Why Mixed Reality wins over Virtual Reality

By David Gratton, CEO of Work at Play

With technology developing at a breakneck pace, and billions of potential dollars at stake, I believe artificial reality is poised to overtake the smartphone as our next great information channel. But which technology will triumph: mixed reality or virtual reality?

“Most science fiction films contain some form of [mixed reality], whether it’s moving data around with a flick of your finger, or a holographic phone call, or a 3D chess game. It’s been in our consciousness for a long time.” ~Peter Jackson, film director
3D holographic screen technology featured in The Avengers is already here. Credit: Fuel VFX

At first glance, MR and VR can seem identical, but the two technologies are drastically different in their feel and capability. Virtual reality promises fully-immersive 3D environments to capture the imagination, while mixed reality offers holographic imagery to enhance your real-life, everyday environment.

Both artificial realities suggest exciting technological leaps forward, but my money’s on MR winning the market war. Here’s why…

VR is a confined experience. No one can deny the appeal of VR’s miraculous 3D-generated environments — you can walk on Mars, or explore deep ocean trenches — but when you put on that headset and enter the all-encompassing space of VR, you submit to a dream world. The technology locks you in. VR overwrites your world, and shuts you off from the people and environment around you. It also requires you to set aside blocks of time, much like the appointment-based experience of console gaming. At the end of the day, you can’t jump into VR like you can with MR. It’s much less agile and immediate. Virtual reality is a confined experience. With VR you’re in the dark, cut off from the outside world, which is why VR is best suited for entertainment.

With MR, the real world remains in clear view. That means if someone waves a hand in front of you — you see it. The 3D imagery of mixed reality is overlaid on your surroundings, so you remain cognizant of your real-life environment. You can manipulate projected holograms while still seeing and engaging with the people around you. The holograms are aware of your surroundings. Place a hologram on the edge of a desk — it will teeter then fall to the ground. Want to place a new holographic chair in the room? There needs to be space for it. Mixed reality lives in your world with you. In fact it makes you more aware of it!

“What we are building with artificial reality is an internet of experiences.” ~Kevin Kelly, senior writer for Wired

MR feels more human. Mixed reality will soon be built into simple reading glasses or contact lenses, so it can coexist with you. Even today, when I wear the HoloLens I can still work on my laptop, or walk through the office talking with people. Since we all use gestures and speech to communicate, it’s only natural that we’d feel comfortable using those same interactions within mixed reality. You can use voice commands in VR, but MR provides a much more naturalistic,human experience. With a simple gesture or voice command in MR, we can move and rotate a 3D object as we please. When MR renders holographic enhancements upon our existing environment, there’s no level of abstraction: the object is there, so we can understand and interact with it in our real world setting.

Just another day in the office: mixed reality in action at the Work at Play office.

MR is the Future

When I think of the future, I think of the vast potential of mixed reality. MR is just beginning to make its mark, but as the tech advances and becomes an increasing part of our lives, it will feel as ubiquitous as the smartphone. Even our experience of the internet will undergo a paradigm shift. While a web page currently manifests data in a fixed 2D environment, once that data is viewable as fluid, real-time 3D objects, the entire notion of a web page will change. In light of so many practical, game-changing applications, it’s clear MR will rule supreme. But here’s the kicker: in the not-so-distant future, the standard screen for top MR devices is likely to expand to encompass your complete field of view. In time, MR will grant us easy, off-the-cuff access to closed VR experiences as well.

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