The company is banking on the augmented-reality technology to catch on with developers and lead to commercial success.
Microsoft’s HoloLens will start to make its way to developers at the end of next month.
Microsoft will begin shipping a developers kit, including its augmented-reality HoloLens headset, to selected developers by March 30, the first wide distribution to date of a device the Redmond company has kept under its tight control since it was revealed in January 2015.
Releasing a developers kit is a major milestone on the road to making new hardware commercially viable.
In courting developers to write applications for HoloLens, Microsoft is trying to avoid the fate of its Kinect motion-sensing controller. That device, first released in 2010, was seen as an innovative way to interact with games and computer programs, but a lack of developer interest contributed to its inability to achieve the commercial success run Microsoft had hoped for. Kinect has since taken a back seat at Microsoft. Much of the engineering team from that project moved on to HoloLens.
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Developers late last year were invited to apply for the option to buy developer-tailored versions of the headset, at a cost of $3,000 each. Those approved by Microsoft will be notified in waves starting Monday.
Microsoft has built a half-dozen programs to showcase the applications of HoloLens, from a version of video-chat software Skype to games and holographic development tutorials.
Microsoft didn’t say how many headsets it would be shipping to developers.
HoloLens is Microsoft’s entry into the nascent business of making futuristic headsets that display games and other entertainment, business tools or other content formerly bound to a personal computer or a smartphone.
Sony, Facebook-owned Oculus, and a partnership between Bellevue’s Valve and HTC are set this year to ship consumer-ready versions of virtual-reality headsets, which project immersive images around the wearer.
HoloLens, which projects images into the wearer’s environment and doesn’t completely pull the wearer from their surroundings, falls into the category of augmented reality. Secretive startup Magic Leap is also said to be working on an augmented-reality device.
“We believe that the future will not be confined to just two dimensions,” Alex Kipman, the engineer behind HoloLens, said in a blog post. “The future of technology is one that more closely mirrors our real-world environment.”
As part of Monday’s announcement, Microsoft revealed a bit more about what’s under the hood of its secretly developed device.
Its processors include an unspecified chip using Intel’s 32-bit architecture, alongside what Microsoft calls a custom-built Holographic Processing unit. The device comes with 64 gigabytes of flash storage, and 2 gigabytes of RAM.
Its battery supports two to three hours of active use, and weighs 1.27 pounds. It runs on a version of the Windows 10 operating system.
Analysts and journalists who have tried demonstrations of the headset have noted a relatively narrow field of view that contrasts with some conceptual videos showing HoloLens wearers surrounded by projections. In the specifications released on Monday, Microsoft didn’t outline the device’s field of view.