Microsoft HoloLens dazzles at Build conference, but availability still a mystery

The holographic headgear stole the show, thanks to a number of head-turning demonstrations and the unveiling of the Windows Holographic platform.

Max Taves Staff Reporter
Max writes about venture capitalism and startups while seeking out the new new thing to come out of Silicon Valley. He joined CNET News from The Wall Street Journal, where he contributed stories on commercial real estate, architecture, big data and more. He's also written for LA Weekly, Slate and American Lawyer Media's The Recorder, where he covered legal battles in Silicon Valley. Max holds degrees from Georgetown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Max Taves
Nick Statt
2 min read

Microsoft's HoloLens headset continues to blow minds, but the company remains silent on a price, release date and even a developer kit version. Microsoft

Microsoft offered another tantalizing look at its HoloLens headset, as it aims to turn your living room and workplace into a living, breathing desktop.

The world's largest software company saved the best for last during the keynote presentation at its Build 2015 developer conference, closing a three-hour parade of demonstrations and speeches with a closer look at its foray into the holographic world. The HoloLens doesn't produce true holograms in the "Star Trek" sense. Rather, it beams light onto your eyes to blend 3D virtual images with the real world, a technology known more widely as augmented reality.

Onstage, Microsoft's Alex Kipman, father of the Kinect motion camera and head of the HoloLens project, unveiled the Windows Holographic Platform, which will let developers create Windows 10 apps that work on the headset. Kipman claimed that all apps for the still-to-be-released new version of Windows could be made to work with HoloLens -- hitting on a central theme of the day: the universal reach for developers building Windows 10 apps, which will work across any device and screen.

Microsoft's Alex Kipman, right, shows off the Windows Holographic Platform at Build 2015.
Microsoft's Alex Kipman, right, shows off the Windows Holographic Platform at Build 2015. Nate Ralph/CNET

"All universal apps can be made to work on Windows Holographic, and everything you've seen here today is a universal Windows app," Kipman said.

But Microsoft is still keeping details of HoloLens, first unveiled at the company's Windows 10 event in January, close to its vest. The cost of the headset is still unknown, and though Microsoft has previously said it would be available in the "Windows 10" timeframe, it's still unclear when exactly consumers or even developers will get to start using it.

Still, Microsoft wants its HoloLens to be taken seriously. It brought hundreds of demo units of the the headset for the audience at Build. It used a series of presentations to display potential uses that stunned the crowd with lifelike holograms that appeared onstage alongside Kipman, including a real-life robot that was transformed into an anthropomorphic cartoony companion when looked at through the HoloLens.

Watch this: Using HoloLens, Microsoft overlays physical robot with holographic robot

Microsoft also showed a few videos of serious work being done with the headset, in the realm of architecture and anatomy -- including a live demo in partnership with Case Western University's Cleveland Clinic, during which a virtual man onstage was transformed into layers of skin, muscle and bone.

Perhaps most interesting, however, was a demonstration of how the HoloLens can create a desktoplike environment out of a living room, with screens stuck to walls and virtual, interactive displays of the weather and other information floating all around.

With a nod to its potential entertainment value, a HoloLens user on tage was shown a movie-playing screen that joined him as he walked along, eventually allowing him to project the screen on any wall and scale it any size. Kipman also touted the mobile aspects of HoloLens, noting that the headgear doesn't require a separate smartphone or PC to run, and doesn't require any cables.

"This is life with holograms," Kipman said. "This mixed reality grants us permission to reinvent productivity."