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  • 220 800-947-1175 • 212-444-6675

    PROFESSIONAL VIDEO VR, AR, AND 360° VIDEO

    Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and 360° Video: What’s the Difference? by Michael Smith

    In case you haven’t heard, one of the biggest stories in consumer electronics this year was the arrival of virtual reality—or VR, for short. After decades of false starts and empty promises, 2016 was the year commercial VR finally broke through. However, with its ascension to the mainstream came a little bit of confusion. Specifically, questions arose about what VR technology was and what it could do.

    Part of this confusion was owed to certain companies misrepresenting their products as true VR or VR-compatible devices when, technically, they were not (for reasons we’ll go into later). But the companies making these erroneous claims are only indirectly at fault. They are, like so many other contributors, merely a symptom of the larger misunderstanding concerning VR, not the root cause of confusion.

    To address that confusion, and to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding VR, we’re going to break down the three categories that typically fall under the virtual reality umbrella—VR, AR, and 360° video—so you can have a better understanding of what each technology is, what it can do, and how it can work for you

    Virtual Reality (VR) Let’s start with the reason we’re all here: virtual reality. Right now, VR is kind of a buzzword, an industry catch-all for anything that puts 3D video or images in front of your eyes or facilitates that experience. In many circles, VR is being used indiscriminately to describe a range of products that is only tenuously linked to VR technology. Com- puters with high-powered graphics cards are touted as “VR computers,” cardboard headsets with 3D lenses are billed as “VR goggles,” and so on. This kind of branding isn’t totally false or misrepresentative—cer- tain cardboard headsets can provide a kind

    of virtual experience—but even still, these claims do come off as somewhat spurious when you get down to the actual technology involved.

    So then, what exactly is VR? As the name suggests, virtual reality is a virtual—or sim- ulated—world. Content is typically delivered via specialized headgear and involves ac- cessories that allow users to interact with this virtual space beyond merely observ- ing. The simulated reality can be fictional or non-fictional, computer-generated or culled from real-life photos—it doesn’t matter so long as it is an immersive world

    that allows you, the user, to interact with and control the experience.

    Control is the key component here. What separates VR from other virtual experiences is that in true VR you are the driver of the narrative. Instead of merely observing a vir- tual world, you get to interact with it.

    A great example, and right now the market where a lot of VR technology is being fo- cused, is the video-game industry. Gaming platforms such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR all offer true VR experiences. Through their respective platforms, these devices transport you into an immersive, simulated world where you can control what you see and hear and can freely interact with your surroundings. This level of immersion and control is the hallmark of VR and is a requisite for any device claiming to offer a true virtual reality experience

    Augmented Reality (AR) Separate from VR, augmented reality is an altered version of the reality in which we currently live. This technology typically re- lies on either specialized glasses, headsets, or viewfinders (for example, your smart- phone display) to integrate and project graphics into the real world, layering them over what we see and allowing us to inter- act with them. Perhaps the best and most popular example of AR is the recent phe- nomenon of Pokémon Go.

  • 221www.BandH.com

    PROFESSIONAL VIDEOVR, AR, AND 360° VIDEO

    If VR was the biggest story of 2016, Pokémon Go was a close second. For those unaware, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game that leverages your smartphone’s technolo- gy to layer images over the real world, which you then see on your phone’s display. So, for example, imagine you’re at a park and you’re looking around using your phone’s camera lens. Instead of just seeing the park, you now see a Pokémon creature standing in front of you, even though, in reality, it’s not actually there. This type of augmentation is where AR derives its name. Though you nev- er leave this reality, it has been changed to facilitate a new experience—in this instance, layering an interactive Pokémon onto your view of the park.

    Talking about them, AR and VR can sound pretty similar. And to a certain extent they are. Both technologies rely on specialized equipment, such as headsets, glasses, or other viewfinders, to introduce you to a virtu- al experience. However, only VR offers a truly immersive experience. A simple way of think- ing about the difference between the two is this: one experience offers a brand new real- ity for you to interact with, the other modifies the reality in which we currently live.

    360° video Finally, there’s 360° video. As cool and excit- ing as it is, 360° video is also one of the chief culprits for why there’s so much confusion about VR. The reason is understandable:

    some of the same technology and tech- niques used in making 360° videos are also used for generating VR content. This being the case, it’s no wonder the line between the two has blurred.

    So what makes them different? Well, first, let’s look at how they are similar, so we can see where the line is that separates them. Like VR, 360° video introduces the user to a virtual environment via a specialized head- set. Using this headset, you can observe this virtual world by turning your head and looking around. However, even though you

    can look almost anywhere within this virtual world, you cannot navigate it or explore, nor can you control anything beyond the direction you’re looking. This restriction relates back to our discussion on control. VR content allows you to control your experience; 360° video does not. With 360° video, you can observe, but you can’t interact. Think of the difference as watching a movie versus starring in one.

    Of course, this limitation is by no means meant to disparage the exciting opportuni- ties 360° video offers. With it, users can see new parts of the world, experience new ad- ventures, and easily create their own content to share with others. In fact, out of the three technologies we’ve discussed, 360° video has thus far shown the broadest consumer ap- peal—or at least outreach, a fact that’s made readily apparent by the sheer volume of new 360° video equipment flooding the market.

    VR, AR, and 360° video are all new, exciting technologies with bright futures ahead. And as the landscape of each technology evolves, it’s important to learn the slight (and some- times not so slight) differences between the three. Hopefully, this primer has cleared up some of the confusion and given you a better understanding of how each technology func- tions and what you can expect from your next virtual experience. ■

  • 222 800-947-1175 • 212-444-6675

    PROFESSIONAL VIDEO VIRTUAL REALITY & 360° VIDEO

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