Virtual, augmented, mixed reality… Immersion on all levels!

What exactly do these new concepts mean and how are the technologies different? Let’s try to see more clearly and find our way around.

The differences between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), concepts that emerged in the mid-1990s, are still unclear to many of us. This is even truer when we talk about mixed reality, or XR in English. Technologies have evolved enormously, but the concepts of these different representations of a three-dimensional world still deserve clarification.

Despite their differences, these three technologies have one thing in common: they immerse their user in an extremely immersive reality, a 3D universe that makes us “live” in different worlds, whether imaginary or not. Through headphones, glasses or simply the screen of your smartphone coupled with the photo/video sensor, these technologies give the impression of being in a virtual space that is still extremely striking today.

What is virtual reality, or VR?

virtual reality (virtual reality in English) means entirely replacing the reality you see around you with computer-generated 3D content. With a virtual reality headset, such as the Oculus Quest 2 from Meta (Facebook), you are completely immersed in the virtual simulation. In front of your eyes, two small screens immerse you in another universe with such realism that the sensations are really close to reality.

If the VR headset comes with sensors and accessories, you can also interact with virtual elements with your hands. The latest models, wireless, can be used anywhere. Provided all the same to have a smartphone nearby.

Finally, the virtual experience that one lives through a headset can range from a photogrammetric capture of real reality (a 3D digital reconstruction of a physical object) to an imaginary scene generated by computer, modeled in three dimensions and built with a game engine. We can thus be immersed in the foothills of Everest, at more than 8,000 meters, as well as find ourselves in the middle of an action scene in a manga. This is all the magic of virtual reality.

What is augmented reality, or AR?

augmented reality (augmented reality in English) means that “real reality” is enriched by certain virtual elements that are projected onto it, either through special glasses or through the prism of a smartphone screen. On the glass of these transparent glasses are added holographic images projected on the surface of the optics. These images seem to float before the eyes and are superimposed on reality.

It’s the same principle on the screen of a smartphone. Once the photo/video mode is activated, elements are added to the screen. We can thus display a sofa in 3D in an empty room. This allows you to see if its size will not be too bulky, if the color of the fabric is suitable… And to easily decide which would be the best location without having to actually move the heavy piece of furniture from place to place.

The problem is that, even today, these images are relatively blurry and the content displayed overlay must be quite clear, not black or opaque. The difficulty of rendering in good dimensions is also a challenge not completely resolved. In addition, the field of vision is often reduced and the quality of the projected images quite low. However, these glasses are much lighter, more discreet and less bulky than a VR headset and the ability to simply use your smartphone is a real plus, because this technology does not require the purchase of an expensive accessory ( several hundred euros for a virtual reality headset).

What is mixed reality, or XR?

This is a concept that appeared more recently than the two previous ones. Mixed reality (mixed reality, also known as XR or MR) is about merging virtual content with the real world in an interactive and immersive way. In mixed reality, virtual objects appear as a natural part of the real world. They can therefore disappear behind real objects (whereas in augmented reality, they overlap). Real objects can also influence the shadows and lighting of virtual elements.

Mixed reality makes it possible to see and interact with other people, for example when designing an object or a virtual environment. Here, we are a notch further in the rendering. Mixed reality aims to mix real and virtual content to the point that it becomes impossible to tell where reality ends and the virtual world begins.

mixed reality uses cameras that digitize the world in real time and integrate virtual elements into it. This technology uses a low latency video capture box, which allows a seamless fusion of the real and the virtual. With this system, virtual objects can be black or opaque and appear as solid as anything in the real world. The colors are perfectly rendered and are very realistic. One can also add, omit and adjust colors, shadows and light in the virtual world and the real world. Thus, a very real ray of sunshine can be reflected on a virtual coffee table. It’s strikingly realistic. And that is most certainly the future.

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Virtual, augmented, mixed reality… Immersion on all levels!

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