How to Achieve a 5-Wow HoloLens Demo (part 1 of many)

You have created an awesome HoloLens application. It really is great. Now it is time to show it off and make other people experience your incredible holographic powers. You take your HoloLens with the demo app installed to a conference, an expo, or to a meeting room. But how can you realize maximum impact for your demo? How can you get a 5-wow demo session (which means that the person you’re demoing to says “Wow” at least 5 times) consistently, (almost) every time?

5wows.jpg

This blog post series is about maximizing the wow-factor of your demos. I’m sharing the lessons learned during hundreds of one-on-one demo sessions. I’ll discuss demo environment, device preparation, unique app requirements for demo scenarios, storytelling and a one-two-punch approach to wowing your future customer or partner.

The Demo Environment

Let’s begin with the demo environment – where you will perform the demo itself. This can be a meeting room, an expo booth, a conference hallway, your own living room or even somebody’s kitchen.

Before discussing environment tips, let’s first think about how the environment affects HoloLens.

Space

The space requirements for your demo is highly dependent on the application you want to show off. In a typical one on one demo scenario, you can sometimes get by with as much space as you need for 2 people to stand next to each other. But mixed reality mixes reality and the virtual world, so sometimes you need more space. For example, if you want to augment a car, you will need enough space to fit the car, and allow for you and your guest to step back and look at the car from a few meters distance. Meeting rooms are often laid out so that there’s a huge table in the middle, which doesn’t leave much space for people to move around. So, if you’re not in control of the environment where the demo will take place, you may want to request some additional time to move some furniture.  Just let the meeting organizer know that you will need some time to set things up before the meeting.

Lighting

Lighting is important. In low light, the holograms pop out more, look brighter, more solid, more colorful and have more contrast. However, if there’s not enough light, HoloLens may lose its tracking, which relies heavily on the 4 positional cameras on the device. Fortunately for this to happen, the room has to be almost pitch dark, certainly dark enough for people to feel uncomfortable.

On the other hand, too much light can also cause problems. There’s only so much light HoloLens’ displays can add to the environment – and broad daylight can wash out the display to the point of your app being totally invisible. This is one of the reasons why Microsoft doesn’t recommend using HoloLens outdoors.

So, as far as lighting goes, I had the most success with dimly lit rooms – kind of your “romantic mood lighting”. But HoloLens works well even in a fairly well-lit expo hall, too. Just avoid direct sunlight and spotlight if possible.

Walls and Furniture

Let’s discuss walls and furniture next. Again, there are two important things the visible environment influences: tracking quality and the visual experience.

Since HoloLens relies on visual tracking, pure, solid color walls all around can cause it to lose tracking. If you haven’t seen this in action, just stand in a corner of any room with pure white walls. HoloLens will not be able to identify feature points, and tracking will be gone until you step back a little.

Now, just one solid colored wall is usually OK, because HoloLens has two cameras that look left and right, and these are enough (most of the time) because they are also used by the tracking algorithm. Just avoid stepping too close to a solid colored wall. A more textured wall, such as one with tiles, or a poster, or a booth wall with text and graphics will have none of these issues.

As for wall colors, medium and darker colors work best – again because the holograms will pop out better when they are in front of a darker background.

So, if I’m working with companies bringing their HoloLens apps to an exhibition where they control the design of their own booth, I recommend a patterned, not too bright set. Wood furniture also works great, especially if you have a hologram to put on a real table in your app.

If the demo environment is controlled, you may even have the chance to use part of the environment as a set. This rarely happens outside of an expo booth or your own meeting room, but it can help the demo tremendously. For example, while working with 360world, I worked on a booth demo for the World ATM Congress, which showcased HoloTower – an app that air traffic controllers use in the tower. This demo was specifically designed to work with a two-piece set that acted as the “windows” of the imaginary tower, and we had a full holographic airport with moving airplanes right outside these windows.

Madrid demo set small.jpg
The set mimics a fogged in air traffic control tower, but with HoloLens, visitors can see the airport and the planes outside the “window”

Noise

If your app has sound, uses voice commands or speech recognition, you have to take noise into account. Of course, you’ve already considered this when you were designing your app, right? But you may have designed your app for a quiet home or office setting and then you get to demo it in a noisy expo booth of conference hallway with a ton of background chatter.

Unfortunately, the speakers of the HoloLens are pretty weak. The poor man’s, on-the-spot solution to this (after you’ve checked that volume is all the way up and no Bluetooth audio devices are connected) is to ask the user to form a small cup over his/her ears and the speaker.

The much more professional solution is to have an external speaker and attach it to the HoloLens. This can be a Bluetooth speaker or one with a standard headphone jack. Just please don’t use in-ear headphones (earbuds) as those are not too hygienic, especially after being used by dozens of people throughout the day. The advantage of separate headphones is better sound quality (especially when it comes to the lower frequencies) and better separation of background noise. But don’t use noise canceling headphones. HoloLens’ speaker design is augmented sound, meaning the user gets to hear both the real world and the app’s sound – just like she can see both the real and the virtual world. Depending on your app, this augmented sound feature can be important – but even if it’s not, if your headphones discard external noise, that means that the user won’t be able to hear you either while you’re walking her through the experience.

The other issue with noise has to do with speech. HoloLens has a pretty good and well-tuned microphone array, but it can’t do too much to isolate your voice if there are people standing next to you, trying to shout over the general background babble that’s trying to shout over the music coming from the booth next door exhibiting their line of car speakers. Because often this cannot be avoided, and speech recognition issues often lead to jovial ridicule, you should have alternatives built into your app. One alternative is that voice commands should also have a “click” equivalent, such as a button the user can air-tap on to go to perform an action. The other, more sneaky alternative is to have a separate app on your phone, which you activate when the HoloLens demo is running and “fake” that the app heard what the user said by pressing buttons on this app. This solution needs more preparation and better control of the environment, but it can work well, and this demo companion app is something you may want to have anyway (I’ll return to it later).

 

And that’s it for the fist post in this series. Next, I’ll talk about how to help others (who are not an active participant in the demo) understand what’s going on – including you. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

András has been a Microsoft MVP Awardee for 10 years now, a Pluralsight author, speaker and consultant on AR/VR/MR technologies, from HoloLens to ARKit.

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