WTF is Mixed Reality?

The Microsoft HoloLens Visualised

Some of you may have heard about the latest Acer Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) Headset which basically claims to be one of the first Mixed Reality Headsets, while some of you may not have even heard of the term Mixed Reality or MR. And then there’s also Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and now you’re confused. So what the heck do all these terms mean and how are they any different?


A VR Headset being worn by an Ostrich courtesy of Samsung

VR is basically a technology that allows the user to interact and experience the virtual world. The virtual world here refers to the Computed Generated (CG) Environment which is designed in a way so as to create that interactive experience when used with the right hardware like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive which are Flagship VR Headsets in 2017. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to look around in the artificial world, and move around in it and interact with virtual features or items to create a sense of immersion.


AR being used to create monsters for children

AR involves “augmenting” CG Content in the real world in real time. It’s all about having virtual elements in the real world for entertainment, gaming and now even other businesses such as education. Of the three (VR, AR, MR) , AR has the most potential and many companies are heavily investing in this technology. So, in the future you could be walking in a shop and trying on a dress before even touching it. The best part about AR is that you don’t require extensive hardware, just your mobile phone will also do. But the downside of this is that does not create an immersive experience. In fact, AR Technology does not allow you to physically interact with the virtual elements of the augmented environment, while these elements can interact with each other.


Microsoft HoloLens being used by a couple of sassy architects

MR is an extension of AR in the sense that you can physically interact with all the virtual elements in the environment. It aims to combine the best aspects of both VR and AR by allowing users to navigate both the physical and virtual world simultaneously whilst anchoring virtual elements to the physical environment. So if you are “in” a virtual environment, to go from one place to another, you actually have to walk around. Mixed Reality can involve either users interacting with the environment whilst in the virtual world or in the real world. The HoloLens is an example that places virtual elements in the real world while the new Acer WMR Headset transports users to the virtual world. In this virtual world, MR Hardware maps the physical environment into the CG domain. So, a wall in the real world can be an obstruction the virtual world. It is thus able to provide the most immersive experience of the three. While this technology is still in development, it does have an exciting future.

While MR is relatively a new technology, it does have a lot more problem solving applications while AR and VR are more suited to entertainment or gaming. Although the concept of MR has been around since the 90s, it has only just recently begun to gain traction with Microsoft pushing hard on its WMR Platform. More companies like Acer and HP, are launching WMR based products and pushing this technology to consumer markets.

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