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XR: new realities

As adoption of XR technologies grows across sectors, Steve Montgomery looks at how AV integrators can get involved

Immersive technology is becoming more common and useful to businesses and commercial organisations and is appearing in a wide range of application areas and industry sectors. In its three forms: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), extended reality offers vast potential to the AV sector to create and deliver new offerings to the end user customer base.

Unlike 3D technology, which failed to grab viewers’ approval, extended reality is already an established consumer technology; particularly in the gaming and entertainment arenas and is readily available on smartphones. Hardware and software tools are backed by some of the largest manufacturers in the world – Samsung, Microsoft, HTC and Google for example. It is also being used by major brands, like Audi, BMW, Remy Martin and Ikea, to promote their products through virtual customer information and interaction.

It looks like extended reality is here to stay. The question now, is how we as AV technologists can become involved; how we can leverage our audiovisual expertise to benefit, and make money from, this exciting technology as it penetrates deeper into the commercial environment.

Range of applications
In the current climate of constant technological advancement and economic uncertainty, organisations need to find new ways to drive efficiency – immersive technology is proving to be a valuable solution. VR and AR are revolutionising workflows, improving processes, and offering a means of differentiating from the competition.

The range of applications is vast. “The business and commercial applications for AR, VR and MR are wide ranging,” says Matthew Bumford, head of marketing at Kazendi. “To be honest, too many to mention. There have been some clear wins in industries such as manufacturing and health in the case of MR, retail and brand for AR and real estate and brand experiences for VR but as the AR, VR and MR industry grows, the costs will reduce and wider interest will increase so the amount of commercial applications will increase too.”

The technology is well established already, as Neil Evely, head of business development, REWIND points out: “It’s fair to say that VR is nothing new. It’s been around for years. But now, as VR is becoming more accessible, reliable and cost-effective, it is being rapidly adopted across a whole range of industries, from architecture to tourism.  

“For example, within automotive, brands such as Ford, Audi, Volvo, Jaguar, and Hyundai have all been using VR for many years and have since changed processes for design, safety, sales, and purchasing. VR is also reshaping the aerospace industry. The technology is being used for design and manufacturing, passenger entertainment and maintenance, with a significant focus on its use as a learning tool for engineers and to enhance training.”

Its application is widespread, with most industry sectors able to reap the benefits from immersive experiences, including educational institutions and government departments.  Jakes de Kock, head of marketing at Igloo Vision, explains how his company splits its activities to address different application categories: “There are three major segments that we address. Firstly, visualisation – which is mainly used within the AEC industries. Bringing architectural, engineering, and construction design concepts to life. Businesses can create 3D, CAD, CGI or BIM content, use 360° films or fly-throughs or can show clients or stakeholders how their finished concepts will look and feel.

“Secondly in the training arena, simulation of environments allows trainees to experience a virtual situation when it is totally impossible to recreate that physically – due to expense, safety or simply because the environment has not been built. It can immerse entire teams in the centre of any situation. With 360º fully immersive sound and vision, you can re-create realistic scenarios.  

“Thirdly, the experiential market. With wraparound sound and vision, brands can engage, inspire and entertain their audiences. They can transport an audience from a high street to a beach, glacier, the slopes of an erupting volcano or anywhere they choose to support their brand story.”

Good knowledge and understanding of PCs is essential as there are minimum requirements for the associated headsets’
Simon Benson, Realised Realities

Issues and barriers
Despite the general optimism across the industry, there are issues and barriers holding back its adoption and restricting the rate of take-up. Some of these are physical and a result of practical application. “Wearing a headset to view content, especially for virtual reality applications is seen as a big barrier to its use,” says Simon Benson, founder, Realised Realities. “In much the same way that 3D glasses isolated users, VR goggles separate people. In environments, such as education and museums, goggles are shared and this presents hygiene issues, with headsets needing to be cleaned between use. There are also age restrictions limiting the adoption of VR in education.

Immersive applications also require high power processing in the computers used to create and deliver interactive content although this will abate with time. A new image must be presented to a viewer following movement of their head within about 20ms, otherwise there is a risk of inducing motion sickness; although this varies from person to person. This is because the viewed image does not follow the personal movement of the head as quickly as it should.  

AV integrators need to understand these non-AV issues. “Mainly it is about learning about the devices themselves as they tend to act as peripherals to existing hardware or as standalone devices and much of the complexity comes down to understanding how they work, their limitations and strengths,” points out Benson. “Good knowledge and understanding of PCs is essential as there are minimum requirements for the associated headsets. If the PC is not powerful enough, the headsets can be completely unusable as slow updates of the headsets can be a nausea trigger.”

Another technical limitation that the AV industry should be aware of is that the goggles used currently have a narrow field of vision, limited resolution and image quality. Benson explains: “The field of view of headsets tends to be a limitation for virtual and mixed reality systems. VR is typically 100° FOV and MR is often only 40°. Human vision is more like 240°, so we are some way off the goal of simulating reality in the headsets yet.  

Resolution is also limited with many VR headsets providing a visual fidelity that falls short of HD displays currently.” This is something he believes will change: “It’s similar to when Apple launched the first Mac with a windows and mouse interface. It was great, and we can still see its influence today, but things have moved on a lot and we now have much higher fidelity mice with more buttons, larger screens with higher resolutions and more GPU power etc. – nowadays the whole experience is more refined. The same will happen with immersive technology. It is likely that we will see higher resolutions, wider fields of view, more robust tracking, better input devices and so on.”