VR 101: Know your immersive tech

By Drew Albenze
Sr. Technical Producer

November 10, 2015

Drew goes for a hike at PBJS Seattle using the New York Times Google Cardboard VR viewer.

After returning from EventTech 2015 last week, I found myself getting excited about reality. Well, to be specific, I got excited about Augmented and Virtual Reality.

With the upcoming commercial release of the Oculus and Microsoft HoloLens, as well as the consumer-friendly Samsung Gear VR and the entry-level Google Cardboard, there are lots of opportunities to start exploring uses and best practices for these exciting new immersive technologies.

While “VR” and “immersive technology” are great buzzwords these days, I think the best place to start is to define what, exactly, these immersive technologies do.  

Virtual Reality puts the user in a completely new environment and uses immersive goggles and headphones.  

Virtual reality hardware devices include Oculus, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard. These devices block out the user’s current sensual reality (visual and auditory) and replace it with a virtual one.

Implementation: Games and virtual tours become prime candidates for use with VR hardware.

Augmented Reality, on the other hand, adds and augments the user’s current environment.  

There are many smart phone apps that take advantage of this tech using the phone’s camera and geolocation service.  However, more immersive experiences will come from gear with headsets, such as the upcoming Microsoft HoloLens.  These devices can use geolocation and object detection / recognition to add virtual elements to the user’s current environment.  

Implementation: Great uses include games that integrate your own environment, previewing virtual furniture in your home or adding a virtual deck to your back yard, and displaying additional info as the user walks about their normal world (location-specific Yelp reviews, coupons, advertising).

Finally, there is Augmented Virtuality, which includes the integration of real-world objects into a virtual world. 

Implementation: Examples of this include 3D-scanning a person or object for use within a virtual environment.

Knowing the differences and knowing the advantages of each type of tech is just the beginning. The next challenge is defining and creating compelling content — it’s time to start working on creative uses for immersive tech! 

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