It’s long been in the news that the new wave of VR headsets are coming, and will be available at drastically cheaper prices than the current headsets: the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Wait, did I say VR headsets? Sorry, what I meant was mixed reality headsets. Mixed reality? That sounds fantastic. Like virtual reality, only mixed.
No, I didn’t know what it meant either, and so set about doing a bit of reading.
It seems that there are various degrees of reality, as far as the virtual world is concerned. Mixed reality, augmented reality, augmented virtuality, and virtual reality. The fact that my spellchecker had no idea what the word virtuality was should give an idea of how new these terms are. As far as I can tell, someone was being paid extra for every new, futuristic sounding term they could thumb suck.
Degrees of Virtual
To put it in a nutshell, the virtual world works like this.
You start out in the real world, using the highly scientific term: “reality”. But, add a few virtual elements into reality and what you get then is: “augmented reality”. This is seeing the real world, but with virtual technology laid over it. So, for example, look looking into your garden and having the names of all the plants added by a headset. There are, of course, a great many ways in which this could be useful, in many aspects of life.
Augmented virtuality is a little bit further along the scale. So, virtual environments, but with real world objects placed inside them. This would be like existing in a virtual fantasy world, but where the people in the world are still 100% real, and not in any way digital.
Then of course comes virtual reality, where everything is digital, and no real world elements exist at all.
How Will Mixed Reality Headsets Work?
The incoming mixed reality headsets, created by Microsoft, are going to be something rather incredible. At least as far as I can tell. They will allow users, via headsets, to have digital elements inserted into the real world. Imagine, if you will, seeing your current room exactly as it is, but having whatever device you’re reading this on digitally inserted into the real world space. So: a small hovering screen in front of your eyes, perhaps, obeying the rules of spatial arrangement. Like a hologram.
It’s an absolutely fascinating concept, and just thinking about the possibilities make my head spin. The user will, of course, be able to interact with the digital elements as if they were really there, using motion controls. And if that doesn’t get your imagination going, I don’t what will. The implications for educational, entertainment, and business use are enormous.
I can just imagine being able to go back and redo school, with the benefits of augmented reality. The cells and atoms would be floating in front of my eyes in biology, as opposed to just being sketches in books. I would be able to move them around, manipulate them, and see them from all angles.
Oh, how my interest levels would have gone through the roof, and I perhaps might have left school having actually learned something.
Augmented Reality Entertainment
But what we’re all probably really thinking about is the entertainment aspect of augmented reality.
The first thing that comes to my mind is game that allows zombies to be inserted into the real world, creating a situation that turns my current environment into a playground. The zombies would obey the rules of the space, moving through doors, avoiding real world boundaries, and otherwise seeming to exist in reality. My jaw drops at the notion. And just to be clear, I’m not saying that will be possible, but I can’t see how augmented reality technology would otherwise work.
Or how about playing online casino games, and having them be projected into the room with you. Want to play some roulette? The roulette wheel is suddenly in the room, on a counter, and the betting table laid out as if it was really there on the living room table. You would still win real money, still be playing the game by the rules, but it would all be part of your world, as opposed to just images on a screen.
Available October 2017
It all so sounds so incredible that it will surely only be available in the year 2025, right? But no. The first mixed reality headsets will become available to the public mid-October 2017, with a mainstream release soon after. And, as I already said, they will be cheaper than the currently available Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It all seems too good to be true.
But before we all get too excited, let’s wait and see if the technology adds up to my imaginings of the possibilities.