By now, you’ve likely heard all the jargon and endless explanations distinguishing the different “realities” that are available via Microsoft Hololens, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and other hardware. Yet, somehow those differences still seem a little hazy. At Designstor, we work in these different realities almost daily, and have found there’s no better way to truly grasp the difference between VR, MR and AR than experiencing it for yourself. However, if this isn’t an accessible option for you, we will explain what exactly these differences are in the most concise, least jargon-y way possible here using examples from our own work. Let’s get started.
Virtual reality is the category we’re all most familiar with: these units take over your entire reality and replace it with a new one. With VR, you are essentially entering an entirely new environment. Here at Designstor, we’re developing several architectural applications with the HTC Vive that put you inside the models we’ve been lovingly “building” for over a decade now. Furthermore, The Vive enables you to walk around that environment for several meters in any direction. This means in the right space you can literally tour your future home while seeing what it would look like with different features and finishes. This is the glory of Virtual Reality; it is fully immersive and endlessly interactive.
Yes, at the click of a hand controller you can change the marble countertop to granite, switch the oak flooring to parquet. Then, you can kneel down and check under the stove for dust bunnies.
We’ve been working with the Mixed Reality unit, the Hololens, a bit longer, and it’s an equally amazing bit of technology. The Hololens is completely untethered hardware, unlike the Vive, which is tethered to a computer. Essentially, Mixed Reality is the addition of holographic objects to the world you see around you. So, unlike the Vive, it doesn’t block out the light and take over your visual senses. Rather, it’s an amplification of what you already see. The defining aspect of Mixed Reality is that these pieces of hardware are intelligent enough to fully understand the space you are in. Using sensors on it’s front, the Hololens takes a scan of it’s given environment and knows where the walls are, where the ceiling and floor are etc.
This hardware has such an incredible sense of spatial awareness that the holographic objects it projects are occluded by the real world environment. That means that if you “put” something behind an opaque object (say, a pillar), you’ll need to walk around to the far side to see it. What’s more, if you place your virtual objects on a table and then nudge them to the edge, they will fall to the floor with a realistic acceleration due to gravity. Essentially, you are able to interact with objects in Mixed Reality- whether they are real or not.
The most commonly known example of Augmented Reality hardware would be the (now discontinued) Google Glass. AR takes your view of the real world and adds digital information to it, such as text or notifications, or if you prefer, Pokemon. Unlike the Hololens, however, it doesn’t anchor these virtual objects in the environment. Augmented Reality overlays information on top of a given reality, but they cannot be interacted with in the way a Mixed Reality experience would provide. The common household Samsung Gear VR is currently developing an Augmented Reality headset in which the user can view her environment through the camera of the phone, but interact with holographic data projected from it similarly to the Hololens.