Remember buying a TV 15 years ago and thinking “I’m only watching 3D from now on?” Well, we were wrong. 3D TV sets turned out to be little more than a gimmick. Like most new tech, 3D TV sets hit the market at a price point that was a bit out of reach for the common consumer. So when the content from big budget 3D movies dried up, 3D TV sales plummeted. Despite all of the obvious parallels, this will not be the case for virtual reality (VR). In fact, the emergence of consumer-focused augmented reality (AR) will be a big reason for virtual reality’s success.
Before we get too far into why VR is here to stay, let’s make sure that everyone knows the difference between VR and AR.
- VR is a complete simulation. You look around and only see what the headset wants you to see. You may be an avatar in this world, but everything you see or interact with is computer generated.
- AR takes a view of your real home environment in its current state and adds in virtual objects, features, or characters for you to see and interact with. A simple example of this is Pokemon Go.
Let’s talk a little about Pokemon Go. According to gitnux.org, Pokemon Go reached over 1 Billion downloads by the third quarter of 2022. That was billion, with a B and that means 1 in every 8 people on this planet has downloaded an AR game. That doesn’t sound like a gimmick to me. There are a few reasons for this of course; the game is free and the devices used to play the game are already in our pockets. The fact remains that people had fun playing an AR game and over a billion of them now understand what AR is. That’s a pretty massive foot in the door for VR. Now let’s kick that door down and make VR/AR mainstream.
When putting people in a headset for the first time you can get very different reactions. The reactions can range from scared and disoriented to absolutely thrilled with a feeling of mind-blowing excitement. We all love providing VR experiences to new people. Who doesn’t smile when they think about the time they showed their friend Richie’s Plank Experience and belly laughed as he inch wormed his way to the end of the plank while shaking with fear? Good times. We should remember that these first impressions are always going to be the strongest. That’s why getting new people started off on the right foot is so important. It’s also why a lot of people should start off with augmented reality.
AR offers a level of comfort that VR doesn’t. Under the best circumstances, people can now use a VR headset for the first time in their own home, surrounded by the rooms they know. In this environment they can be shown a game like Eleven Table Tennis in AR mode. New users will be playing table tennis against a computer or their friend in their own living room, not in a simulated room. The table, the paddles, and the ball will all be virtual, but they’ll be looking at their own home environment. This not only helps with comfort, but it also can help a new user avoid bashing their wall or knocking over plants in the real world, while they’re immersed in a virtual world.
Another great option for a first virtual experience is PianoVision. Here, the headset will overlay AR notes over an actual piano or keyboard and eventually teach someone to play piano. For the most adventurous new users, you can try Drop Dead: The Cabin and let them shoot zombies that are breaking through their own windows and walls. With the recent launch of Meta Quest 3, the list of games that support AR is growing rapidly. If we want VR to continue to grow, AR might help lead the way.
A friend of mine (we’ll call him Tommy because that’s his real name and I think this is funny) recently bought his first headset, for his wife, for Christmas. Tommy tried a Quest 2 a few years ago and didn’t like the closed off experience. When he saw the AR capabilities of the Quest 3, he jumped on the purchase. After some pre-Christmas “testing” of his wife’s new headset, Tommy described it like this: “The Quest 2 felt like a bucket on my head. I felt closed off to the rest of the world. The Quest 3 still feels like a bucket, but at least someone cut holes in the bucket so I can see outside.” Tommy is now absolutely hooked. He started using the Quest 3 daily, became more comfortable, and is now exploring VR fully. Tommy is now firmly in the “Mind Blown” category. If you’ve tried virtual reality and felt like you were wearing a bucket, be like Tommy and give augmented reality a try, it changes everything.
VR is not a gimmick. Just watch, AR is going to help bring VR into the mainstream, where it belongs.