Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two of the most exciting, cutting edge technologies in business and entertainment today. As part of the continuing Gaming Street 101 series, we’re taking a look at the current state of both AR and VR, as well as where the technology is headed in the future.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality uses display technology such as camera phones, glasses, and holograms to introduce computer-generated elements into the real world. The most common use of AR is photo filters, such as those used by Facebook and Snapchat:

Pop megastar Ariana Grande using a motion tracked photo filter.

In the highly successful Pokémon Go app, the player’s camera phone shows the view of the world as normal, but then also adds interactive digital characters such as Pikachu:

However, Pokémon Go developer Niantic was unable to catch lightning in a bottle twice with its Harry Potter: Wizards Unite title, which Newsweek called an outright “flop.”

Similarly, devices such as the Google Glass AR headset failed quite publicly, largely due to the $1.5K price tag, poor marketing, and no real sense of purpose.

A promotional image demonstrating one of the uses of Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has fared better with HoloLens, which focuses on the business applications of AR. Indeed, AR has a multitude of applications, with science fiction films like Minority Report and Iron Man hinting at the many possibilities long before the technology entered the zeitgeist.

Tom Cruise using an AR interface in Minority Report (2002).

Current uses include apps that allow users to quickly measure a physical object, place virtual Ikea furniture in one’s home before purchasing it, and even seeing a dynamic star chart when looking up at the sky. But the true and staggeringly endless potential of AR is years away. A small sample of future uses will include Star Trek-like universal translators with the translated text displayed within the user’s field of vision, customized ads in public spaces, enhanced heads-up-displays for soldiers in combat, displaying dynamic traffic updates and directions, and health statistics when working out or for medical staff treating patients.

While AR may seem like a cool gimmick for now, it’s likely that it will eventually become the next generation equivalent of consumers with their faces glued to their smartphones 24/7. Once the tech advances beyond handheld devices into unobtrusive eyewear, contact lenses, or even implants, AR may become a way of life:

Virtual Reality (VR)

Unlike AR, VR typically uses a specialized headset to completely replace the user’s view with a virtual world. Experts in the field have likened it to “mental teleportation.”

VR is incredibly immersive due to a real-time 360-degree field of vision; a sensation that quickly makes users feel as if they’re really on a rollercoaster or really being chased by zombies, despite sitting in the safety of their own home.

VR tech first emerged in the 1960s, but the term “virtual reality” wasn’t coined until 1987. Nintendo infamously launched the Virtual Boy in 1995, but the system was dead on arrival, taking the potential of mainstream VR with it. It would be decades before VR would get another push into the mainstream home entertainment market.

The HTC Vive VR headset currently retails for $499 and requires a mid-to-high-end gaming PC to play most VR titles.

In 2012, the revolutionary Oculus Rift was funded on Kickstarter for $2.5M. The following year, Valve — the company behind the digital storefront Steam — made its own breakthrough in low latency VR displays, which Oculus adapted for all of its future headsets. In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus for $3 billion, making VR the talk of Silicon Valley. In 2016, Valve and HTC released the HTC Vive and a flood of VR titles for Steam followed.

However, the high cost of a gaming PC that can run VR games on top of a headset in the $800 range was a hard barrier for mainstream audiences to get over. Unlike augmented reality, virtual reality cannot easily be understood without actually strapping on a headset and trying it for oneself. Sony helped shift the market with the release of the relatively affordable PlayStation VR, which continues to be the best-selling VR headset to date.

VR games allows players to experience virtual worlds in a completely immersive new way. Whether it’s commanding the Enterprise in Star Trek, downing the cape and cowl of Batman, or swinging through New York as Spider-Man.

Newer, low-cost headsets led by the Oculus Go are foregoing the need for a PC or console altogether, requiring only a smartphone to operate. Alternatively, the Oculus Quest provides an entirely standalone VR experience. However, both devices offer reduced graphical fidelity in comparison to PC-connected headsets. But driving down the price of VR — and therefore driving up the adoption rate — is key to the market’s long-term sustainability. More users means more money which means better games and hardware which will in turn attract more users.

We’re still quite some time away from a Ready Player One-esque VR utopia, but with billions of dollars being invested by major tech companies around the world, the VR renaissance is already in full swing.

GamingStreet Staff

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