Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality

As the video game industry continues to prepare for the arrival of virtual reality (VR) headsets in the next few years, a new headset device has just been unveiled that also has the potential to radically change the gaming landscape: Microsoft’s HoloLens. The new product is an augmented reality (AR) device akin to the Google Glass but is also radically different in many ways, capable of simulating three dimensional images in the real world. And while this product is likely some years away from entering the home it still gives rise to questions about the future of video games. Will we play in a virtual world or an augmented one?

First on the scene

Virtual reality has been in development for some time now, with the origins of current VR pack leader Oculus Rift dating back to 2011 when it was first developed by inventor Palmer Luckey. Skip forward to 2015, and the company is now owned by Facebook after a momentous US$2.0 billion acquisition and very likely to release a consumer model within 1-2 years. In addition to this, many companies have announced their own VR headsets since Oculus Rift became public, including Sony and Samsung. These VR products have seen an influx of development talent, with numerous developers looking into ways to create or port a game to virtual reality. In addition to this, movie studios have suggested that they are interested in creating filmed content for the VR headsets, a task made easier by recent advancements in cameras capable of filming in all directions.

However, all of these efforts are still considered to be in the very early stages, and some have questioned whether or not there will be enough content available at the launch of the Oculus Rift or other VR headsets to spur hardware adoption. In addition, motion sickness may inhibit long periods of VR use, as many people have reported nausea within one hour of using a VR headset. While there are still plenty of questions left unanswered about this product in terms of content and practical usage, there is an undeniable air of anticipation amongst the gaming community for this product’s release which might very well catapult VR headsets to early success.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr-Microsoft Sweden

Reality augmented

On 21 January 2015, Microsoft Corp unveiled a new piece of technology alongside its Windows 10 operating system, the HoloLens. The new product utilises sophisticated motion sensing cameras to help the headset create a convincing looking model or image within a real physical space. This means that the headset can allow for the physical manipulation of digital three dimensional models within a real physical space. Therefore, a person could play a video game that takes place within physical living room spaces, and the company even demonstrated a “Minecraft-inspired” prototype.

However, gaming is by no means the sole focus of the HoloLens. Microsoft showed off a variety of possible applications for the new piece of technology including virtual user interfaces and rendering the surface of Mars in a room. Whether the HoloLens will be used more for work, gaming, or other entertainment purposes is a question that will go unanswered for some time, as Microsoft has yet to even release a developer model of the HoloLens. Regardless, the new product does offer an interesting alternative to VR gaming, as it blends the real and digital world instead of creating a strictly virtual area for the user to work with. It might also be able to better overcome the motion sickness challenges that face VR, as users will be able to maintain a connection to the real world.

Headset future

No one can predict with any certainty exactly what the technological landscape of gaming will be in 10 years, but for now it seems reasonable to assume that headsets, either virtual or augmented, will get their chance to shine. VR headsets will be the first product to be fully available in the retail market, as Samsung has already partnered with Best Buy to sell the Samsung Gear VR on Best Buy’s online store. These headsets will likely have to work hard to establish themselves as indispensable entertainment accessory by pushing new and worthwhile content.

The HoloLens on the other hand will come later but benefit from its multitude of practical uses, opening it up to audiences who might not be diehard gaming enthusiasts. In either case, the timing for products like these is ideal, as global spending on video game products is expected to grow by 34% in constant value from 2013 to 2018 according to Euromonitor International estimates. And while it is possible that these products will eventually compete for space in the home (or head), it is also equally if not more likely that there may be enough room for both products to flourish.