I feel lost in between the worlds… I don’t know the exact boundaries between the reality, VR, AR and MR. How can we define these terms?
Szymon Darowski: VR – Virtual Reality – is a completely different kind of ‘reality.’ It does not mix with the real reality (I guess we need to call it that way, even though it’s tautology – the dictionary gets left behind the changes sometimes). VR gives us a chance to cut off from the real world basically on the level of eyesight, which was the first of our sense that has been simulated, and the visible unreal image was named Virtual Reality. Although today we are also able to simulate 360-degree sound – this gives a similarly strong feeling of being emerged in visual effects. Without fully stereo sound, being emerged in the image itself still feels rather “flat.”
AR – Augmented Reality – is nothing but adding ‘virtual’ (digital) elements such as e.g. 3D models to reality. For instance, looking through the screen of a smartphone you can augment the reality you see with virtual elements. At first we used so called AR markers to “stick” virtual elements to the real world. Even though such markers are still in use and continue to be very popular, gradually more devices support AR without markers. In this version of the technology “virtual” objects “stick” to real objects such as a table, which is recognized by the application as one of the layers. In its latest operating system for mobile devices, Apple provides native support for this version, which is very convenient for app developers, and Android has already announced native support for the technology without markers.
MR – Mixed Reality – can be easily confused with Augmented Reality, because it works on a similar basis, but it allows for direct interaction with the “virtual” objects. It is the most interactive technology, which is probably going to be the future of “augmented reality.” As of today, it is still very expensive to use. A good example of MR is HoloLens by Microsoft (goggles which not only display the view in front of your eyes, but also actively map the surrounding – recognize shapes and the depth, and so are able to place in your sight not just a flat image, but also three-dimensional objects that you can interact with. This is possible because the device is able to recognize the user’s gestures, among other things.
And what about 360-degree videos, which of the technologies do they represent?
Szymon Darowski: Because of the type of immersion, we classify them as VR. But there’s no interaction with the content here. So when you’re watching a 360-degree video, the only elements you can control is pausing, forwarding, slow motion, stopping. But more and more often 360-degree videos are part of larger applications, which consist not of just one video but of many videos, and you can move between them with the navigation implemented in the app.
Since most of such videos are played on mobile devices in connection with e.g. GearVR by Samsung and low availability of control pads, you usually move in such applications with head moves and ‘aiming’ at given elements “suspended” in VR. Such elements react to the viewer’s eyesight. The 360-degree video technology has been developed due to the relatively small computing power of mobile devices, not sufficient to run “pure VR.” A good example of 360-degree video is our production presenting three Warsaw museums made in cooperation with Gazeta.pl for the Long Night of Museums.
What about the latest proposition by Bjork? Take a look…
Szymon Darowski: This is still a novelty in the music business (although it has been used by performers a few times). It is more of a curiosity, but could become a standard in the future. Our 360-degree video produced for Volksvagen Group was a breakthrough in advertising at that time (2015). Some shots were taken even by 24 cameras simultaneously. And the first camera tripod (and the next three generations) was printed on a 3D printer. The video was one of the few at that time available in the highest possible resolution (4K), but was also serviced in 3D – that is there was a separate image for each eye giving the feeling of depth – which is different to today’s 360-degree videos. In “full VR” we are lucky to have pictures generated natively in 3D (via virtual 360-degree cameras in 3D environment), which gives a much deeper feeling of “immersion.” We continue to use this technology – as I said, we’ve used three generations of tripods, each next much smaller than its predecessor. There is still much to do in this sector, but the 360-degree videos business is becoming gradually more professional.
Who is right: those who say there is a huge revolution happening before our eyes or those who claim (e.g. Microsoft) that the dynamic success of VR and AR is still a tale of the future and we’ll have to wait for it?
Szymon Darowski: The latter ones, I’m afraid. But it’s not a distant future. Considering Moore’s Law, which observes that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every 24 months, the future belongs to VR. A few years ago the computing power of high-end workstations allowed for rendering very simple images, today the graphics of some of the top games is acceptable. Further development of VR is positively influenced by the interest of console producers such as PlayStation with their new product PlayStation VR. Shortly speaking, there are few leaps ahead (24-month intervals) to reach VR graphics that we observe on computer screens today.
They say VR / AR / MR are the realities marketing had been dreaming about. What new did these realities bring and what paths did they open? What can we offer to our customer today that we weren’t able to offer e.g. 5 years ago?
Szymon Darowski: This is indeed a common opinion… But most marketing experts do not entirely understand the differences between popular technologies, they confuse various terms and want to combine technologies which don’t fit each other. No wonder, the technology producers themselves are still experimenting with it, trying to find new possible uses. Today we can go into a virtual supermarket, take a product from a shelf, and thanks to research on thousands of customers we can see regularities in people’s behavior in such an environment, which can help merchandisers do their job. The building sector is already using VR / AR / MR technologies, developers can organize future investments presentations that are still unavailable to viewers – we’ve created many such visualizations. Plus all sorts of contemporary offer presentations (we co-developed such a project for HPE showing their server offer in a very advanced interpretation of a future city). This is evocative – and increases the appetite. And it helps make a decision to those who lack imagination – e.g. the Ikea app for “furnishing” your apartment, where you can check what the new sofa is going to look like in your living room. We are testing the VR / AR / MR technologies a little bit like moving that sofa around, to see and learn what possibilities they give.