Mixed up about reality—you should be
OCT 04, 2016 16:30 PM
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Mixed up about reality—you should be

By Dr. Jon Peddie

Everyone has a name for the realities.

We’ve had VR, we’ve had AR, then came MR and it’s getting pretty hard to keep all these various realities sorted out. It’s the prefix that has so many people confused, smart people, technical people, and naturally marketing people who are confused most of the time while proclaiming just the opposite. Reality has never been easy, right? 


Figure 1
: VR interest (Google searches)


Figure 2



: AR interest (Google searches)



Figure 3
: Mixed reality interest (Google searches)

I’ve identified 31 realities, prefixes I found whilst searching for augmented or virtual. At IDF Intel injected yet another prefix—merged. Merged reality, by Intel’s definition, is the merging of audio and visual in AR, and presumably VR, and/or the merging of AR with VR. Not that AR and VR and Microsoft’s favorite prefix Mixed (MR) didn’t already have both visual and audio, but now that Intel is entering the arena, their marketing people, doing what marketing people always do, seeking differentiation, decided Intel’s audio and video was a merger rather than a mixture. Why not, what’s another designation or two or 31 among friends?

Figure 4
: Merged reality meme

I label all of them, all 31 (today) of them as immersive technologies, and if it helps your imagination or understanding you can make that immersive reality.

Immersive reality is a multidiscipline multi-labeled and massively confusing collection of technologies, applications, and opportunities. It, or they, go by many labels.

·       Alternate

·       Another

·       Augmented

·       Blended

·       Cognitive

·       Digital

·       Digitally mediated

·       Dimensional

·       External

·       False

·       Hybrid

·       Immersive (Tactical, Strategic, Narrative, and Spatial)

·       Interactive

·       Magic

·       Merged

·       Mirrored

·       Mixed

·       Perceptive

·       Previsualization

·       Spatial AR (SAR)

·       Second

·       Simulated

·       Synthetic

·       Trans

·       Vicarious

·       Virtual Environment

·       Visual

·       window-on-the-world

And whatever modality is used to describe the holodeck.

Often used interchangeably, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are not the same thing. Also, one is not a subset of the other, and the only attribute they share in common is the term “reality.” VR takes you into a completely isolated computer generated world, while AR gives you additional visual information overlaid on the world around you.

From a graphics perspective, AR is functionally identical to VR with the main difference being a transparent screen to allow the wearer to see both the actual view and the computer rendered overlay. Therefore, the hardware to display the graphics and software tools are similar, but AR had additional requirements in optics and tracking that make it a more difficult task to do well. Augmented Reality as described above superimposes computer-generated data and objects on the real worldview of the user. Virtual Reality creates an artificial environment and totally obscures the real world.

VR takes you totally out of actual reality, whereas AR enhances your actual reality.

Mixed reality is something Microsoft’s marketing people made up. Mixed and augmented reality are the same thing. All Microsoft is doing is mixing a computer generated overlay on what the user is seeing—it’s a word, not a technology breakthrough.

Mixed reality is a misdirection. Mixed what, VR or AR, or either?  

At IDF intel showed two reality thingies—Alloy, a VR headset, and a future glasses product. Alloy uses Intel’s RealSense which gives depth sensing. It is a design concept that Intel will develop over the following months and is from the Perceptual Computing Group. And, if you aren’t confused yet, don’t forget Intel’s New Devices Group is also selling AR glasses for biking, running, skiing and sky diving.

You can also have your realities tethered or untethered, and you can have your AR as part of glasses (also called smart-glasses) or in a helmet, which can be one for first responders, motorcycle riders, or people working in potentially dangerous situations like power plants or flight lines. AR is untethered, whereas VR is either untethered or tethered. VR head-mounted displays (HMDs) can be equipped with a forward facing camera, which gives a constricted (by the camera’s FOV and resolution) view of the world, and some folks think that configuration represents mixed reality. AR can be realized with a smartphone or a tablet, VR can be realized with a smartphone strapped to your face. But wait, there’s more. VR is also passive or interactive. AR is also passive or interactive. A HUD in a car or glasses is passive, but AR used by repairmen and first responders is interactive—how are you liking reality now?

Figure 5
: If AR (left) is totally open, and VR (right) is totally obscured, what is mixed—one obscured eye?

In conclusion, there are only two types of head-mounted alternate or immersed reality systems, augmented and virtual and there are variations within each category. All the other terms, mixed, merged, or hybrid are marketing. VR or AR, the applications are different, the content is different, the cost, weight, and usability are different. Just because a computer generated display is put on your face doesn’t mean that all versions of such a device are the same or will merge. We need to get some reality here folks.

Reality—mangled, maligned, and misunderstood.




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