In my last article, I introduced Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities and the roles they can play in our lives. This is a trendy topic these days because these technologies are increasingly accessible in the market. Most major companies have been working on these mediums, not just for the entertainment field. Education, food, medical, corporate, government, and non-profit organizations have been using VR for everything from training and project proposals to awareness and promotional content. This is a whistle stop tour of the latest products and technologies on the market to act as a guide for associations looking to incorporate VR, AR, or MR into their events or offerings.
Mobile VR experiences require a smartphone with a gyroscope sensor, which most recent phones include. They allow your phone to know the degrees it is rotating around, essential for VR.
Head Mounted Display: Google Cardboard
- Great phone compatibility
- Includes a button that allows basic interaction
- They can be given away in gift bags due to size, price, and easy user experience
- Compatible with Galaxy S8
- Access to the Oculus Store’s selection of content
- Includes adjustable lenses, more buttons, sensors and good build quality
- Compatible with Playstation 4 and popular with gamers
- Includes head-mounted display, a built-in screen and sensors.
- A screen attached to the Playstation allows outside users to see what the user is doing, creating a shared experience.
- Compatible with Galaxy S8
- Remote included
- Soft and comfortable to wear.
Many people have phones compatible with these products, making them useful for internal experiences or events.
- Includes controllers that allow for interaction, acting as “hands” in VR, and sensors that allow users to move around in VR if they have 2-4 metres of space.
- Built-in headphones
- Requires a HDMI port and 3 USB ports
- Requires an HDMI port, 1 USB port and 3 power plugs
- Room-scale experience with sensors placed on corners in front of and behind the user, allowing them to turn around in the space.
- Issues arise if sensors are blocked by people walking through the space, or from interference by reflective surfaces or signals.
These solutions require high end computers (approx. $1550), pushing the cost. The resolution for these products is identical (1080x1200 for each eye) with fields of view of 110 degrees. Right now, no headsets match or exceed the 210 degrees that covers our natural field of view. This gives a sense of looking through a headset rather than total immersion.
Pimax 8K (not yet released)
- 3840x2160 screen for each eye and a 200 degree field of view
- Requires 2 non-HDMI display ports and a USB port
If lenses aren’t well adjusted to the screen, the view may blur or distort, which can cause nausea. Google Cardboard solved this with scannable QR codes to make sure the settings are right when your phone goes into the headset. On the high end, there are adjustments to lenses aiming to avoid distortion. Another thing to look for is frame-rate, which should sit at 60-90 frames per second to be comfortable.
- Requires a powerful computer
- Simple set-up
- Includes built-in eye-tracking, allowing users to interact with their eyes and head movements. This gives precise information about where the user is looking in the space.
Anything with a camera and processing can host AR, hence why Pokemon GO worked on most smartphones. This kind of AR, including Google Maps, relies on location, but doesn’t know much about the environment around it. It is accessible to consumers, but only works well outdoors.
Vuzix Blade (not yet released)
- Limited developer kit for $1000
- A head-mounted device that acts as an extension to handheld devices
Markers help solve the problem of scale, position and angle, making the experience of the space more accurate. Recent Nintendo models use this technology, with a couple of cameras on the device and cards with clear symbols that the cameras can detect for AR games. Unfortunately, markers need to be in the camera’s view to work, so too much movement can cause glitches.
Markerless AR uses pictures as markers. Marvel uses this in their comic books with the Marvel AR App, adding another layer to printed content. It can be used on posters, business cards and other material and works with existing content for easier integration.
Facial recognition, commonly used on Snapchat, uses machine learning to understand facial features. Libraries of these learned images of faces are available. This kind of AR introduces meshes - 3D geometry for a surface - to place details better.
The top-tier AR solutions on the market are the Microsoft Hololens, the Meta and the upcoming Magic Leap One, ranging between $1155-5168. All three are head-mounted, making them more immersive than handheld devices. Depth sensors create a more accurate projection of the 3D space. What makes it expensive is updating spaces with these sensors to keep track of it for future use. Since it’s infrared, it can work in the dark.
Microsoft has set the commercial MR space using Inside-out Tracking, a VR headset that doesn’t need sensors, making set-up easier. These headsets can work on standard laptops with a single USB 3.0 and HDMI to connect, making them very portable. They come with their own controllers and cost between $310-465.
*Note: all costs are in USD, and are approximate at the time of writing.