Spotlight - Exploration of MR & the Microsoft HoloLens with Mark Christian

What makes the likes of HoloLens different from other devices?
HoloLens is mixed-reality, rather than the more traditional mobile-based AR device.  The difference is that rather than just ‘augmenting’ your real world surroundings, the HoloLens adds virtual content that actually interacts with your real world.

Another key feature of HoloLens is the ability to pin apps in space. Content can be developed for the device as stand-alone models or as fully-functioning apps. The device remembers where you have pinned the apps and you can have multiple apps open at once. This allows tremendous creative potential because you can create a scenario where learners are discovering apps as they wander around a physical space. It even allows multiple devices to be linked together, which means the learning or entertainment can be a shared experience either with other students or with an instructor.

How do you think the HoloLens will impact the wider industry?
Microsoft
 will shortly launch Actiongram, an app that allows you to add holographic characters and visual effects to your real world environment. This presents both an opportunity and a threat to the visual effects industry because it makes it quicker and easier for trained professionals to create something outstanding.

In terms of the film industry you can easily imagine a short film where the spectator is not just a spectator anymore. The key would be the level of interaction with virtual environments, virtual actors or even with avatars of real actors. Your house could become an interactive cinema or an interactive theatre.

Microsoft has also released a game called Fragments, a new revolutionary way to play with no controllers. The device scans the environment where you play and places game objects around you in a surprisingly adaptive way, so your environment becomes a set of a video game.

What can we expect to see from yourselves and the industry in general in regards to AR/VR?
We have partnerships in place with Microsoft and Google, working with some of the biggest players in the industry to develop and supply content for these devices. We are currently developing educational apps for the HoloLens for use in schools and universities and engineering training for the British Army. The goal is to allow learners to interact with their physical and augmented environment in a completely new way.

Do you think AR is challenging the VR trend?
AR is not a competitor to VR but it is a related technology, there’s space in the market for both. MR offers the chance to explore physical objects via a virtual medium whilst still being present in the real world and experiences can be designed to take advantage of that. VR will continue to lead on fully-immersive experiences. Also VR hardware is available now but the AR/MR devices like Magic Leap and HoloLens are still in the development process so it’s going to be a while before a fully-commercial product is ready.

What industry do you see AR sitting with in future?
Obviously the tech has got a way to go in terms of image quality and field of view, but as a media it allows creative possibilities in terms of mixing your real world with a digital world that we don’t currently have. It feels like a technology that will allow physical reality to feel much more like the mental spaces we currently inhabit. The stories that we create with MR will be controlled much more by the user than by the author and in that sense film and gaming may converge in this medium.

MR is a new type of entertainment experience waiting to happen. Asking where these technologies will fit in terms of current media feels a little like the late 19th century theatres asking how moving pictures will fit in stage shows. They might not. It might be something completely new. I can’t wait for artists to get their hands on this technology and see where it takes us.