Defining the terms
VR, AR, MR and now XR too? What are all these abbreviations and what do they stand for? Let’s quickly comb through each of the different immersive technologies.
First of all, let’s clear out the air. While you may be familiar with a few of these terms, such as VR and AR, XR and MR are still fresh terms for many.The consensus at the moment is that all these complementary forms of reality fall on a spectrum that reflects how much computer generated imagery is overlapped onto our base reality.
AR – Augmented Reality
Augmented reality overlaps computer imagery over reality, so you can see objects placed into the real world, scaled to fit your current environment. AR is becoming increasingly commonplace thanks to games such as Pokemon Go and its use on social media platforms for filters on Snapchat, Instagram and others. In short, AR allows users to view virtual elements overlapped onto reality; the elements cannot interact with the environment, however.
It’s not all for fun and games, though. AR has lucrative use cases as a business tool, too. Take IKEA, for instance. Its app, IKEA Places, lets you place the furniture in your home before you buy it. Wave goodbye to bringing home that stunning navy blue armchair, only to see it’s a tad bit wider than the doorframe.
Try out AR with: smartglasses, filters (on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, MSQRD), ARKit
MR – Mixed Reality
What makes MR different from AR is a higher degree of interaction between the digital content and the real world. For instance, if you would have a virtual pet, it could hide behind the couch or surprise you by jumping from under your desk. How does this happen? MR accounts for depth and height to map out how objects surrounding you construct your environment.
VR – Virtual Reality
VR disconnects the user from reality and replaces it with a simulated one. You have complete control over your environment in terms of movement and interactivity. The purpose of VR is to immerse the user through multiple senses, and as such haptic technology (in the form of body suits, gloves, treadmills) tries to complement the experience by mimicking external stimuli such as touch, pressure and vibrations.
XR – Extended Reality
Extended reality is the umbrella term that covers all immersive technologies that merge reality with computer generated content. It includes AR, VR and MR and other immersive experiences that come in between, and will be developed in the future.
RR – Real Reality
Yes, you read that right. With all the alternatives we have these days, we can now specify that by “reality” we mean the non-enhanced version of it.
Wait, but what about 360° videos and images? Your control over the environment is limited to visualisation without much interaction. Debate around this distinction is ongoing, in part because you can use VR gear to see it. However, you are not dependant on VR headsets to experience this type of content. You can see 360° videos in your browser and simply use your cursor to look around. The answer depends on what you consider to be the defining criteria for a VR experience: completely virtual content, degree of separation from reality or tools you need to experience it. For now, we can settle it as a “sub category” of VR that uses only real world input.
What about hybrids between 360° and VR? Will VR become an umbrella term for CGVR, 360° content and hybrids? This seems to be an exciting new category with the potential for many creative use cases.