Virtual Reality is literally what the term suggests – a simulated world. Your natural surroundings are gone and you are immersed in a new digital environment through the use of head-mounted display systems.
Using sensors, VR reacts to your eye and body movement, producing the effect of moving around and interacting with the world. To achieve three dimensions in a 360° space, developers can use graphics engines or special cameras to create content.
This complex visual information is projected into goggles or gear through the use of mirrored screens – one for each eye – viewed simultaneously. Basic VR devices require only the addition of a mobile phone to immerse the user in a new world.
The most sophisticated VR equipment is a purpose build hands-free headset accompanied by hand-held controllers. 3D surround sound and sensory gloves are in development that will add to the experience.
Head-mounted displays for VR include the Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, the Oculus Rift, and the HTC Vive.
Augmented Reality is the overlay of digital content on top of our real world. AR doesn’t replace your surroundings, but adds to it. Use of AR requires that you can still see your environment. So gear must either be made of clear material like plastic or glass in the form of lenses or a visor over your eyes.
AR can add imagery, video, graphics, sound, or text data to the environment in front of you. AR is projected through glasses or uses a camera to add artificial items to the real world. Current AR requires that users interact through buttons or touch screens.
The Google Glass was one attempt to bring sophisticated AR to consumers. Entertainment and game apps like Snapchat and Pokemon Go are examples of phone-based AR.
Mixed Reality is where simulated world technology gets tricky. To qualify as MR – or Hybrid Reality – we’re merging ideas from VR and AR.
MR takes realistic (but digital) objects and inserts them into the user’s actual world. Through MR, the artificial content looks real, blending right into your surroundings. In MR, the physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.
Devices that achieve MR are still in development, but they’re not far away. Microsoft’s HoloLens is expected to revolutionize this area of VR tech. Products like Meta’s developer kits are targeted engineers and architects. Likewise, technology from Magic Leap and Google’s Tango are exploring MR’s potential.