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Tech Tuesday: VR vs AR

9 January 2018 | Armin Pudic | About a 6 minute read
Tags: ar, augmented reality, Digital, experience, progress, tech, virtual reality, vr


Virtual and Augmented Reality have become big words in today’s tech world. Large advancements and progress in both fields has made everyone’s childhood dream come true. But just how useful are these cutting edge pieces of technology and which is more so? Let’s start with Virtual Reality (VR).

 

VR development saw a sharp rise in recent years (an understatement) and subsequently headsets such as Oculus VR and the HTC Vive were created. These are nifty “goggles” that allow you to visually and audibly experience digital virtual worlds. Using a multitude of sensors and cameras, these can track your head movement and update the virtual world accordingly. Some such as the HTC Vive, and later the Oculus, have controllers that allow for further input such as swinging a virtual tennis racket or lightsaber. The immersion and experience alone makes using a VR headset a fantastic experience, I spent hours fighting endless waves of robots with my plasma sword and usually collapsing shortly after, desperate to catch my breath.

 

So VR is undoubtedly fun but is it practical? In my personal case…not really. For starters, I had to move my monstrous desktop downstairs into the lounge which was a difficult task in itself. Then there are the cables connecting the headset to my PC which always managed to either be slack enough to trip over or tight enough to “seat belt check” me when going for a lunge with my plasma sword. The headset would get quite hot during extended sessions and when that happens you end up with a very sweaty face and lenses. The biggest problem by far though is space. Even after moving all the furniture around, I would still rapidly run out of space and bump my leg into the coffee table or unintentionally punch a wall. The recommended play area for most VR headsets is around 3.5m x 3.5m which excludes my room from ever working, even without any furniture. Unfortunately, most people don’t have that kind of space readily available exclusively for VR. So fully interactable VR as a home entertainment system is out of the question but as a service or dedicated training platform is where it truly shines.

 

Gone are the days of arcades bursting with arcade machines, awesome sound effects and loose change, but perhaps VR can bring them back or at the very least become the modern rendition. I frequently visit a dedicated arcade club, one of the last of its kind, and they have already adopted this idea with their dedicated VR area. I’m sure that as VR advancements progress, more and more facilitators will begin offering it as a service, but VR isn’t just used for entertainment, it can be educational as well.

 

Picture learning to fly an aeroplane, a big airliner full of passengers – that’s quite a scary thought, and it would be mad to put you in that position without running some simulations first. This just so happens to be one of VR’s strong suits. VR is all about immersing the user into a virtual world that is as real as the real thing. Simulations are used to allow people to experience environments and situations as realistically as possible, without any of the dangers. Put two and two together, and you get as realistic and as immersive a simulation as is currently possible.

There is one area of VR I have not mentioned yet -The famous and equally infamous Mobile VR. On face value mobile VR sounds great; No wires to hold you back, VR wherever you go and no need for big, expensive computers. So mobile VR is certainly a lot more practical from a personal VR system point of view, but is it any good? No, or rather not really, certainly not yet. Phones are great and are getting better each generation but they cannot provide the same level of quality and performance that “VR ready” PCs can. Considering VR is all about realistic immersion, quality is one of the two most important factors of VR. Performance should then be considered the “second pillar of VR”, afterall your vision doesn’t blur and lag when you look around or at least not while you’re sober. So what is mobile VR good for besides Drunk Simulator VR? Videos and pictures, specifically the 360° kind. We’ll leave it at that.

 

Onwards to Augmented Reality (AR). Similarly to VR, AR has also experienced a rise in development and recognition recently with the key figures being Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens. These headsets are more like glasses you would wear everyday (if you’re going to a fancy dress party as an alien or someone from the future) which immediately makes them more practical than the big clunky VR goggles. These glasses allow you to see reality normally but can then overlay a wealth of information in front of your eyes with the effect that what it displays is part of your world. If you have ever played a video game think Heads Up Display (HUD). As the gamers probably already know, this HUD would be incredibly useful in real life situations; displaying vehicle and route information dynamically while driving, perhaps overlaying patient information to a Dr about to perform surgery, and even give you quick info such as a menu and prices when walking past a restaurant. Ok, that last one might be annoying, but you can easily see the practicality behind AR, plus who wouldn’t want the cool augmented sunglasses of JC Denton and Adam Jenson from Deus Ex? “My vision is augmented”.

 

AR isn’t all just business though, you can turn your lounge into a game or convert your wall into a massive TV screen. Being able to play virtual chess wherever I go or fly virtual drones around the office sounds cool, but it’s more visual candy than functionality considering I can already play chess on my phone and real mini-drones are everywhere these days. Of course many will also argue that it’s not as good as the real thing, being able to feel the pieces in your hands as your bishop takes their queen or feel the wind of the drone on your face as your work colleague loses control and almost flies it directly into your head. Still, it’s easier and more practical than having to get them out and charge the batteries for 20 minutes of fun, safer too mind. The other problem AR has is that it just doesn’t provide the experience and immersion that VR does, but then AR isn’t made for that anyway so it’s not really a problem.

 

Ultimately, both VR and AR have their uses and quirks. VR is certainly more suited for gaming and simulations, as long as there is a dedicated room or service for it, whereas AR is more for business and everyday use and maybe more casual gaming and entertainment. In terms of practicality, it’s obvious that AR trumps VR and has great business potential, but I’m certain with more progress and advancement in both areas, they will become massive parts of society and the world, whether that is a good thing or not only time will tell.

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