Is mixed reality the next frontier for VR and AR?

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are both terms that are well-known amongst techies. However, mixed reality now seems to be the term that’s getting all the mentions and the column-inches.

So is mixed reality the next “big thing” or is it just more of the same?

The primary reason for Mixed Reality becoming a ubiquitous term is the launch of Microsoft’s Windows mixed reality platform. Supported by a new range of headsets, this is a new feature-set within Windows 10. It allows the operating system to deliver new experiences for both apps and games that merge the best features of both virtual reality and augmented reality.

In order to make sense of this, it helps to define what all of these terms actually mean, especially when there can be considerable overlap between them.

Virtual reality (VR) involves users interacting with virtual worlds, characters and objects. Although various applications exist for this outside the world of gaming, it’s VR games on platforms like PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift that have gained real popularity over recent years.

Augmented reality (AR) is rather different, as it involves applications that add virtual objects to the real world. On the most basic level, this can include things like the filters you can place over real-life photos and video feeds using social media apps like Snapchat.

Augmented reality is also seen in gaming. The most notable example is in Nintendo’s Pokemon Go, a mobile game that continues to earn almost half a million dollars from players daily. Although this is AR in a rather basic form, the idea of seeing virtual game characters overlay the real world clearly remains a compelling proposition for many people, plenty of whom probably don’t know that what they’re playing with involves Augmented Reality!

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Mixed reality (MR) is a comprehensive hybrid of both of the above. It allows for virtual objects in the real world, and for real-life objects to be inserted into a virtual world. But is it really something completely new?

As previously mentioned, Microsoft are blazing a trail with regard to mixed reality. Their HoloLens project hardware is available to developers at the time of writing. It’s described as “the first self-contained, holographic computer,” and will allow people to interact with holograms “inserted” into the world around them. Microsoft’s marketing efforts around the HoloLens seem focussed on real-life applications, business uses and apps. This is something that’s perhaps driving the use of the term “mixed reality,” since “VR” is something that’s become strongly associated with gaming.

Back in the real world, people are increasingly used to interacting with mixed reality environments, even if they may not know them by that name. Another example of where such technology is used to good effect is in live casino environments, where people interact with real-life dealers and croupiers via their electronic devices, whilst placing bets from a distance.

Mixed reality isn’t actually that new, when one considers that Sony’s Eye Toy accessory for the PlayStation, released back in 2003, was essentially a mixed reality device – albeit one based on a rudimentary webcam.

So, while it’s clear that Microsoft are keen to push mixed reality as something completely new, it’s far more a case of evolution than revolution – at least until we reach the point where we really are routinely interacting with holograms! In reality, it’s surely less about the names and acronyms and far more about what people do with the tech?

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