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HoloLens and HoloBeam make real-time, 3D holographic chat a futuristic reality

In March, Microsoft started shipping HoloLens development kits, and now we’re starting to see some of the first projects developed with the hardware’s unique capabilities in mind. Last week, the Kansas City, Missouri-based Valorem released a video of an impressive chat app called HoloBeam.

HoloBeam uses a stereoscopic camera to capture a 3D image of a person and beam it into someone else’s home via the HoloLens headset. It’s somewhere between Skype and the hologram-based communication system Emperor Palpatine uses in The Empire Strikes Back.

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While wearing the headset, you’ll see the person that you’re chatting with in your environment as a hologram. The footage released by Valorem is really quite remarkable, depicting two people having a conversation in the same room, despite the fact that one is in Germany and the other is in the United States.

The app apparently features support for two-handed gestures, to make it easy to enter and exit conversations without needing to use an input device. Users can even get up and walk around in a 120-degree viewing angle before the image becomes distorted, according to a report from WinBeta.

However, there are some drawbacks to the way that the technology is implemented. Crucially, a stereoscopic camera is required to beam your image to another user — between the camera itself and the HoloLens headset, setting up a two-way conversation could end up being prohibitively expensive.

Despite the associated costs, it’s easy to see how HoloBeam could sell users on the abilities of HoloLens. This is the sort of futuristic implementation of technology that can encourage consumers to buy into a new type of device. It’s something that simply cannot be done without advance augmented reality hardware.

Valorem hopes to launch a tech preview of HoloBeam sooner rather than later, but there’s currently no set date on when HoloLens owners can try out the app for themselves.

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HoloLens 2 could pack a Qualcomm chip for ‘extended reality’
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The next version of Microsoft's HoloLens headset for augmented reality will supposedly feature Qualcomm's new Snapdragon XR1 processor. The rumor arrives by way of an anonymous source who claims the second-generation headset packing the XR1 chip, currently dubbed HoloLens 2, will make an appearance in January 2019. That means we could see the headset's debut in six months during the CES 2019 show in Las Vegas. 
Qualcomm introduced the Snapdragon XR1 processor in late May, a mobile chip optimized for extended reality (XR), an umbrella term that covers augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. The chip targets mainstream devices, or rather affordable products, to provide high-quality XR experiences without having to invest in high-priced hardware. The chip is mostly optimized for augmented reality powered by artificial intelligence. 
That said, unlike Qualcomm's other Snapdragon-branded chips, the XR1 isn't meant for smartphones. Instead, companies including Meta, HTC's Vive division, Pico, and Vuzix have already jumped on the XR1 bandwagon to produce new products, such as the next-generation Vuzix Blade headset for augmented reality. Microsoft wasn't mentioned during Qualcomm's XR1 announcement, but speculation points to a possible hush-hush until the official HoloLens 2 reveal next year. 
Currently, Microsoft has two HoloLens bundles: the $5,000 Commercial Suite and the "cheaper" $3,000 Development Edition. Based on the prices alone, neither are meant for mainstream use. The Development Edition is designed for individual augmented reality application developers although the headset is used extensively in medical, retail, manufacturing, and other industries. The Commercial Suite adds enterprise-focused features like remote management to the developer-focused bundle. 
HoloLens made its debut in March 2016 packing an Intel "Cherry Trail" processor running at 1GHz, 2GB of system memory, 1GB of memory dedicated to an embedded Holographic Processing Unit, a 2.4MP camera, and 64GB of storage. More than two years later, we have yet to see a second-generation unit although previous rumors pointed to the next version, codenamed Sydney, launching in the first quarter of 2019. 
Previous rumors also expected the next-generation HoloLens to include Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 chip, which is currently making its way into smartphones such as Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. But now that Qualcomm officially revealed the Snapdragon XR1, this latter chip makes more sense for Microsoft. Either way, the company appears to be moving toward an ARM-based headset, ditching Intel's x86-based platform.  
Qualcomm and Microsoft already have a newfound alliance with their "always connected" initiative. They created a Windows 10 platform based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors that promises notebooks with a high performance, long battery life beyond 20 hours, a constant internet connection thanks to 4G LTE connectivity and an affordable price. The HoloLens 2 could be part of that initiative. 
If Microsoft takes the Snapdragon XR1 route with its next HoloLens, the company is already set software-wise thanks to Windows on ARM. This is a version of Windows 10 that works on ARM-based processors, which "speak a different language" than CPUs produced by AMD and Intel. It's Microsoft's second attempt at supporting ARM-based hardware after Windows RT failed to win customers over during the Windows 8 era. 

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Microsoft's hardware plans for the coming year, and a bit beyond, have reportedly leaked according to reports from Thurott and ZDNet. So what could we see announced this year? Oh, just HoloLens 2 and maybe a cheaper Surface Pro. And early next year, we could also see the release of the Surface Pro 6.

As we previously reported, a leak of Microsoft's hardware plans has been making the rounds, suggesting big plans for the end of 2018 and the early part of 2019. Not only could we see the announcement of the long-rumored Andromeda device, but leaked code names and release targets strongly suggest that a next-generation HoloLens is slated for release in 2018, and a new Surface Pro will be coming out in the early part of 2019.

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What the researchers have developed is a machine learning algorithm capable of transforming 2D soccer clips into 3D reconstructions, which may be viewed using AR headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens. The results allow viewers to turn flat surfaces like their desk or kitchen table into a virtual pitch, complete with three-dimensional action that you can circle around to view from different angles.

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