What does it mean? Precisely what is VR, AR, MR, and all the other futuristic language that suddenly seems everpresent? We decided to compile a quick list of those hip digital terms and acronyms you are bound to encounter when venturing into the Great White Hype that is technology today.
Welcome to the Words of Tomorrow!
Acronym for Virtual Reality. Basically, you strap on a headset and find yourself transported to another world. Wherever you look, this other, virtual world occupies your field of vision. Often, the visual experience is accompanied by 3D sounds, and maybe even smells, should you be into that sort of thing. This addition of sensory stimuli increases the dimension count to 4D or 5D, one extra D per stimulus. In the interest of debunking, anything past 3D is merely gimmicky in nature and up for individual definition, as the actual 4th dimension is time itself. As of yet, this dimension has remained unadulterated by mankind, but should you succeed in penetrating the space-time continuum and thus rendering 4D malleable, call us maybe?
Anyway, in the 1990’s, Virtual Reality saw the light of day in the heart of Boston. VR, as we know and love/hate it today, was developed at MIT and quickly gravitated towards the health sector. Here, it made itself useful as a platform for tests within the realm of pain treatment. VR then started to pique NASA’s interest, and the space agency eventually became the exclusive VR enthusiast in the corporate world. In 2012, a Kickstarter campaign launched the Oculus Rift, the first viable, mass-produced VR headset. The project was later absorbed by Facebook, because, you know, what are virtual friends without a virtual hangout? In 2015, the HTC Vive joined the movement, effectively propelling the technology into hype overdrive.
Acronym for Augmented Reality. Simply put, the AR experience is rooted in the real world. This world is then digitally altered, or augmented, with some form of visual representation of data. For instance, you may look at a component for a badger trap. Your smartglasses then identify this object and automatically display the specifications right next to it. In other words, a digital layer is applied to the real world, either in the name of utility or entertainment. The latter is embraced by Pokémon GO, where pocket monster graphics are added to maps of the real world, making it possible to catch those pesky, elusive rascals. Another example is the ubiquitous Snapchat filters which never cease to amaze and annoy. Everybody wants to be a cat, or a cowboy, or Nicolas Cage. Okay, that last one is Face/Off, but the principle remains the same. Ish.
The first publicly launched AR app was created by Metaio in 2005. Apple later acquired the company and promptly shut it down, as per usual. Then Google’s Tango platform took the lead, and subsequently Apple resurfaced with their ARKit. Outside the app realm, the Microsoft HoloLens and the ODG smartglasses also offer AR. Unless, of course, you are #TeamMR. In that case, AR is pretty much non-existent, and everything is really MR. But more on that futile feud in the following section.
Acronym for Mixed Reality. Or, in reality, Microsoft Reality. We are now entering contested territory, as both AR and MR battle for supremacy of the reality-virtuality continuum. Confused? Already? Very well, an explanation shall ensue. What sets MR apart from AR is, well, nothing. That, or everything, depending on who you ask. Either MR eponymously mixes VR with AR, creating a flexible combination of the two, or MR can be seen as the umbrella term for anything that is neither completely real nor fully virtual. A more fancy term to describe this phenomenon is the aforementioned reality-virtuality continuum, which encompasses AR and yet another cool acronym, AV, referring to Augmented Virtuality. Where the AR world is more real than fake, the AV world is virtual at its core, and real-world elements are added to the fiction.
The term MR was coined in 2016 with the advent of the Microsoft HoloLens, a pair of smartglasses running on Windows. The other principal player in the MR department is ODG. Their smartglasses are primarily intended for industrial and commercial use, whereas Microsoft targets private consumers. You view the real world through your smartglasses, while you are able to add virtual elements to the world. For instance, the HoloLens displays a Windows menu from which you may choose to engage an internet browser, select various holograms such as a grooming, purring cat, or even play an alien assault game called RoboRaid. In this FPS game, you combat robotic aliens invading the real world through a wall. You begin by marking a wall as the point of reference for the game, and from then on, the aliens swarm at you from all sides. You fire your gun by pinching your fingers, and you duck by actually ducking. Once upon a time, this technology would have been designated as AR, but now MR is the name of the game. But hey, either term flies.
Acronym for Xactly-whatever-you-want Reality. That’s right, another R. With an X. Because why not? XR is actually a hero. Not the one we deserve, but the one we need right now. Sort of a reverse Dark Knight. XR takes all those petty squabbles over which letter gets to bask in the presence of the R and throws them out the window. Instead it offers the X as a placeholder for your desire. The X encompasses the entire reality-virtuality continuum and connotes any Reality that is neither 100 % real nor 100 % unreal. X is for all the messy middle stuff, the entire eXpanse of the continuum, you might say. So, in effect, X marks the sweet spot between true and false, between R and VR, where Freddie Mercury relentlessly inquires whether it’s real life, or just fantasy.
Self-explanatory. A 360° video is, plain and simple, a video recorded in three hundred and sixty degrees. That’s all the way around! In essence, this means the viewer can rotate the camera as desired while watching the footage: No angle left behind. More specifically, the camera aligns scores of tiny pixels to create one big image for your viewing pleasure. In the olden days, 360° video and VR looked a lot alike, despite being used for very different things. After all, one is a camera recording the real world, the other consists of artificial images concocted within a computer program. Obviously. Today, the distinction is clear, and people are no longer driven mad from not being able to separate real from make-belief. So that’s good. Generally speaking, 360° video lets you observe real-world experiences, and it is commonly applied to huge concerts, the wonders of nature, and even anxiety treatments.
Watching a 360° video is easy. Unlike the four shades of R described above, headsets or smartglasses are not required. Although Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR are commonly used to enhance the experience and mimic VR. However, all you need is love, and YouTube. Also, love is optional, yet recommended.