AR/VR: Where We Are Now & Where We’re Going

Photo by flickr user UTKnightCenter

The augmented reality and virtual reality markets are on fire. According to a recent report, the markets together will haul in $150 billion by 2020.

That being the case, I figured now was as good a time as any to put together a roundup of some of the more popular VR and AR technologies on the market, while also offering some predictions as to what we will likely see in the space down the road.

HTC Vive

Released in April 2016, the HTC Vive is available for $799. The device is the consumer version of HTC’s Vive VR headset. In order to use the Vive, you need to plug it into a powerful PC. Since you’re tethered to your computer, there is some risk that you’ll trip or get tangled up in the cable.

The HTC Vive features two 1080 x 1200 screens, which are a little taller than the usual 9:5 ratio. This enables you to look further up and down without having to move your head. The Vive is also a very high-resolution device, which provides fantastic image quality that looks very real from far away. As you move closer to the objects, they become slightly pixelated.

The device includes 70 sensors that offer users 360-degree head-tracking functionality. One-upping other headsets, the Vive also boasts a 90Hz refresh rate — something that’s critical when it comes to keeping down latency.

Here’s how it works: Sensors on the headset and controllers pick up signals from two wireless infrared emitters placed in two corners of the room. This enables the device to track your head movements, hands movements, and location within the room.

What sets the HTC Vive apart from the rest of the pack? Lighthouse room tracking enables you to move around with the headset on, employing the space around you. However, making that work requires a large space — which can be tough for people with small apartments (like us in New York City).

Still, the fact that the Vive allows you to use the scale of the room is what takes this VR headset to the next level, especially when compared to devices like the Oculus Rift (which we’ll explore in the next section). Yes, the headset can be somewhat bulky. But it’s still comfortable. And it’s designed for function over form — something any tech enthusiast should appreciate.

You can actually wear glasses — even big ones — with the device. The lenses won’t fog up — which can be a huge annoyance with other products, like the Samsung Gear VR.

Oculus Rift

You can snag an Oculus Rift on the Facebook-owned company’s website for around $600.

The consumer edition of Rift uses a 2160 x 1200 resolution, working at 233 million pixels per second. Like the Vive, the Rift has a 90Hz refresh rate.

The Rift is lighter and less bulky than the HTC Vive. The headset is designed with more of a premium on aesthetics, whereas the Vive is designed for functionality. Also like the Vive, the Rift needs to be connected to a powerful PC to work.

Oculus’s decision to sell to Facebook irritated a lot of people who backed the initial project on Kickstarter. Lots of people supported the project in the first place because Oculus was an independent company. While getting acquired by Facebook for $2 billion is not a reason to dislike the company, the fact that Facebook is going out and buying exclusive rights with many of the game studios is pissing off the community.

Google Cardboard

If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of VR without putting a big dent in your wallet, look no further than Google Cardboard.

Cardboard is a low-cost VR experience. It’s the simplest form of VR around. The “device” — if you can even call it that — is made out of a pair of plastic magnifying lenses and a sheet of cardboard, using a standard smartphone as a screen. Altogether, the product will set you back around $20, depending on which model you select.

Google Cardboard offers limited interactivity. It’s perhaps best suited to enabling users to watch 360-degree videos. Still, the product offers a pretty cool experience with the Google Cardboard apps.

Microsoft HoloLens

More along the lines of augmented reality than virtual reality, Microsoft’s HoloLens offers users a 120-degree field of vision on both axes that allows users to enjoy high-definition visuals. The HoloLens works with Windows Holographic, a technology that adds 3D images to the world around us. In turn, this allows users to see holographic images overlaid onto real objects in front of them; images are projected by laser directly into the user’s eyes.

The HoloLens displays digital images into your real-world field of view, allowing you to interact with images using technology that recognizes gestures and voice commands. This device represents an example of the future of VR and where the technology is ultimately heading.

Unlike the other devices, no connection to a PC or smartphone is required; a full Windows 10 operating system is built into the headset, which runs off of battery power. A consumer version of the device is yet to be released. Interested consumers can snag a Development Edition HoloLens for $3,000.

The Future of VR & AR Technologies

In addition to these four devices, there are a slew of other headsets out there. The PlayStation VR, for example, is tethered to a PS4 console. There are also ones like the LG360 VR, Samsung Gear VR, and Zeiss VR, all of which use mobile devices and therefore aren’t tethered to anything.

Moving forward, I expect we’ll see more video and media content targeting the VR medium. Advertising, marketing, news content, and social media will all need apps that are compatible with VR viewing if they wish to remain relevant.

Additionally, the movie industry as we know it could be reshaped altogether, as the technology shatters the fourth wall. The industry is already working on filming techniques for VR/AR movies. This is an industry that hasn’t changed much over the last half-century, so catering to a VR audience could be a monumental shift.

One thing is certain: The technology will continue to improve to the point where — one day — we may be unable to distinguish images from reality, thanks to enhanced visuals and less bulky equipment.