For the VR (Virtual Reality) world, 2014 has been a breakout year, thanks to the big news of Facebook buying Oculus VR for $2 billion in March. Then in October, there was surprising news about Google leading a $542 million funding of a stealthy new startup called Magic Leap that is reportedly creating a revolutionary AR (Augmented Reality) technology.
With two of the biggest tech names driving the two seemingly similar yet fundamentally different media technologies, we can’t help but ask:
VR or AR?
VR is about “providing reality that is not” while AR is about “enhancing reality with what is not”.
As everyone knows by now, when you put an Oculus Rift on your head, you are instantaneously transported to a whole new virtual place. You can turn your head around and explore it as if you’re actually in it, all in its 3D splendor. It’s a truly immersive experience, and a video gamer’s dream come true.
And now, with Samsung’s new “Project Beyond”, the Sci-Fi concept of teleportation is almost a reality. It involves a unique 360-degree camera that live-streams to a Gear VR, so that the viewer is virtually transported to wherever the camera is at, all in real-time.
But the downside is that you still have to rely on an awkward looking and feeling hardware that needs to be placed on your head, making you look – let’s be honest – ridiculous and feel uncomfortable. For many of us bespectacled earthlings, we have to go through the hassle of taking off our glasses, putting on the VR device and adjusting the display, so we can actually see what’s going on. Also, with the VR device completely blocking your line of sight, you are pretty much expected to stay put and simply turn around for the virtual experience, of course unless you’re in a wide empty room or a treadmill platform.
On the other hand, AR is about fusing virtual elements into whatever you are seeing, whether through your smartphone, a Google Glass or other media device, for a different type of immersive experience. Granted that the “fusing” part of AR so far hasn’t been up to par with VR to really impress the crowd. When we think of AR, we usually think of those text, graphic or animation overlays on our smartphone cameras, which are like, meh.
But Magic Leap is out to change all that. We don’t really know much about them, but those few privileged ones who have seen the technology in action swear by it and see it as a gigantic disruption in media technology. Magic Leap is supposed to be able to create magical experiences where the real world and an imaginary world meld together seamlessly.
So, is it VR or AR? For those blessed with tech savviness they probably saw the answer to this a mile away. Yes, it’s both.
The form factors in VR devices will inevitably advance, to the point where they are no longer awkward or cumbersome. And with front-facing UHD (Ultra-High Definition) camera integration, these future VR devices will open up to the real world in front of them. Then you add AR magic from companies like Magic Leap, and you have an immersive media platform that would knock your socks off.
The next challenge then will be on content creators. Those who understand the capabilities of these technologies will be able to tell their stories in immersive and engaging ways that were not possible before. Then storytelling will literally have a whole new dimension.
Virtual Augmented Reality. Here we come.