One of the main concerns of Diamond’s VR/AR team when talking to a new customer is to make sure they get value from our projects. This value is different between VR and AR projects and it is important that the correct choice for each project is made.
AR – Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality became a hot topic when the phenomenon that was and is Pokemon GO attacked the world. However, the use of AR in this game is quite simple and optional. When you see a little monster on the screen you can take a picture of him on top of our lunch table or next to your friends jumping. Simply put, AR is just that: gathering information from our reality (video, photos, location, etc.) and combine it with virtual information.
SOURCE: Zeyus Media’s Flickr Photostream. Accessed in: August 12, 2019, at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthgauge/27820253593
AR can take many forms and is already present in much of the technology we use every day. Google Maps is another example, geographic information is taken from our reality and we add digital information like directions and details of our favorite restaurants to it.
Have you ever seen or used a QR Code? Those strange squares that sometimes appear in the corner of packaging or at the end of an advertisement? These are another simple form of augmented reality used to put information onto an image. These images are usually a link that is activated when scanning with the camera of a mobile phone.
SOURCE: Simple Wikipedia. (2018) SQR Codes. Accessed in: August 1, 2019, at: https://simple.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:QRpedia_code_for_QR_code.png
However, AR-based markers have evolved greatly since the early QR Codes and it is now possible to use just about any image to activate digital content. Looking at the newspaper and seeing a photograph of a person winking back is no longer just something out of the Harry Potter world.
The latest AR technology, available on the latest mobile phones from Apple and Google, is AR without markers, meaning we can now put digital content in our world without the need to use a landmark. You just need to find a surface, and in seconds we’re dancing along with the Childish Gambino while a Star Wars ship passes through our head.
VR – Virtual Reality
Virtual reality doesn’t need much explanation. For years we’ve dreamed of the spectacular virtual reality worlds we saw in movies and books (Matrix, Ready Player One, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, etc). The concept is simple: putting on a helmet and we are transported to a spectacular virtual world where we can do whatever we want without physical effort nor the danger of hurting ourselves. We can be the superhero of our dreams.
It may seem too good, but the truth is that all of this is already part of our reality. Today I can already buy a VR device, get home and go fly like a bird, destroy zombies, climb mountains, fly the Star-Trek ship and jump from web to web like Spider-Man.
But note that within the world of VR we also have different categories. The most basic VR device we have today is already in your hands, the mobile phone. Whether with cardboard boxes or plastic, just put the phone inside one and we can already enjoy 360º videos, 360º animations and VR games.
SOURCE: Wired. (2016) Google Cardboard launches in UK for £15. Accessed in: August 1, 2019, at: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-cardboard-vr-headset-uk-launch
Nonetheless, these experiences have two major problems that prevent us from making the mobile phone a perfect VR experience. Processors and displays are not fast enough to show clear, fluid images when placed 2 cm from the face. But more important than that is limiting movements. In these devices we are limited to only turning the head, it is not possible to take a step forward, to stretch the head to look around a corner or to use our hand to pick up and interact with virtual objects.
This is where dedicated VR devices such as HTC Vive, Playstation VR (PSVR) and Oculus Rift come in. These devices use our home computers (or Playstation in the case of PSVR) to be able to show much more spectacular images and at an optimal speed so that our eyes cannot distinguish between the virtual world and the real world.
These devices also bring two controllers so we can use them as hands and interact in the virtual world. It is with these devices that we are creating unique experiences that previously were not believed to be possible. Now we can enter a virtual world and interact with it, whether climbing a virtual mountain, driving rally cars or talking to thousands of people in virtual worlds using avatars.
However, it is not all perfect with these devices. Ignoring the PSVR, it is always necessary to be connected to a computer with a high-end graphics card (which are usually not cheap). To make this connection we need long, heavy cables around us that remind us that we are not really in space, but in our house intertwined between cables.
And finally, we have the problem of the play area in our homes. These devices require sensors to be placed around us so that they can follow our movements in the virtual world. This limits the space that we can use and if there is something in front of the sensors (for example that friend who likes to take photos of us while we are immersed in VR) we will have problems synchronizing our position.
This is where Oculus Quest comes in, the latest device launched by Facebook. The visual quality is a bit below those mentioned previously, but the experience is unparalleled. There is no PC connection, that is, we do not have to buy a new PC! There are no cables, we can walk freely without thinking where we are standing! And we can put it in a backpack and take it to our friends’ home, it’s as portable as a Nintendo Switch!
What about Mixed Reality? (MR)
You may have already heard of the term Mixed Reality, it’s a recent development, and as the name suggests, MR devices try to bring together VR and AR elements into one seamless experience.
This means that a MR headset allows you to add virtual elements like 3D models to our room just like AR, but you can also make your room into a virtual world like VR. However, these devices are still in their early stages and are still very focused on their augmented reality capabilities.
They are not yet a consumer product, but Microsoft and Magic Leap have already introduced devices that allow us to do projects that dramatically change our customers’ processes.
Be it AR, VR or even MR there is no technology that solves each and every problem by itself. Depending on the project it does not always make sense to use the latest VR technology or use all types of AR.
You can have a project with an immersive realistic virtual experience, but sometimes all you need is a 360 video and a GPS coordinate. That is, when we consider what makes sense for an application, it isn’t enough to ask whether we want VR or AR, we need to consider what’s the application’s purpose, and which of the tools that exist in the world of AR and VR better serve this purpose.
For these and all other worlds you want to create, you can always count on Diamond’s VR and AR team. You know where to find us, see you on the other side!