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Microsoft's HoloLens Emulator to Boost Holographic Development

By Steve Anderson
March 31, 2016

It's got to be difficult to develop for a platform that you don't actually have access to. Like trying to develop games for the PlayStation 5, or new engine parts for the Starship Enterprise, not being able to see how things fit together, how things work together and so on must make for a difficult process. Microsoft has likely seen these complaints coming, as it's recently released a HoloLens emulator system, which will let developers develop without having a headset on hand.

This comes fast on the heels of news about Microsoft's HoloLens development kit, a $3,000 affair that allows users to start developing for HoloLens fully. Those without that kind of cash, or who just couldn't get hands on one of the kits, can instead turn to the emulator, available on direct download.

The emulator runs a Hyper-V virtual machine, which routes through Visual Studio. A keyboard, mouse, or even Xbox controller substitutes for those human and environmental inputs that would ordinarily be read by HoloLens sensors, and the human running the system is instead controlling a simulated HoloLens user, who behaves as if it were actually using a HoloLens. The apps developed, in turn, respond as they would within the HoloLens environment. Thus, instead of using a HoloLens for development, the emulator allows users to control a character who is using a HoloLens, and getting kind of a reality-by-association effect.

While HoloLens doesn't necessarily need a lot of development—it can run almost any app for the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) right out of the Windows Store as a 2D app—Microsoft is hopeful that it can get some HoloLens-specific apps going, and has been encouraging developers to move in such a direction since the device's emergence back in January 2015.

With this, Microsoft opens up more opportunities for developers to get in on its big new hardware platform. Microsoft not only can use the current stock of 2D apps—and those that are developed in the future—as “launch titles” of sorts, but it can also get specific 3D-developed apps for the platform. It's almost like a new game system that's backward compatible right out of the box; not only does it have all its own games, but it also has every game that was released for the old system at launch. That could give HoloLens an edge in the market coming up, especially as it's left to face down a lot of full-fledged VR systems. Microsoft going beyond gaming with HoloLens, however, may be just the thing to draw in other users.

The next generation of development is still in the making, and we'll soon see, one way or another, just how it all comes out. With Microsoft working to bring as many developers as possible into the fold, however, it should ultimately produce a nice, varied field and make HoloLens more than just some gimmick.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Writer

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