AR or VR?

When Pokemon Go launched a few weeks ago, many people were getting their first taste of AR, or Augmented Reality and, given its success, it likely won't be their last. Still, it is unlikely to fully replace the better known and, until recently, more popular VR. In reality, the market for both is expanding, but they provide different experiences. In the VR world, mobile VR technology has been a go-to for developers because of a large potential user-base, but companies are moving to self-contained VR units.

Facebook's recently launched Oculus Rift is the giant of this market. If you have a powerful PC, you can use the large Oculus headset and it will track your head movements and render 3d images, video and gameplay into the headset. You then use the Xbox one controlled to interact with the 3d environment. The forthcoming PlayStation VR will compete in the same space but try to leverage a cheaper price point and a bigger library of developers into success.

Other companies are taking an even more immersive approach. HTC's Vive allows players to move within a 15 by 15 space and interact with their games (whereas Oculus basically requires you to stand, or sit, in place). Once inside the VR, you have the option to customize your environment to a significant degree and, to keep you immersed, the game sensors carefully mark obstacles in the real world, so you're free to move around without risking serious injury or a mid-game bruise that will haul you out of your virtual world. While this provides a more complete experience than some of its competitors, it's pricier and more complicated as well. Along with the headset itself, you get controllers, sensors, a bevy of cords which themselves take up a good chunk of space, etc.

A week ago it appeared that Google shelved one planned competitor to Oculus, Vive, and PlayStation VR.
Reporting suggested that Google was focusing more on mobile VR, by providing resources for developers to utilize the tech available on some smartphones, and retreating to earlier forays into VR hardware, which had largely been through devices like Cardboard and Daydream- low-end hardware with the user's smartphone as the brains of the operation. For instance, through Daydream if a phone is certified as Daydream ready (meaning, largely, it can perform sophisticated head tracking and provide a high enough resolution) it can then be "dropped in" to the Daydream unit to create the VR experience.

Other reporting, however, suggests that Google is still developing a standalone headset. Here we are an interaction of VR with AR, as it is intended to blend in more AR features, while retaining the screen associated with VR.

A purer example of AR is Microsoft's Hololens project- a sleek headset (essentially glasses) that creates an AR experience and is powered by a Windows 10 computer. Hololens projects holograms on surfaces, which users then interact with, much as in Pokemon Go. It has a number of interesting features, like a mixed-reality capture, which lets you record videos of your experiences within games, and directional sound, which means that you're drawn to holograms in the real world by accompanying sound and appropriate sound effects. If you hear a baby crying down and to your right, well, you'll see a baby down and to your right. And while HoloLens is mainly a gaming platform, you can use programs like HoloStudio to do things like create 3d models.

Ultimately, For anyone who's looking for a more immersive experience after their experiences with Pokemon Go, there are plenty of options in both AR and VR.

Matthew Miller

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