Digital media and applications are escaping their confines of 2d platforms with augmented and virtual reality. You may have been hearing a lot about virtual reality and augmented reality lately with technology like Microsoft’s HoloLens, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and augmented reality phone games like Ingress and Pokemon Go becoming more popular. Over the last year we have also seen an explosion in the amount of AR and VR ready phones to go to market. Last November the first augmented reality enabled phone was released, using technology from Google’s augmented reality program, Project Tango. Even more phones already come ready to be used with Google’s VR tech, Daydream.
What does this mean for the future of phone applications and the way we view media? In this post we will discuss what the difference between augmented and virtual reality is, how they work, where they are being used now and where can expect to see more.
Augmented Reality versus Virtual Reality
The first thing we need to understand is the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality. Augmented reality and virtual reality are commonly confused for one another, so let’s start by setting the record straight. While they are very similar there are a few key differences.
Augmented reality uses the real world as the environment for the user’s experience. Augmented reality uses virtual objects simulated in an already existing space. An example of how augmented reality would work is the following. You are in your living room and you would like to see what a new blue chair would look like next to your couch. You download a furniture app that utilizes AR technology, you turn on the application’s camera and it shows you your living room with the new chair in the middle of it. Augmented reality enhances the world we live in through the phone’s camera, but it is still easy to tell what is real and what is being simulated.
Let’s look at how virtual reality is different. Virtual reality involves more equipment, usually in the form of a headset attached to a personal computer or mobile phone. Virtual reality takes the user and makes them feel as though they are in a different environment by generating graphics and sound. An example of how this would work is the following. You get your virtual reality headset out, put it on and now you are in a furniture store full of chairs to choose from. A virtual salesperson walks you through a selection and you pick the right one for your living room. You can not tell the difference between reality and the simulated furniture store while the virtual reality program is running.
A Look at How Augmented Reality Technologies are Being Used Today
Recently Tango augmented reality technology has become accessible to developers. This technology uses the three core technologies of area learning, motion tracking and depth perception to understand its surroundings. Tango offers a Unity plugin and development device that makes building augmented reality easier for developers so we can expect to see more games and applications using that technology soon.
Last year the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro was released, the first phone to come with Tango technology. Unfortunately this release was not as successful as anticipated. Of the few apps available many of them were reported to be buggy. The Lenovo hardware fell short as well with many reviews complaining about the heavy hardware, low graphics quality and AR apps draining the battery in short amounts of time. Overall the release was just a good proof of concept for Augmented reality on mobile devices, but could use some major improvements.
A Look at How Virtual Reality Technologies are Being Used Today
Virtual reality has seemed to have currently found its home in the gaming industry. Some of the most popular applications for VR has been through the HTC Vive, Daydream View, Oculus Rift, and the very popular Sony Playstation VR. These technologies are being used to develop and play games using platforms like the Oculus Rift store and Steam VR. Google is also investing in virtual reality development through Daydream and the Daydream View headset. A few phones are already on the market that come Daydream ready and we can expect to see more.
Media Streaming with VR
While gaming seems to currently dominate the present state of the Virtual Reality market there are other applications being used for the technology. Applications like Within and Ryot VR are using the technology to engage viewers in news videos and documentaries shot with 3d cameras. This has been mostly used to shoot short artistic or documentary style pieces focusing on social topics. More popular media outlets like the New York Times are also getting involved with VR technology with the NYT VR app that allows users to go through an expanding catalog of news stories.
One of the factors that is helping to expand the market for VR media streaming is the availability of 3d cameras. Consumer ready 3d cameras are hitting the markets and making it easier for people to create their own VR content. Here’s some links to entry-level 3d cameras:
Also, for those that want to stream 360 video, there’s a number of players in the 360 streaming media space:
We can expect to see more AR and VR in the near future as more hardware becomes available like headsets and AR and VR enabled phones. We’ll reach critical mass once the number of applications and sources of AR and VR media grows as well. We think we can continue to expect to see much more from these technologies in the near future.