WHAT IS XR (VR/MR/AR)? A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO IMMERSIVE TECH
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XR: AN UMBRELLA TERM.
What is XR? Especially when you’re starting out with immersive technologies, the multitude of new terms may be overwhelming and, as a result, confusion may arise.
XR, or Extended Reality, is an umbrella term for a variety of immersive technologies including VR (Virtual Reality), MR (Mixed Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality).
VR (VIRTUAL REALITY)
In a Virtual Reality experience users are fully immersed in a simulated digital environment, shutting out the physical world. Users put on a VR headset or head-mounted display to get a 360-degree view of a space their brain believes to be real, thanks through a psychological mechanism called presence. Despite the fact that VR developers can create anything you can imagine possible and more, the gaming and entertainment industry is probably the most well-known application of this technology. However, the potential of VR is fully fulfilled in training, in several industries such as healthcare, construction, engineering, the military and the marine industry.
STANDALONE VS. DESKTOP VR
Usually accompanied by one or two controllers, standalone VR is a monolithic headset with built-in screen processor and battery. It provides stable spatial orientation and position recognition relative to world coordinates. What does this mean? It means that the headsets can use up to 6 degrees of freedom to ensure mobility. Some examples include the Oculus Quest and Vive Focus platforms.
PC VR or Desktop VR requires a PC and specially equipped premises where the act of immersion in virtual reality will take place. They have some great capabilities in terms of hardware. In fact, Desktop VR can render a picture of a much higher quality and better coherence, with a large number of polygons, greater shadows, post-processing. What does this mean? It means that the digital world built for desktop VR can be extremely detailed and realistic, much more than a standalone headset allows today. However, desktop VR also tends to be more expensive. Among such are HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets.
SOME EXAMPLES OF VR APPLICATIONS.
Endless possibilities, infinite scenarios, characters, tasks, processes, landscapes, anything you can want or need can be created in XR. Can you imagine what this means for the workplace?
More functional training, more effective workshops, remote interaction. And we haven’t even touched on soft skills such as public speaking, leadership and inclusivity. XR is a tool that we can utilise to improve our experiences in the real world, with actual positive change.
In a post-pandemic world, collaboration and digital presence have been revaluated by businesses and organisations and with that also the alternatives to real-life interaction that can offer an authentic interaction that feels real. In this sense, the application of VR tech is broader than the false myths you read online are likely to make you believe.
MR (MIXED REALITY)
In mixed reality, digital and real-world objects co-exist and can interact with one another in real-time. This is the latest immersive technology and is sometimes referred to as hybrid reality. It requires an MR headset and a lot more processing power than VR or AR.
In mixed reality, digital and real-world objects interact and co-exist in real-time. This new reality is based on advancements in computer vision, graphical processing power, display technology, and input systems.
In order to be considered an MR experience, the interaction between human, computer and environment (the physical world) needs to happen. So, for example, movement through the physical world translates into movement in the digital world. Environmental input is, however, the most crucial of the three: without the blending of the physical space and digital realities, an immersive experience can’t truly be considered Mixed.
AR (AUGMENTED REALITY)
You might have encountered AR tech a lot more than you think. That Instagram filter with the dancing hotdog? The aging filter on Snapchat? PokemonGo? AR. Augmented Reality displays an image over real-life object and spaces. This is why when looking at your phone scree, for example, you can see this computer-generated effect layered over what you can see in the real world.
However, AR technology does not stop at social media filters. In fact, it goes beyond it with AR glasses and devices to further spread its potential. There are four main types of AR glasses:
01. HEADS UP DISPLAYS
(HUDs) or A transparent display presents a screen of data in front of the user’s eyes. So, the user can visualise real-life viewpoints while also being able to look at, for example, routes, locations, plans, notes, chats and emails. These displays are frequently found in connected vehicles, e.g. cars.
02. HOLOGRAPHIC DISPLAYS
This piece of hardware displays a 3D hologram overlaid on the real world. This is particularly useful when it comes to visualising models of real-life objects that need to planned to construction or to learn how to interact with specific machinery and acquiring practical skills without ruining any of the materials or risking the user’s safety during the experience. The experience through holographic displays can, however, be described as Mixed Reality if there is an interaction between and manipulation of real-world and digital elements. The most famous example being Microsoft Hololens.
03. SMART GLASSES
If you’re a Marvel fan, these are the closest you can get to Tony Stark’s advanced and innovative glasses. A few example activities being visualising 3D images, planning and scheduling and monitoring analytics. You can’t yet communicate with Jarvis with AR smart glasses, but the technology is getting there (hopefully)!
AR smart glasses are wearable computer-capable glasses that add extra information to the real-world seen through the glasses. Viral new solutions include Snap’s new AR glasses prototype and Google Glass Explorer Edition.
Handheld means all the devices, such as smartphones or tablet, used to overlay a filter or an image onto the screen. In this sense, PokemonGo or your favourite Instagram filter adding wings or flowers to your selfies is AR tech.
SO, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AR AND MR?
Understanding immersive technologies means keeping in mind the spectrum that defines them. Since MR, VR and AR all incorporate elements of the real world with the digital one, it can get confusing to define which is what immersive tech.
In summary, the experiences that overlay graphics on video streams of the physical world are Augmented Reality. The experiences that create a digital environment, entering a simulation defined by presence are Virtual Reality. The experiences occurring between augmented and virtual reality form Mixed Reality.