Is ‘Virtual’ the Real World?

New Delhi: The next level of technology is here— A headset which will combine virtual reality, augmented reality and live video to offer a new computing experience.

Yes, you heard it right. Virtual reality glasses are becoming increasingly popular in the gaming and entertainment spheres. They are lighter and more comfortable to wear than the standard head mounted display (HMD) and many of them incorporate a range of interactive devices.

These glasses behave in a similar way to a pair of 3D goggles, in that they display two images. Ordinary glasses show a single image but 3D and virtual reality glasses contain polarised lenses which show two images, one per each eye.

More advanced versions of these glasses contain head tracking systems. This system is connected to a computer which sends signals to adjust the images seen by the wearer as they move around their environment.

The tracking system is connected to a computer which adjusts these images so that the wearer is shown a realistic environment with a realistic depth of perception. The glasses enable the wearer to see two separate images which the brain combines into one. This is what gives the illusion of 3D depth. This is often accompanied by video and sound which adds to the experience.

Taking technology to the next level, Microsoft surprised the tech world with HoloLens. Unveiled on Wednesday, the lens is set to compete with Oculus Rift, when it releases later this year.

HoloLens displays high-quality images, an area where Google Glass has struggled, said Gartner analyst Brian Blau, who tried out the Microsoft device.

It is able to project holograms into real life, via the display, and overlay them onto objects and walls. With a built-in GPU and CPU, the headset is a self-contained computer, and is able to operate on its own. It runs using a software architecture dubbed ‘Windows Holographic’.

Microsoft’s 3D goggles could be used by architects to visualize new designs, by NASA scientists to explore the surface of Mars, and by business executives for immersive video conferencing.

Microsoft said: “We envisioned a world where technology could become more personal. Where it could adapt to the natural ways we communicate, learn, and create. The result is the world’s most advanced holographic computing platform, enabled by Windows 10. Transform your world with holograms.”

In one example, Microsoft showed off Skype being projected onto a wall; in another, a Minecraft world was easily accessible right in the middle of a living room. Microsoft said the experience is a “mixture of augmented reality” by taking advantage of holograms and the headset worn by users. The headset, by the way, doesn’t look all that ridiculous, and looks no bigger than the Oculus Rift.

The system was presented by Alex Kipman, who previously developed the Kinect system for Xbox. Kipman said the company was secretly developing the system downstairs in the Microsoft visitor center, partly in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory which plans to use the system in July to control the Mars rover.

Kipman also showed “Holo Studio,” a service for creating and sharing holographs. During a demo, the system was used to create a virtual quadcopter.

The front is a see-through, shaded lens cover; the side arms include spatial sound, adding to its three-dimensionality. The headset doesn’t come with any wires hanging off the back, indicating that it will be a wireless experience – again, a very powerful distinction from the competition.

The headset appeared to have four front-facing cameras that could be used to detect the positions of the user’s hands as he interacts with holographic objects. In addition to creating objects, the headset will be usable for gaming and even collaborating remotely.

There are several different companies working on similar 3D products, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The best-known competitor is Occulus Rift. Facebook bought the company behind this 3D headset last year for $2 billion. The Rift provides an immersive experience similar to that offered by HoloLens, but the company’s focus on gaming gives its device somewhat different capabilities.

DK2 is the latest development kit for the Oculus Rift that allows developers to build amazing games and experiences. It uses a low persistence OLED display to eliminate motion blur and judder, two of the biggest contributors to simulator sickness. Low persistence makes the scene appear visually stable, increasing the potential for presence.

Rift is designed to help users navigate fully virtual worlds. But, it doesn’t have HoloLens’s capabilities to project virtual objects in the real world, nor does it have HoloLens’s complex user interface.

But, one device that can project virtual objects into the real world is CastAR, a pair of 3D glasses from the startup Technical Illusions.

Like HoloLens, the CastAR glasses are transparent, allowing people to look around at the real world, while virtual images are projected on top of it. Launched as a KickStarter project in 2013, CastAR has begun shipping devices to its earliest backers. It’s one of the few 3D products that is independent of any technology company.

Google’s Glass is another obvious point of comparison, but Glass isn’t a direct competitor to HoloLens. Glass projects information such as travel directions or photographs onto a virtual screen that appears in front of a user’s face, but Google isn’t really in the business of creating immersive virtual worlds.

With technology giants making the ‘virtual world’ a reality, it’s allowing us to delve into the world of fiction. The real world, that was shrunk, thanks to the Internet and smartphones, will suddenly get (virtually) a lot bigger.

(With inputs from agencies)

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