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VR/AR: driven by application

In the first part of our feature on VR/AR/MR technologies we looked at how, when applied to AV, it is about delivering shared experiences, here Ian McMurray reveals the markets where VR/AR is a good fit and considers its similarities with 3D.

“There are a select few industries in which we believe that VR, AR and MR will fit perfectly and feel like a natural progression – rather than a shoehorned gimmick,” adds Tom Murray, IT manager at user experience specialist UXG. “Training and control rooms are going to see big benefits in how this technology can change and evolve their workflows. Training, for example, allows for simulations in safe environments and can create an elaborate array of scenarios; it can give a small amount of reality or place people into situations that can be expensive to re-create in a safe, controlled environment.”

Another significant AV market is digital signage. How does Florian Rotberg, founder and managing director of digital signage consultancy invidis consulting, see the new technologies impacting it?

“AR is the most promising technology of the three for retail, as it combines the physical store and products with a digital information layer,” he says. “For example, a smartphone with an AR app can give additional information about a product by ‘scanning’ the packaging. VR is a very engaging platform, but because the VR experience is fully independent of the direct environment, it doesn’t add much value to the physical store.”

These technologies need to be implemented as connected solutions, not just technology for the sake of it

Dave Elliott, Holovis

Upside potential
Rotberg believes that the upside potential for AR in digital signage is huge, especially since the recent launch of the latest version of iOS, which means that all Apple devices will become AR-enabled.

“We expect a breakthrough for AR in digital signage in the next 18 months,” he adds.

Which raises the question: what other breakthroughs are required to see the VR/AR/MR market take off? What barriers need to be dismantled? First and foremost, believes Andrew Hug, vice president, systems engineers, EMEA at Polycom, it needs to be shown to deliver real benefits.

“This type of technology will be driven by application,” he claims. “If it enhances or reduces cost in a business process, then early adopters will start to apply it in their work environments. I believe there’s a responsibility for vendors and resellers to show what’s possible, and liaise with customers and IT decision-makers to create product roadmaps that include technology that makes them even more productive. If that includes AR, VR and MR, then we should explore the possibilities. If the demand is there, the market will be created.”

Dave Elliott, who is responsible for enterprise business development at Holovis, shares his vision.

“These technologies need to be implemented as connected solutions, not just technology for the sake of it,” he says. “We see these emerging technologies being the future of collaboration, with videoconferencing becoming a thing of the past and everyone meeting in virtual environments with big data sets visualised, real eye contact and interaction through gesture-based hand tracking.”

Others talk about the necessity to engage multiple participants; the need for improvements in areas such as lag, resolution and headset comfort; the requirement for affordable, accessible and relevant content; and confidence in the technology.

The spectre of 3D
VR is widely perceived as requiring a headset to deliver the fully immersive experience – although there are those who believe this need not necessarily be the case. And: while AR has demonstrated that it can be successfully implemented on, for example, a mobile phone screen, the broad expectation seems to be that, for an optimum AR experience, some kind of glasses will be required. The potential requirement, of course, raises the spectre of the 3D phenomenon.

Marco Odasso, director of sales and marketing at real-time graphics software developer Ventuz Technology, has an interesting point of view.

“From our perspective, stereo 3D was one step on the same path as VR/AR/MR, which ultimately leads to the full symbiosis of the real and the virtual world,” he explains. “Our experience is that the mixed reality installations that our customers have created have made stereo 3D obsolete for them. Mixed reality opens up a much wider area of possibilities – without the need for glasses.

“Ultimately,” he goes on, “the desire for virtual content as an enrichment of the real world is vast and growing. VR, AR and MR are not the final instalments, but merely a step on the way. The final goal is digital content that feels and behaves like an element of the real world.”

The industry is largely in line with his thinking: VR, AR and MR have significantly more promise than 3D because they seem to have broader applicability, and because of their superior potential to deliver real, bottom-line benefits.