Microsoft has released a new "mixed-reality" app for HoloLens called Actiongram that allows users to create videos that blend real-world footage with live-action 3D holograms.
Currently in beta, Actiongram offers users a library of 3D characters, props and visual effects that can be dropped into the real world using the company's augmented-reality headset. Budding filmmakers and YouTube stars can then record clips or scenes that integrate these so-called holograms. HoloLens' hand-tracking capabilities allow users to place holograms in a scene.
A number of theme packs are available, including one based on veteran Star Trek actor George Takei. Famous for portraying helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the sci-fi series, and lately as the social media celebrity behind the "Oh my …" catchphrase, Takei is now lending a pint-sized punch to mixed-reality videos.
Using arrays of 3D capture cameras and green-screen backdrops, Microsoft recorded humorous clips of Takei, including his signature laugh and catchphrase. In Actiongram, users can use those clips to deposit a tiny version of Takei into their videos.
Also available is a Nyan Cat theme pack inspired by the meme depicting the pixelated Pop Tart-cat hybrid that uses a wavy rainbow as a means of propulsion. Another feline- and meme-related pack, Grumpy Cat, enables users to place a 3D model of the famous animal celebrity into their scenes. Other available holograms include a dinosaur, a goat, a zombie character and a selection of reality-bending effects.
While Actiongram focuses on humorous content, Microsoft's Dana Zimmerman, executive director of Microsoft Studios, said the app showcases the technology's potential in other, more serious contexts. In a YouTube video, he said the technology opens up "so many forms of storytelling, educational storytelling or instructional storytelling, and I think that's really exciting for developers."
Microsoft may have enterprise-caliber ambitions for the HoloLens, but the company is also positioning the pricey hardware—the Development Edition of the hardware rings up at $3,000—as an advanced media creation tool and a gateway to new interactive experiences.
The company recently partnered with Legendary Entertainment, a studio known of effects-heavy films, to extend fictional movie universes into the real world. One early example was this year's Hollywood premier of Warcraft, where fans could interact with one of the film's characters.
"Microsoft HoloLens lets us bring characters from the worlds we create into the real world," said Emily Castel, Legendary's chief marketing officer, in a statement. "Our fans get to interact and have fun with our characters in a completely new way, giving them a unique experience they can share with their friends through video and social media. This is exciting for us, and for the creators we work with."
In the meantime, HoloLens faces increased competition from companies looking to deliver their own self-contained virtual experiences.
During this month's IFA 2016 show in Berlin, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon VR820, a head-mounted virtual reality (VR) display that, like HoloLens, doesn't require a connection to an external PC or device. This summer, during the Intel Developer Forum, the chipmaker showed off Project Alloy, a headset equipped with all the components required to deliver an immersive VR experience.