Introduction to XR technology: Exploring the technology and process of AR, VR and MR, how they’re different–and what they can do for you
With the ever-increasing perception that technology is progressing at lighting speed comes confusion at the terminology being used to describe it. One example is the collection of acronyms that describe the various computer-enhanced realities. Their commonly-seen names are VR, AR, MR and, more recently, XR. Whether you’re applying the terms to video games or augmented experiences for your customers or clients, they needn’t be confusing.
The first (and perhaps the oldest), virtual reality (VR), defines an immersive experience that is completely computer-simulated–that is, one in which computer technologies use reality headsets to generate realistic sounds, images and other sensations that create an entirely virtual world, from whole cloth. A true VR environment engages all five senses (taste, sight, smell, touch, sound)–the ultimate goal of virtual reality is true immersion–though this is not always possible. The demand for VR was born in a video game industry that craved the sensation of being “really there.” This technology has moved into more practical applications with lots of progress expected in the near future.
The biggest value in virtual reality is that it provides an intuitive way to interact with and be immersed in the digital experience–the “story.” VR can be called a hardware innovation–an input and output device that offers intuitive control and deeper immersion in the digital world.
What are some of its best applications? VR is best used for telling stories and conveying experiences–touring a commercial real estate development or one that doesn’t exist in the real world, for example. More examples: Attending virtual sales or marketing conferences which can be expensive to provide travel and expense for each attendee, and fantasy experiences such as digital tourism of fictional communities.
Augmented reality (AR) is a live view of a real-world physical environment, elements of which are augmented or supplemented by computer-generated sensory input like video, sound, graphics or GPS data. The view may be direct or indirect.
AR is like a computer-driven overlay on the real world. It utilizes existing reality and adds to it with the assistance of a device. The apps available for mobile devices are popular mediums of AR. Through the camera, the apps add a layer of digital content into the environment. Custom headsets are another means to augment reality. Pokemon Go, Facebook’s ability to tag friends on photos and Instagram and Snapchat’s funny face filters are all examples of AR applications, as are pointing a phone at a mixed used property development to see features and amenities,and visualizing furniture and decor items in an office or retail space before purchasing.
Where VR brings the user into an all-digital world, augmented reality brings digital information into the real world. In a more technical sense, AR is a software innovation that happens when software extracts data from visual information of the existing world. Its ultimate goal is to provide contextual information to the user.
In addition to being a descriptive term for situations when virtual reality and augmented reality are used together, mixed reality (MR) reminds us that VR and AR can coexist. Sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, MR happens when real and virtual worlds meet to create new environments and visualizations with real and digitally-created objects co-existing and interacting in real time.
What about the newer label, XR? Extended reality is a less-specific term that could be any or all of the above. Extended reality refers to all environments where real and digital worlds interact, and human-tech interactions that are generated by computer technology.
Extended reality includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed Reality (MR). It could be called an umbrella definition that covers all three–and we’ll be hearing a lot more about it. For example, it is becoming the favored term for the next-level digital content finding its way onto our phones from tech companies like Microsoft, Samsung, Apple, Google and Facebook.
Mixed reality (MR) and extended reality (XR) as concepts are more abstract than AR and VR. They aren’t a specific kind of technology but rather a combination of technologies.
As producers, consumers, sellers, and buyers all shift to using digital and virtual tools more than ever before, now is the time to explore AR, VR, and MR tech.