Welcome, vammers! Our Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality coverage starts here
To paraphrase Alexander the Great, I have laughed because there are new worlds to conquer! 😉
For a few weeks now, I have been exploring the universe of Virtual Reality, by virtue (so to speak) of a
and my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge SmartPhone.
As late as the end of 2015, I was questioning whether Virtual Reality was “ready for prime time”. I am now convinced that it is, and that we’ll start seeing significant consumer adoption of VR and Augmented Reality this year (2017).
In this post, I want to explain why that is, and give you an introduction to the technology…as well as some speculation and resources.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology which allows a person to apparently substitute another place for where they actually are. It might be a wholly fictional world, or another location (geographically and/or chronologically) on Earth. Currently, that’s typically accomplished by wearing something like goggles (or a headset) which places two screens in front of the person’s eyes, at the same time masking visual perception of the “real world”. Rather than seeing the screens, the person will perceive a 3-Dimensional world. A hallmark of VR is the ability to “look around” the scene: the VR tech is aware of where the person is looking, and adjusts the image accordingly.
The idea of Virtual Reality goes back to at least the 1930s in science fiction, and the technology became more possible in the 1990s. Fictional depictions include the Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 1990s Saban series VR Troopers (“We are VR!”), and the Otherland novels by Tad Williams (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*).
While VR is fairly specific in its definition, it is sometimes broadly used to encompass some other technologies. In this blog, we’ll be covering (at this point) four type of simulated experiences: Virtual Reality; Augmented Reality; Mixed Reality; and Merged Reality. That’s why we came up with the term “Vammers” for people who are using these types of tech.
They break down this way:
- Virtual Reality: this replaces your current world for at least one of your senses (it could just be what you see, but it could also include sound, and increasingly “haptic feedback” ((touch))). You can not see the real world at the same time
- Augmented Reality: characters or other objects are superimposed over the real world. You still see the real world around you, but you also see something else (simulated) over it. The most popular version of this has been Pokemon Go, although there have been other apps for some years
- Mixed Reality: people may just refer to this as Augmented Reality (AR), and the difference is somewhat subtle. In Mixed Reality, the simulated object is “aware” of the real world and reacts to it. That’s not just the “player” or “experiencer”: it may have an awareness of where the ground is, for example. That’s already happening: AR characters don’t tend to appear to be floating in the air (unless that’s appropriate for the character), and Instragam filters follow your actions
- Merged Reality: this is new, and is a term used by Intel for its Alloy headset (YouTube videos). This is essentially the opposite of Mixed Reality. The headset maps the actual location (say, the furniture in a room), and then masks it with a story-appropriate appearance: a table might “change into” a control panel on a spaceship, or into a rock in a haunted forest
My guess is that people will just use two terms: Virtual Reality when the real world is not visible, and Augmented Reality when it is. I don’t think most people will care about what is aware of what in casual conversation. However, VAers just didn’t sound as good. 😉
Why do I think it will take off in 2017?
As noted, VR entered popular consciousness by the 1990s, and it was possible to try it in arcades at that time (it can be argued that the Viewmaster, introduced in 1939, was a primitive, stationary version of VR…and there were earlier technologies that attempted it). It never became part of our most people’s lives, though; what’s different this time?
The easiest way to explain this may be to first address the barriers that impeded adoption before:
- It was too expensive or not available for the home. While you can still spend more than $500 for a self-contained VR set, the Samsung Gear I mentioned above can be had for under $100 (well within the range of many consumer electronics). It is powered by a SmartPhone (specific ones), which can, of course, also cost over $500…but if you already have one, getting into VR has become affordable
- People got nauseated or vertigo in VR. That was largely caused, as I understand, by “latency”…as you moved your head, the image would lag behind and then catch up, which could cause that feeling. I don’t notice any significant latency with my set up. I have let people use it who ranged from the age of 13 to 88…a couple of people have mentioned feeling disoriented when removing it, but no one has claimed to be too uncomfortable in VR. When shopping in the store for “experiences”, they rank how “comfortable” it is
- You have to be plugged into something. That’s not true with my headset…after all, it’s running off a SmartPhone. There are still ones (including expensive set ups) where that is true, but it’s now an option
- You look stupid. Can’t help you there. 🙂 I don’t think it’s stupid-looking…not more than many other things we do for entertainment
That takes care of some of the assumed negatives. I think it’s why some tech writers are underestimating adoption this year…they were very aware of the limitations, and either expect them to still be part of the experience, or want it to be perfectly resolved. For the average consumer, things can be good enough. It’s a bit like when Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007 (I’m best known for my coverage of the Kindle, e-books, and Amazon). E-books had been around, but they were only really being used by techies who didn’t mind plugging a cable into a computer to transfer an e-book they had downloaded. When Amazon made the Kindle wireless, it made it “good enough” for consumers, even though the technology has vastly improved since then.
What are the positives? What can you do with it?
People talk about the “killer app”, some driving reason to use a new technology. I think that’s there for VR now…and I think it might surprise you what I think that it is.
It’s video. Especially, that’s Netflix.
I like watching Netflix so much better in VR than on my TV. It appears that I am watching Stranger Things in a movie theatre. That’s in part because of the apparent size of the “screen”…but there is actually a theatre environment visible around me. However (and I didn’t know this at first), I can also look up at “the ceiling” and select the “Void Theatre”. That has the advantage of letting me place the screen anywhere I want by moving my head…even on what is the ceiling of the real room. I can be doing floor work exercises, and be watching Netflix wherever I want it to be. Hulu also recently introduce an “experience” (that’s what apps are called in VR). Amazon Prime Video is missing at this point, but in my most popular blog, I Love My Kindle, I predicted in my annual post
that Amazon will significantly get into VR/AR this year.
Samsung also has a browser, and I can go to other sites and watch video. I even have my own page on this site that works for there, although I have just started it:
When I’m in VR, I visit that page (which I’ve bookmarked) to launch public domain video I’ve linked there. I find it really cool to be watching an old movie or TV show (like Captain Video) in VR. 🙂
I should mention at this point that the headphone jack is still available to me, so I can listen on headphones if I want.
There are many other things that I’ve done.
One that I tend to show to other people is a VR exploration of the actual Chernobyl (site of a Russian nuclear incident). It’s amazing to “walk around”, say, the hospital (I work in healthcare), or the amusement park which was going to open shortly after the date of the incident.
Other experiences include seeing a Cirque du Soleil show, or watching Steph Curry warm up. There are also simulated experiences…Ocean Rift is a popular undersea simulation, where you can “swim” with dolphins or be in a shark cage (don’t forget to look behind you!)
There are also games. One, called Smash Hit, is an old arcade style “rail game”…you are moving forward at a speed out of our control, like being on a roller coaster (on rails). As you move, you “throw balls” at pylons, getting more balls for breaking them. It’s more complicated than that, but like many games, starts out easy. It can be hard to remember that even after you’ve passed a pylon, it’s possible (if you have time), to “look behind” you and fire in that direction at the one just passed.
You may be wondering how you “throw the balls”. With some systems, you could do it holding a controller, or even have something detect the position of your hands and your gestures (that will expand much more in the next couple of years). With mine, there is a “touchpad” on my right side of the headset…I tap the side of my “scuba mask” to throw the ball.
Video, games, and there is one more big element: social interaction. There is a platform, vTime, where you can go chat with other people, or even put on a lecture (which can be recorded). What you (and they) will see is an “avatar”, a cartoon representation of you. You can choose how you look (although only humans, from what I’ve seen), and your voice will be your voice (you need a headset, but I have earbuds with a built-in microphone I use for my phone…those should be fine). I think it might be possible to mask your voice. Oh, and you can be in odd locales…I’ve been in space and Liverpool (not at the same time).
This is going to be a major reason why people use VR, and may even be that “killer app”. It could get quite wild, but to some extent combining the anonymity of the internet with the immediacy of videochat may appeal, but I also expect there to be business and academic applications.
Now, just to be fair, I want to mention something I do think is a drawback. It really seems to burn through my battery charge…using it for an hour could take up more than a quarter of it. Having it plugged in would solve that problem…but that’s just a different hurdle.
There is a lot more I could tell you (and I expect to do so in this blog, The Measured Circle), but there are other resources which have already been covering it:
and if you want to see more of the things you can do, here is the
Okay, vammers! 😉 What do you think? Do you have other questions? Experiences you want to share? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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