Virtual Reality, Blasting Off at the Speed of Light

By Mackenzie Moffitt

Odds are that if you have internet access, you’re not immune to hearing about the current hype surrounding Pokémon Go. This mobile game is the latest installment in Nintendo’s Pokémon franchise, where users see a mobile map of the real world landscape and have to walk around outside to collect the cartoon critters from the original game.

The map is not the only aspect of augmented reality in the game, though. When users catch a Pokémon, the virtual creature shows up as an overlay of what the user sees through their phone’s camera. This has aided in the new level of interaction that users have with their environment, in addition to walking around their hometown seeking out the digital creatures.

This is currently the most recent, popular, and widespread example of virtual technologies. If you’re new to what that is, keep reading to learn about how tech companies are revolutionizing how we consume and think about media.

There are three key terms to know in this conversation. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR). Despite being thrown around interchangeably, these three technologies are quite different. Check out an interactive timeline of VR here.

The oldest and most well known is VR, where the user is immersed in an entirely digital world that they can interact with. AR allows the user sees digital content overlaid on their environment that they can then interact with. MR enables the digital content to be a part of and interact with the user’s environment. For a more detailed description of the differences, check out this article.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 4.05.11 PM
Infographic put out by CBS This Morning demonstrating the difference between VR, AR, and MR.

Regardless of the end product, all three (VR, AR, MR)  function through a piece of  wearable technology. Currently, this technology (typically) consists of a headset that engages both the user’s senses of sight and hearing.

Leading the charge in the MR race is a company based out of suburban Florida called Magic Leap. This company is purposely cloaking itself from the public eye, but with major business partners (major as in a space odyssey now owned by Disney), Magic Leap is currently the industry leader in what will be the next huge technological leap.

In order to render realistic VR, AR, or MR, some extremely advanced image capturing technology is required. Just as 4K resolution becomes more accessible and affordable, the hottest buzz in the industry right now are 360-degree cameras that take both still photos and video. The 360-degree technology is necessary for VR/AR/MR  designers to map out and create new virtual environments. By mapping this out, they can enhance the user experience by having a realistic and engaging setting to use the technology in.

Another key use for 360-degree cameras and MR technology is in broadcast and production. USA Today recently launched a feature that showcases what 360-degree cameras and VR can do in a news setting. Cameras such as the Ricoh Theta S are small and portable enough that they can create on-site footage of a newscast. Users can then interact with this content by tilting and panning to see a full 360-degree view of the environment.

For a professional quality camera (to the tune of $60K), the Nokia OZO is a state of the art camera designed specifically for VR production that offers both 360-degree 4K video and 360×360 surround sound. This camera can also be used for live broadcast and production, allowing a VR experience right in real time.

Of course, the most acclaimed uses of VR technology has been in the gaming industry. As mentioned above, the Pokémon Go release has built interest in the technology, but other brands such as Oculus and Sony, are bringing full VR gaming to consumers with their headsets. Similarly, music production is going VR with the production of Soundstage, a program that allows artists to virtually create and save real music. Live music lovers shouldn’t worry, though, because with the evolution of VR, comes the creation of holographic musicians, essentially resurrecting long dead artists and bringing them back to the stage. See: Tupac at Coachella  and Michael Jackson at the Billboard Music Awards for more information on this.

 

Soundstage
A promotional image of the MR program, Soundstage.

 

Luckily, the gradual shift in this technology will not revolutionize our world overnight, though, so don’t worry about waking up in an entirely digital world tomorrow. What will happen is that it will become even more common and accessible to consumers, slowly becoming our new normal until one day we wonder how we were ever able to live without it.

 

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