed by hand gestures and audio voice controls. During our trial session we didn’t get the chance to test Cortana’s handling of our mega-Cockney or Scottish accents, but we did get to grips with the key ‘Air Tap’. Hold your thumb and forefinger in an L shape, bring them together and crisply spring apart – it’s the new ‘swipe’.
What sort of impact might HoloLens have on the creative industries?
HoloLens has been a long time in the offing, but now Microsoft are actively engaging with all sorts of different sectors, from education to construction, entertainment to automobiles. During our trial, for example, we got to experience an amazing new way to learn about the human body, developed in partnership with Case Western Reserve University. Being able to interact with a 3D hologram of, say, the nervous system or heart is going to have wide-reaching applications in education and medicine.
For production companies, ad agencies and creative studios, we reckon the HoloLens has a few potential applications. For one thing, we can see how it could be useful as a design and creation tool. We know a few VFX houses out there that 3D print their character designs to see how they might look in the real world – might hologram views help with designing 3D CG characters or even choreographing action on a hologram set?
There’s probably a lot of fun to be had too as creators bring their characters into the real word. At Legendary Pictures, they’ve been playing with the characters from this year’s Warcraft movie, and the case study movie demonstrates how this has lots of potential for both creators and fans. Studios might be able to use these holograms to test designs or to give voice actors inspiration – and for fans it represents a new way to interact with the characters and worlds they love.
What design apps will creatives be able to use with HoloLens?
HoloLens is all part of Microsoft’s vision of holographic computing. That means that in the future we won’t be restricted to screens in order to interact with computers. And we’re not just hearing about this from Microsoft. According to the team at Microsoft, all you really need to start creating 3D holograms and experiences for HoloLens is Windows 10 and a tool like Unity. Unity has been working closely with Microsoft to develop tools to create mixed reality apps to sell through the Windows store.
In fact HoloLens has been working with all sorts of commercial partners to create apps and tools, as well as integrating existing tools. Possibly most exciting for the creative industries (especially those already working in high end 3D imagery and product design), the partnership with Autodesk and its cloud-based tool Autodesk Fusion 360. Designers working with programmes like Maya will be able to use HoloLens to bring their designs to life as 3D holograms as they work.
“Microsoft HoloLens and Autodesk Fusion 360 are helping improve collaboration across the product development process, enabling engineers and designers to iterate together in real-time,” explains Leila.
Other tools include Sketchfab, a platform for publishing and finding 3D content and which integrates with existing major 3D creation tools. Trimble is a platform that has been helping architects and the construction industry by turning blueprints into 3D, full-scale holograms… and it’s not a huge leap to see how this technology could help production designers, set designers or even experiential agencies pre-visualise their projects.
From what we can tell, creating content and apps for HoloLens won’t be a huge leap in terms of technical expertise for those already familiar with industry-standard software like Maya or Unity – and for non-specialists there are also simpler tools that will help them communicate ideas using HoloLens. Actiongram is an app that provides a gallery of interactive holograms to play about with, for example. What’s more, Paint 3D, the new iteration of the classic MS Paint has been designed to make 3D computing more accessible for everyone. That means even non CG experts will be able to knock together simple holograms.
HoloLens and Creative Collaboration
The team believe that HoloLens represents a more instinctive way for designers and creators to work with 3D data.
“Microsoft HoloLens enables users to interact with holograms in the same ways that they interact with other physical objects, which aligns more closely to our natural instincts for communication. HoloLens is transforming how companies, designers and creators work with three-dimensional data to bring products and information to life. Interacting with 3D environments and objects is something fundamental to humans. While we’ve made incredible advances as an industry in the way in which we interact with computers, we are still constrained by the need to conform to the ways computers recognise our commands through mouse clicks or by touching a screen,” says Leila.
For teams spread across different territories, HoloLens can help with collaboration. For example, two people in different countries can both view the same 3D object. Each will appear to the other as holographic avatar, allowing them to communicate more easily about elements of a 3D design.
Also worth noting is the Skype app for HoloLens which could also have implications for international collaboration – it allows the users to see ‘through’ each other’s eyes and annotate with instructions or suggestions.
A new marketing tool?
From a marketing strategy point of view, we’re sure that mixed reality has potential for branded apps such as games as well as in-depth demos. Lowe’s Home Improvement has been working with Microsoft to create a ‘HoloRoom’, somewhere customers can use HoloLens to experiment with kitchen designs.
When LBB visited Lift London, we had the chance to play with a 3D interactive demo that the team had built for a fictitious watch brand. The hologram allowed us to interact with an exploded view of the watch and learn more about the elements we were interested in. But not only did it function as a sales demo, it’s also a smart market research tool too. The HoloLens tracks gaze, allowing marketing teams to build up gaze ‘heat maps’ to figure out which parts of the holograms are grabbing people’s attention and which crucial elements are being overlooked.
And as digital agencies move upstream with clients, tackling challenges outside the marketing remit, we could see them working with HoloLens as a potential solution on issues such as productivity. Volvo, for example, has been exploring HoloLens as a retail marketing tool but has also been using it in its manufacturing side where it has reduced the journey from design to manufacture of a new model from 30 months to 20.
Having developed some fascinating case studies with top line partners, Microsoft’s HoloLens team is keen to get more people playing with and developing for the headset, whether that’s creative experiments or commercial applications. We would advise having a play with the headset if you can; it’s the easiest way to understand its potential and it’s also pretty cool.
Of the two LBB-ers who managed to wangle a trial, Laura has been following HoloLens’ journey for some time while Matt was coming to the experience ‘fresh’ – and we were both in awe. It’s not just the experience itself but understanding how holographic computing might develop. For example, while the headset is pretty light considering it’s a powerful computer, it’s still pretty conspicuous – but this is just the first generation and it’s still easy to see how mixed reality and holographic computing will have applications in all sorts of scenarios and sectors. And whether it's HoloLens or other mixed reality projects that are on the horizon, it's worth getting your head round this sort of screenless computing now.
For developers and creative technologists keen to dig into the specs and start creating, there’s already lots of documentation online. and the HoloLens engineering team also actively engages and helps developers via their forums at http://forums.hololens.com. The headset is available now in the US and Canada, and is available for pre-order (to be shipped at the end of November) for Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The Development Edition is priced at £2,719 and the Commercial Suite is £4,529.
Image source: win10_HoloLens_livingRoom
Genre: PR , People , Strategy/Insight