During a recent conversation with an engineering client, we discussed how different the experience is when using AR compared with an Immersive VR system. This is a point that I think gets lost when users are keen to grab a headset and get cracking. However, time spent thinking through the use case is never wasted.
Firstly, by AR experience, I am referring to using a second-generation HMD, like the Meta, not one of the early headsets with basic graphics and tracking. Neither do I mean using a tablet or phone. You will need full 3D graphics capability and great tracking of both the head and the hand to derive the most benefit from your AR experience.
A Good AR Experience
A good AR experience will allow you to overlay graphics onto a real-world view through the lens or glasses, tracking your head movement to correlate the movements of the graphics and tracking your hand gestures to control the experience. The benefits are that you see the real-world around you, you are “placed” in your current world, you hear the real-world around you (unless you wear headphones) and you get an immediate sense of how the projected object will look in your real-world. Take, for example, choosing furniture for a room; a good AR experience enables you to see what a new sofa looks like from all angles right within your actual room.
The Immersive VR Experience
Then let’s step across into an immersive VR single person experience, using a Virtalis ActiveSpace or ActiveMove CVR with an HMD like the HTC Vive (with headphones of course). Now, everything you see is fully graphically generated in 3D, unless you start to blend real-world using the frontal camera (but that’s a whole extra article right there!). In the VR world you lose your visual cues from the real-world and instead rely fully on the 3D graphics. What you hear, what you see, what you select via the hand controllers are all 3D generated. You can get “placed” wherever you want, leading to a much wider range of uses when it comes to training or design review, because you can put yourself in places that are hostile, dangerous, or even downright impossible. In a VR world you have no limitations.
That is also true when you experience a screen-based VR solution, such as the Virtalis ActiveWall, except now you can have a group of colleagues around you all seeing and interacting with the same virtual 3D scene.
All of the above scenarios can be collaborative, so others in remote locations can join you and interact with your design, and, as input technology improves, controllers, gloves and other input devices will further blur this interaction input.
My discussion with the engineering company was not advocating one way or the other. My job is to explain that the experience is very different, so the focus should be on the use case, not the hardware. Only by understanding what benefits can gained from each great experience, can users think about how they use their pre-existing 3D CAD data and meta data to enrich that experience in the best way for them.
Don’t let anyone tell you AR is better than VR or vice versa – it is like comparing apples with pears – each can be delicious, but only one of them is right for your recipe.