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

What exactly do these new concepts mean and how do the technologies change? 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 more true when we talk about mixed reality, or XR in English. Technologies have evolved tremendously, 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 fictional or not. Through headphones, glasses or simply the smartphone screen, together with the photo/video sensor, these technologies give the impression of being in a virtual space that is extremely surprising even today.

What is virtual reality, or VR?

virtual reality (virtual reality in English) means the complete replacement of the reality you see around you with computer-generated 3D content. with a virtual reality headset, such as the Oculus Quest 2 by Meta (Facebook), you are fully immersed in the virtual simulation. Before 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 the virtual elements with your hands. The latest models, wireless, can be used anywhere. Provided you have a smartphone nearby.

Finally, the virtual experience one lives through a headset can range from a photogrammetric capture of real reality (a 3D digital reconstruction of a physical object) to a computer-generated imaginary scene modeled in three dimensions and constructed with a game engine. so we can dive into 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. That’s the whole magic of virtual reality.

What is augmented reality, or AR?

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

It’s the same principle on a smartphone screen. Once photo/video mode is activated, elements are added to the screen. Thus, we can display a sofa in 3D in an empty room. This allows you to see if its size will not be too heavy, 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 one place to another.

The problem is that, even today, these images are relatively blurry, and the displayed content must be quite clear, not black or dark. The difficulty of rendering in good dimensions is also a challenge not fully solved. In addition, the field of view is often reduced and the quality of projected images is quite low. However, these glasses are much lighter, more discreet and less heavy 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 later than the previous two. 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. Therefore, they can disappear behind real objects (while in augmented reality, they overlap). Real objects can also affect 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 one step further in appearance. Mixed reality aims to mix real and virtual content to the point where 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 for a seamless fusion of the real and the virtual. With this system, virtual objects can be black or dark and appear as solid as anything in the real world. The colors are rendered perfectly and are very realistic. One can add, override and adjust colors, shadows and light in the virtual and real world. Thus, a very real sunbeam can be reflected on a virtual coffee table. It is extremely realistic. And that is surely the future.

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