Microsoft began its first shipments of its HoloLens augmented reality headgear Wednesday, staking its place in what is expected to be an emerging computing platform.
HoloLens is being delivered to application developers, with Microsoft opting for augmented reality rather than virtual reality in devices such as the Oculus Rift from Facebook.
While virtual reality is fully immersive, the partly immersive augmented reality allows users to multitask via virtual images superimposed on their normal field of view.
At the Microsoft Build developers' conference, the US tech giant showed some of the possibilities for HoloLens such as giving users a view of Mars that up to now could only be seen by space vehicles, and an inside view of the brain by medical specialists aiming to deal with a cerebral tumor.
Aiming to encourage new applications for the device, Microsoft noted that developers can create "new mixed reality" with holograms to enable users to see and experience things in new ways.
Microsoft unveiled the HoloLens goggles a year ago as rivals such as Oculus were moving in virtual reality.
The holographic capabilities in the Microsoft gear can open doors for developers to augment tasks from complex surgery to motorcycle design, according to the company.
The developer editions will be available for $3,000 for app makers and other Microsoft partners.
One of the partners is Nasa, which uses HoloLens to help users move about as if they are on Mars and figure out where they want the Rover to go.
Pamela Davis, dean of the Case Western Reserve University medical school, led a demonstration showing how holographic images of the body and its organs, including the brain, can be used in doctor training.
With the googles and Windows 10, Microsoft said in a statement it was "extending the Windows experience to holograms and allowing developers to begin helping build the future of holographic computing."
The move by Microsoft comes just two days after Oculus began deliveries of the first Rift devices to consumers.
Marketers predict virtual headsets will soon top wish lists for kids and young adults from the Silicon Valley to Hong Kong. But some analysts say virtual reality will be eclipsed by augmented reality within a few years.