May 6, 2016

Posted by in Editorial, Hardware | 0 Comments

Augmented Versus Virtual Reality

As someone who lurvs technology, virtual reality has always been a Holy Grail. Of course, the end-game of being able to plug a cable directly into the brain to not just see a generated reality, but to experience it is a long ways away (a matter of when, not if) so in the meanwhile I thought I could subsist on the Oculus and the Vive.

On one side, there’s Rog Dolos who was lucky enough to score a Vive and has been providing a steady stream of personal experience accounts and insights into the current generation of VR experiences. Because I don’t have either a capable machine nor the money to pick up a Vive of my own, I’ve been living vicariously through Rog’s posts.

On the other side, Pete of Dragonchaser’s fame has been raising many good, common-sense concerns about the way we’re being asked to use VR. Specifically, how it’s encouraging an inadvertent anti-social experience which is not just difficult to share with other people around us, but puts us into a capsule which makes things really difficult for other people who might want to get our attention (without scaring the crap out of us).

Which is why Pete’s recent posting of a certain Facebook video really caught my attention and made me think that augmented reality might be the better option than virtual reality.

The benefits of AR were immediately obvious: you aren’t sequestering yourself in a closed environment, which means you can see your actual hands, can reach for items nearby, and can use different control schemes. It also makes you easier to get ahold of if someone needs your attention; they can just pop their head into your field of vision and talk with you.

The one downside that I can imagine, though, is that you’ll need to create a physical theater around yourself like the guy in this video has with the greenscreen. You’ll need at least a whole corner of the room, learn to hang a greenscreen and light it appropriately, and then learn to work with chroma replacement techniques to get your video to properly “project” onto the screen. I’ve tried using a greenscreen with normal video, and it’s as much an art as it is a science.

One thing I want to keep in mind is that the video above is perfect for seeing what the user is seeing, or at least what I think the user is seeing. With VR goggles, we external observers are limited to the dual fish-eye view, or a normal, flat representation as we watch the action on a standard monitor. We the observer don’t get the proper VR experience without the VR goggles, and a lot of the excitement of what we’re seeing is lost because of our “normal” experience. At least with the setup shown above, the AR experience translates well for external observers watching on another monitor. We see pretty much what we’d expect to see if we were in the user’s place. That makes me wonder if the video above was rendered specifically for the external viewer, or if that is exactly what the user sees. AR examples that we’ve been shown thus far have mostly been about CGI overlays in the “real world”, like robots busting through walls, or holographic Mincraft examples on a coffee table, and since I’ve not had the opportunity to use either VR or AR solutions, I’m not entirely sure what the limits are of an AR headset like Hololens.

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