Was it virtual or augmented? Many of us are still struggling with this question while the tech world has moved on to a new term ‘Extended Reality‘. Call it XR or X-Reality, another version of our reality, sounds very exciting, but what does it hold for us? What is the difference between XR, VR, AR or MR (mixed reality) for that matter? With all the potential and new frontiers in virtual and augmented reality, why move to XR? Let us see if we can find something out on that.
What is Extended Reality (XR)
Think of Extended Reality as a superset of all realities. VR (Virtual Reality) + AR (Augmented Reality) + MR (Mixed Reality) combined. XR encapsulates all “real-and-virtual” environments created by computer graphics or wearable devices.
So basically, The ‘X‘ in X-Reality is simply a variable that can stand for any letter V -Reality, A– Reality, M– Reality. To understand XR, you must understand all these realities first.
What is Virtual Reality (VR) ?
Let’s start from the basics. Virtual reality has been screaming at us for a long time now. Many of us, at the very least, are familiar with VR.
Virtual Reality is a computer-generated representation of the real world. To engage in a VR experience, you use a head mounted device (HMD). HMDs expand into VR headsets, smart glasses, VR helmets and so forth. Most widely used HMDs are the VR headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC vive, Samsung’s GearVR etc.
Taking a real life example: Playing VR games! (My favorite VR example) When you play Resident evil 7, with a VR headset mounted on your head, all you can see is that manic zombie racing towards you and surviving that apocalypse is all you care about.
This is a classic example of how VR is a completely immersive experience. You are completely immersed in a new ‘virtual ‘reality with all your senses and unaware (to some extent) of your actual surroundings.
Let’s talk about Augmented Reality.
What is Augmented Reality? (AR)
Augmented Reality (AR) is real world combined with virtual world, but less immersive. By definition, AR is an overlay of computer-generated content on the real world. Now what do I mean by ‘Overlay’. With Augmented Reality, you create some virtual content (termed as AR objects) and you add that to the real world environment by using some device. To enable an AR experience you view it through some AR supported device like AR supported smartphones, glasses etc. This adding of AR objects is called overlaying virtual content onto reality.
By example, The IKEA furniture app is a great AR app.
Notice how this person is fully aware of their surrounding and interacting with both realities at the same time.
“AR IS MORE OF AN INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE WHILE VR IS IMMERSIVE”
What is Mixed Reality (MR)?
You could say, MR is a combination of AR and VR. Take the immersive from VR and interactive from AR and voila! You get Mixed Reality. By theory, mixed reality allows you to see the real world, like you would in Augmented reality, and also lets you see believable, virtual objects, like you would in Virtual Reality. Doesn’t stop there, MR anchors these virtual objects to a point in real space in order to make them seem more “real,” for the person having this MR experience.
It’s a fairly new term and area where tech giants are working on, Microsoft for once, is working on Mixed reality and so is the Google and Qualcomm funded startup Magic Leap. It’s all “secret” on what Mixed Reality revolutions they unveil, but until the time they do we’ll have to make the best of whatever we find on the internet.
Now combine all of this and you get XR, Extended Reality.
XR is a superset of all Realities.
Looking at the progress and potential with Augmented and Virtual reality, one does wonder, why a new term? Why do we need XR? Isn’t it just another fancy ‘Augmented reality’ term. To some extent, yes. The Vice president of Product Management at Qualcomm, Tim Leland, answered this very question at the AWE 2017, the largest Augmented and Virtual reality conference.
According to him, AR and VR are doing great, but the content and the overall experience still feels somewhat ‘Fake’. Virtual objects need to evolve and look as real as if they are a part of the environment. There are still problems with proper light adjustments, camera viewing and field of view. XR, he believed, will open the gate to completely real and fully immersive experiences. Of course, there will be challenges in achieving that level of reality, but XR is the way to do it.
XR is already believed to be the next mobile computing platform.
“QUALCOMM BELIEVED TO MANUFACTURE UNDERLYING HARDWARE FOR EXTENDED REALITY DEVICES”
Tim leland in a video session, shared his views on the million dollar question “Will the smartphone become an XR wearable?”, by showcasing a concept for XR glasses.
Just a concept though, but Qualcomm is working on Extended reality glasses for firefighters.
In his opinion, in order to really supersede past efforts at Virtual and Augmented content we need to create a single converged device – an XR wearable, that would put all realties in one box and let the person have a simultaneous AR, VR, MR experience.
Of course that would require more cameras than any wearable technology has ever had, and correct contextual and interesting information to make the experience more valuable.
Apart from Qualcomm, Unity Technologies has also joined the XR race. In their recent activity regarding XR, Tony Parisi, the Global Head of VR/AR at Unity Technologies, presented Unity 2017 (beta) as the foundation of XR development.
They are also working on such a platform that includes all the realities under one Roof.
By the time the world starts to catch up with the term Extended Reality, some of the these companies will have developed a cutting edge converged device targeted at providing the missing ‘X-Reality’ experience.