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Microsoft HoloLens ‘mixed reality’ headset launches in Europe, Australia, New Zealand

Microsoft is pushing its "mixed reality" HoloLens headset into six new countries, the company said on Wednesday, as it looks to gain broader appeal for the nascent technology.

HoloLens, released in the U.S. way back in January 2015, is a headset that projects holographic images onto the real world. Users can interact with the things they see through gestures. Microsoft calls this "mixed reality" as it merges the digital and real world.

The device is based on Windows 10 and is powered by an operating system called Windows Holographic.

HoloLens is very different device from many of the virtual reality (VR) headsets that are currently on the market such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. These involve a user being completely immersed in a virtual world. Instead, HoloLens blends the real and virtual world in an augmented reality.

Customers in France, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand will now be able to pre-order the device which is expected to ship later this year. In the U.K. the HoloLens costs £2,719, while the U.S. price is $3,000.

Microsoft employee Gillian Pennington demonstrates the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality (AR) viewer during the 2016 Microsoft Build Developer Conference on March 30, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
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Microsoft employee Gillian Pennington demonstrates the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality (AR) viewer during the 2016 Microsoft Build Developer Conference on March 30, 2016 in San Francisco, California.

It's a device that's aimed squarely at enterprise customers, not consumers just yet. NASA, elevator maker Thyssenkrupp and aerospace and defence giant Airbus, are among the customers using HoloLens in their businesses.

At a demonstration in London, Thyssenkrupp showed how their engineers were given HoloLens to help them repair elevators. An engineer can load Skype on HoloLens and speak to an expert in an office who can see what the engineer sees. The office-based person can actually draw over the real world, to circle key components that need changing or point to a specific part that the engineer needs to look at. Thyssenkrupp said that it is cutting a job that would typically take two hours down to 20 minutes.

In one example, Microsoft used a fake watch brand to show how HoloLens could be used in product development or selling to consumers. Last year, Microsoft struck a partnership with Volvo Cars, with part of the deal involving the automaker putting HoloLens inside their showrooms to help customers explore a vehicle in a virtual way.

Ben Reed, HoloLens' head of strategy, said focusing on enterprise customers to begin with will allow it to grow the number of use cases for the headsets.

"The focus on commercial customers is about building an ecosystem so if and when we are focusing on the consumer market there will be an exosystem of experiences to support that," Reed told CNBC in an interview.

The Microsoft executive also added that currently there are 80 third party individual developer experiences in the HoloLens app store.

The market for these kind of virtual and mixed reality devices has the potential to be huge. Worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market will grow from $5.2 billion in 2016 to more than $162 billion in 2020," according to IDC.

But Microsoft will need to expand the reach of Windows Holographic - the operating system powering HoloLens - in order to get more developers on board and increase the appeal of the device. In June, Microsoft announced that it was opening up Windows Holographic to be used by other headset makers in a bid to widen its reach.