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Hololens at E3: Just as I Had Hoped

19 Jun

When I arrived at E3, I knew that if I did nothing else, I would want to try Hololens. At the beginning of each day, the crowd rushed to the Hololens line for the Halo 5 Experience just to be able to wait several hours.  Hololens-w-logoWith my trusty media badge, I thought I might be able to skip the line. I was right, but it wasn’t as easy as I anticipated. Turns out every other reported wanted to try it as well (who would have thought?).  Eventually I talked to the people at the Xbox press office and they generously fit me into one of the demo groups on the last day: Thursday at 3:40 pm.  Turns out these Hololens demos were harder to get than I thought, since when I showed up and told them I was here for the 3:40, the girl looked surprised and said, “Oh that’s the special one.”  For that slot, it was just me and three other reporters in the group from the media.

They take you to the front of the line and measure your IPD (Interpupillary Distance) using a gadget, and write it down on a lanyard card to show to the staff doing the demo.  This is to make sure the holograms are displayed correctly. We get inside and sit in what looks like a Halo ship, with about 10 people total. We sit against a wall in two groups, with two benches in front of us where they put on the Hololens and fit it for each person. When it was my turn, I sat down on the bench, and they put the Hololens on my head and allowed me to adjust it using a dial on the back of the device. You look forward and there’s what looks like a flat rectangular projection on the wall with a little Halo-type logo and four dots in the corners. If you can see all four dots at the same time, you’re good to go (it’s just to make sure your device isn’t too far from your face I suppose).

You’re told to stand up, step forward onto the metal walkway, turn left, and walk towards “the waypoint.”  I did as I was told, and holy sh*t, there was a waypoint.  Maybe about 30-40 feet in front of me was a diamond-shaped hologram that looked exactly like a waypoint might look in a video game, floating in mid air. If you looked away from it and out of the Hololens field of view, an arrow would stick within the square boundary and point towards where you should look. It was very intuitive, and I just started walking towards the waypoint automatically. At this point, the device is also talking at you through speakers on the sides, but it almost sounds like it’s within your head. I had not noticed the voice talking to the other people who had gone before me, so it seems good at isolating the audio to just the wearer.

After you reach the waypoint, you are greeted by a staff guide who instructs you to look through “the hatch window.” It’s not a real window, but it looks like one. The fake window behaves exactly how one would in the real world, where if you move around, your view through the window changes, as opposed to just a flat static image sticking to the wall.  If you move closer, you can see more of the scene in side, and if you back up, you see less. You can look around the edges of the window to see more of the left, right, etc. The scene inside was a ship hanger, with all sorts of ships flying around and taking off. The hologram was really good, in the sense that I could not see through it to the surface behind it. Also, the tracking was incredible. There was no latency that I noticed, or at least it wasn’t significant enough to destroy the illusion.  The most significant part of this in my opinion, is that all the tracking is done within the headset itself, so there are no external trackers.  The device uses outward tracking and knows where you are, where the window should be, and how the scene should look based on the relation of the two. That is incredible.

After the hatch closes you walk into a room with the other testers and stand around a futuristic console to hear a briefing. Basically, it explains a Halo 5 multiplayer map and gametype we played after the demo.  A hologram rises out of the table like a sci-fi movie and Cortana starts talking.  You see holograms of Halo 5 characters, the map, and markers to show important points on the map. The resolution was pretty high, which meant there was great detail in the holograms.  Seeing the holograms rise out of this table was exactly what I expected a real life hologram to be, and I think Microsoft knew that was the case for most people. They knew people wanted a “futuristic” device and proved that it was capable of delivering just that.  After the briefing, you get to take a little USB drive with some Halo 5 footage on it, which was a nice touch.

One of the complaints most people have is the field of view. Indeed, it is not great, and only borderline good. I would say it’s “workable.” It gets the job done, but you have to be sufficiently far from the hologram if it’s large to see the whole thing.  However, everything else about it is amazing. The tracking is crazy good with little latency, even without external tracking device.  I do think the FOV should be improved, but you really have to consider the whole picture. Hololens is an absolutely amazing device that delivers what we’ve always wanted: “real” holograms.  This type of device is completely brand new; there has never been another augmented reality device ever, yet people are still complaining. Well I’m not complaining – I’m going to get one as soon as it’s released.

The above video is more or less the same account, perhaps a bit more animated. If you enjoy video, my channel might be for you. Let me know what you guys think about this whole new con-founded gadget.

YouTube to Announces Subscription Fee to Get Rid of Ads

13 Apr

YouTube has always been a free platform, and they aren’t going to change that any time soon. We’ve seen a few experiments by Google to further monetize the site such as Paid Channels, but none of these have really been successful. The latest attempt is to get people to pay a fee ($5 /mo) which would remove ads from the site. They haven’t specified and additional features, but I personally think they’ll need to do better than that to get people to pay up. Though, the fee would not just go to YouTube; a portion would go to content creators that the paying viewer watches. The split is expected to be calculated based on watch time, so if the viewer spends exactly half the time watching two different creators, each creator would get 50% of the cut after YouTube’s.

On one hand, I’m really excited about this new feature because it could make it easier for creators to make a living off their videos. But on the other hand, I don’t anyone is going to sign up for this if an ad-free site is the only incentive.  Most people already use adblock, and if they don’t already, they certainly will when they find out their $5/mo feature can be replaced for free with browser extension.  I think YouTube is going to need to introduce more features to make it worth while to pay the monthly fee, and I’m sure they know that tool. I can’t speculate on what these features will be, but I can hope. We see sites like Twitch that have a pay model where viewers can pay $5/mo to subscribe to each specific streamer, and that streamer gets a 50% cut (the site gets the other half).  For this, the viewer gets a special badge recognizing their contribution, and exclusive and unique subscriber-only emoticons (created by the streamer) that they can use across the entire site. This creates huge incentive, since it allows the viewer to belong to an exclusive club, as well as promote their streamer even in other streams via the emoticons.

I went into detail on this topic in my latest video, which you can watch below. I’d love to hear what you guys think, and particularly about what features you think YouTube would need to add to make it worth while.