With the race for Virtual Reality supremacy heating up, we explore whether Microsoft’s HoloLens can beat the competition to become the headset of choice.
In recent weeks, a huge amount of news has surfaced regarding the fledgling technologies of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Although Valve and HTC will be stealing most of the headlines, after announcing the Vive headset’s price point of $799 alongside a release date of early April, Microsoft has also been providing updates on the progress of the HoloLens. The news isn’t quite as finite as Valve’s, however, with the headset being given the time to develop into a product that customers will want.
That’s not to say that price point details were entirely absent, although this information wasn’t exactly the doing of Microsoft. Instead, a leaked announcement was captured by Reddit, suggesting that developer kit pre-orders would start immediately at a price of $3,000. The price mirrors previous reports, as well as suggestions that Microsoft is sticking to a long haul development plan.
Although HoloLens is certainly of interest to the gaming community, the headset is something of a conundrum in comparison to the straight VR devices that are launching throughout the year. Microsoft’s HoloLens doesn’t work in quite the same way as the pure VR headsets, and as such there have been some concerns about where its place will be in the market. In spite of extremely promising tech demos, such as the E3 2015 Minecraft demonstration that captivated audiences with 3D virtual world interaction, it’s hard to grasp exactly what impact HoloLens will have on gaming.
With so much up in the air about AR devices and their relation to video games, it may come down to exactly how much Microsoft is able to separate itself from the glut of VR devices set to hit store shelves soon. Although gamers have still yet to fully grasp what VR will bring to the party, an awful lot is known about the variety of headsets that are coming soon, with plenty of highly anticipated VR games on the cards. Oculus Rift in particular has been in the public eye for years, from its initial promise through to the multibillion-dollar Facebook buyout, and now at its state as a viable product.
Oculus is not alone either, with different groups championing other well-known parties entering the VR sphere. Sony has its own horse in the race, dubbed the PlayStation VR, whilst the aforementioned Vive headset has gained plaudits from PC gamers, particularly given Valve’s choice to give developer kits to studios to try and ensure the headset receives strong support upon release. Microsoft will therefore need to find a place for the HoloLens in what has already become a crowded market.
If the HoloLens proves to be too similar to the headsets that will have already been out for some time, it may be difficult for Microsoft to find a niche. Even though the prospect of VR gaming is extremely exciting, with some hoping that this new run of headsets will bring about the dream of truly immersive gaming experiences, there’s only so many devices that can be commercially successful, no matter how enthusiastic the community is for their arrival. Who knows: by the time HoloLens reaches the hands of gamers, there may already be a strong, established front runner in the race for VR dominancy.
In that case, perhaps Microsoft’s best chance of success with the HoloLens is to make the device stand out from the crowd. Already the company has made positive suggestions that the HoloLens won’t simply be another entry into the VR market, but with so little to go on thus far, gamers will need more finite details than promises such as that. The question then is exactly how Microsoft will make HoloLens into a unique experience for users.
One that the gaming community will be hoping for is a low price point that entices buyers. Although some companies have made no secret of the prospective high price points of VR headsets, with HTC explaining that the Vive was never going to be cheap, the high prices of the devices released so far have disappointed some gamers, with many now feeling that Virtual Reality is too expensive. With the Vive sitting at $799, and the Oculus coming it at $599, it’s a huge price to pay for some, particularly with limited libraries and no promises of long-life quality and support.
PlayStation VR is the only major device yet to have a confirmed release price, although estimates suggest that the headset could fall in the $400-$600 price range. With that it mind, if Microsoft could somehow manage to undercut the competition, that could prove extremely enticing for new users, and potentially even those that had already bought another headset. After all, if someone’s willing to spend hundreds of dollars on the Vive, what’s a few more for a new device?
Whether that’s a viable goal, however, remains to be seen. The dev kit for the HoloLens is going to sell for $3,000, which will stop plenty of early adopters from getting hold of the device. That’s no real indication of the final cost, of course, but given that the DK1 dev kits for the Oculus Rift sold at $300, there’s no sense that HoloLens will be a cheap option going forwards.
If that does prove to be the case, then it will instead be the content of the HoloLens that makes it a separate, and profitable, entity from the VR competition. Microsoft has already suggested that HoloLens will provide an entirely different set of uses from other headsets on the market, which might be why the company entered into partnership with Oculus over Rift support. HoloLens could prove a worthwhile investment if the different uses of the device make it a handy option to have around.
Within the realm of gaming, too, the HoloLens can stand out from the pack. Plenty of developers have tried to tap in to the Augmented Reality market, with mixed success. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but some exciting projects have included Night Terrors, a mobile title that turns the player’s real-world location into a haunted house, with ghosts only visible through the user’s mobile screen. HoloLens has already shown its potential through the previously mentioned Minecraft demo, and remaining true to its AR roots could prove invaluable.
This could also help the HoloLens combat one of the main criticisms of VR at this moment in time: a perceived lack of social gaming. Nintendo of America head Reggie Fils-Aime famously offered up criticism over the crop of upcoming VR headsets, saying that a lack of a social aspect would hinder the potential of such devices. It seems to have been a major reason as to why Nintendo has yet to enter this new wave of Virtual Reality gaming, in spite of the company’s pioneering work with motion control in the last console generation.
If Microsoft can somehow tie HoloLens and social together, then the headset could truly become something special for gaming. Be it through a new breed of game genre or simply augmenting the social aspects of other games through added interactivity such as Augmented Reality facecams, the sky’s the limit for the device. It’s something that HoloLens could certainly have over the VR competition, and something that Microsoft will no doubt be investigating, particularly if successful multiplayer games such as Minecraft are expected to play a major role in the device’s gaming repertoire.
Of course, with so little known about exactly how HoloLens will shape up when the time comes for a retail release, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. The device could prove to turn up at launch as a completely different beast to what gamers are expecting, or it could simply offer up a streamlined gaming process similar to what had already been seen by other headsets. Only time will tell as to whether HoloLens can beat the competition, but there’s every chance that Microsoft has something special in mind for the device.