With HoloTour, you can explore the beauty and history of Rome or uncover the hidden secrets of Machu Picchu. Effortlessly move and look around your real world to naturally interact with the elements of the tour. Immerse yourself with a unique combination of 360-degree video, spatial sound, and holographic scenery that creates a very real sense of presence: you’ll believe that you’re really there!From the product description
Surrounding yourself in history is one of the things that makes virtual reality so amazing. I’ve been fascinated by Machu Picchu for a long time, and also by many sites from Ancient Rome that I’d like to see. I would love to visit these places in the present, while being able to see their relationship with their pasts. There are many cultural experiences to enjoy in VR, but few hold up to these landmarks. If you’ve never experienced them, you’re in for a treat.
About the Experience
For this post, we’re going back a few years. HoloTour was a very early release by Microsoft created to highlight what you could do with this new technology. This is a 2016 release so I’m not sure how many people were even able to try it for a few years. This was written to run on both the Hololens and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. We don’t cover the Hololens here, but this is an augmented reality headset that is priced for commercial use (over $3,000). Augmented reality means that you can see through the headset to the real world with the addition of virtual elements in your own space. Very cool, but not consumer-ready yet.
HoloTour is the type of experience that inspired me to create this site. You are transported to locations where you get to stand in the middle and look around, but with the addition of lots of context. When I used to picture the classroom of the future, I had a vision of augmented reality. Being able to look at an ancient building in its current state, then have the bricks go back in place so you could see how it once was. Even better if details appear in-place to highlight interesting facts.
This experience provides two destinations: Peru (focusing on Machu Picchu) and Rome. In both locations, you get to travel over in a hot air balloon and visit around five sites. Captions appear in the sky, dwellings and other features are added and removed, and a narrator talks about what you see. Places are a mix of actual captured environments and virtual additions. It all works amazingly well.
You are directed around an area with certain points of interest. In each place there are animated elements like moving water, nearby tourists, or birds flying by. When on the ground, you have some freedom to just walk around and see things close-up. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Considering the age of this experience, it’s disappointing that there is so little else anywhere near it in terms of overall quality. I would love to try out more locations. Though there are modern experiences with great photo captures and added information, they just lack the overall polish. It’s regrettable that this was a once-and-done product (technically, they released a few updates early on). This is a produce that could easily be sold for $10-$20, especially if it added content over time.
The graphics are amazing. Not only the photogrammetric captures, but also the integration between real-world and computer animation. I’ve really not seen any other experience do this so well. It’s clear that Microsoft invested a lot of resources into making a first-class experience. The company that actually developed it (no, it’s not actually Microsoft), Holoforge, has made other Hololens apps and they all seem to be great examples of how to do things right. You will feel as immersed as possible given the limitations of headsets in general. It’s fun, it’s educational, and it’s also a wonderful introduction to VR.
This experience is all about learning. The information density is high. Everywhere you go, you have voice narration and text to provide details. Beyond the text, much of this is accompanied by animations and overlays to provide the context right where it’s needed. A street opens up and shows you ancient layers. Structures on a mountain are restored to their former glory so you can see how they’ve changed. There’s a large amount to learn and it’s presented effortlessly. Your guide, Melissa, provides running commentary of where you are and what you can do.
There is a moderate amount of interactivity. You get to choose which order to see things by pointing at floating labels. You also get a digital passport that fills up as you check out the various elements in each location. It’s a fun way to make sure that you don’t miss anything. It also has you give voice commands in certain scenes to trigger an action, for example, stopping the rains in Peru by speaking the name of their rain god.
When this was first released, it received a good amount of press coverage because there wasn’t really anything like it. It seemed like it was ushering in a new world of interactive content that truly belonged to the future. Unfortunately, after a few updates, it hasn’t received any attention. It’s been completely abandoned, and Microsoft doesn’t even maintain their product site for it anymore.
It’s also unfortunate that this was never released for another VR platform. You can’t buy this on Steam or any other store, and it won’t play on any other headsets. With all of the focus on cross-headset compatibility with SteamVR and OpenXR, this would be a shoo-in for being reworked using modern VR technologies. Tapping into the Oculus and Index market would bring many new users, and they could definitely think about monetizing it.
The best scenario would be to see this reworked with additional content too. A new environment would be so much fun. I think Microsoft has really dropped the ball here. If they no longer have interest, they should allow Holoforge to do so.
- High-quality visuals
- Amazing integration of real and virtual graphics
- Wealth of informational content
- Not actively maintained
- Only supports Windows Mixed Reality headsets
If you have a supported headset, get HoloTour, no excuses! It may be the best cultural VR experience you can get at any price. It’s a big download, but not the biggest I’ve seen. The whole experience probably lasts around an hour, but you can take your time and really enjoy the scenes. I really can’t recommend this enough.
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