We’ve seen an explosion of virtual reality headsets in recent months with new ones being either released or announced seemingly every week. Just after Christmas, however, was an announcement by Microsoft of a slightly different kind of headset – Hololens, a headset specifically designed to deliver “hologrammatic” augmented reality experiences.
The video trailer is predictably amazing, but the first live demonstrations do appear to fully deliver on the promise of placing life-like interactive virtual objects into our real-world surroundings, in the way that we imagine seeing holograms. So what difference does this make to the current crop of creative people looking at virtual reality as the medium of the future?
Well in the first instance, for experiences that are more service-oriented rather than focused on entertainment, this kind of augmented reality may well be an easier concept for the mainstream public to understand and interact with. Seeing the familiar world around you while interacting with fully realized three-dimensional objects may well be more comforting than finding oneself in the middle of a totally fabricated CGI environment.
One of the challenges in the virtual world is how to interact naturally. The use of gestures is the main interaction method, which can be done by attaching a Leap Motion device to the front of the headset. Oculus themselves acquired Nimble VR, a company specializing in skeletal hand tracking, for just this purpose. However, in VR the best case is that the user sees a CGI model of hands and arms, and looking down may see similar renders of legs and feet. With AR everything happens with the users own actual body, and therefore there is less to distract them from the purpose in hand.
What it will mean is a huge increase in the breadth of solutions available to those who are invested in creating amazing experiences using 3D modeling of virtual assets and environments, solutions that work using little more than natural human behavior. It will also mean that we need to learn when to apply these different ‘realities’ – some experiences will be better executed in VR than AR, and vice versa. What will work best in the home, or in retail environments or events?
The rise of headsets that do both – “augmented VR” headsets – is inevitable. The first of these has already been launched and we should expect to see the existing headsets developing in this way sooner rather than later.
We now have more tools at our disposal with which to make a difference, we need to use them appropriately.