Virtual reality (VR), replicates an environment that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing the user to interact in that world.
What we say at Pixel Studio: Virtual reality is the umbrella term for all immersive experiences, which could be created using purely real-world content, purely synthetic content or a hybrid of both.
Immersive videos, more recently known as 360° videos or 360 degree videos, are video recordings of a real-world scene, where the view in every direction is recorded at the same time. During playback the viewer has control of the viewing direction.
Here lies a lot of confusion as the industry deliberates on the definition of terminology. The upshot of this debate is that some say that 360° video is not the same as “real VR” and the two terms are not interchangeable.
Our view is that 360° video, as an immersive experience, is one type of VR that sits happily alongside non-real-world content for VR, which we’ll get onto now.
Computer-generated VR (CG VR)
CG VR, which as the name suggests refers to VR content that is computer-generated (i.e. not real-world).
CG VR is an immersive experience created entirely from computer-generated content. CG VR can be either pre-rendered and therefore not reactive—in this way it is very similar to 360° video—or rendered in real time using a games engine.
There is also a third type of VR, which is a hybrid between 360° video and CG, where an immersive experience is created using a blend of both content types. Much like in the film industry today there’s no real name for this ‘third way’ of creation, but audiences are used to the concept of visuals being created using a combination of both real-world and CG content. Some of the most exciting VR content being created today sits in this third category.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality is an overlay of content on the real world, but that content is not anchored to or part of it. The real-world content and the CG content are not able to respond to each other.
IKEA has developed a table as part of its concept kitchen that suggests recipes based on the ingredients on the table, which is a great example of AR working in the real world, potentially. Google Glass was a first attempt from Google to bring augmented reality to consumers and we’d expect to see more of this in the future.
Mixed reality (MR)
Mixed reality is an overlay of synthetic content on the real world that is anchored to and interacts with the real world—picture surgeons overlaying virtual ultrasound images on their patient while performing an operation, for example. The key characteristic of MR is that the synthetic content and the real-world content are able to react to each other in real time.
A great example of pushing the technological boundaries of MR is Magic Leap. In their own words “Magic Leap One Creator Edition is a spatial computing system that brings digital content to life here in the real world with us. Its unique design and technology lets in natural light waves together with softly layered synthetic lightfields, enabling creators to build unbelievably believable interactive experiences and create worlds within our world.”
Hardware associated with mixed reality includes Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is set to be big in MR—although Microsoft have dodged the AR/MR debate by introducing yet another term: “holographic computing”.
Of all the realities we’ve talked about in this article, mixed reality seems like the furthest from fruition. However, it’s not impossible to imagine a future where synthetic content will be able to react to and even interact with the real world in some way.