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​Gotta talk about those stupid glasses

Posted: Kathleen Maher 07.12.17
Can't help it

VR is doomed.

VR is going to change the technology world

AR and VR are not the same so why do we keep talking about them as if they are?

There, that should get us started. As for the first two propositions, I figure they’re both true. In some quarters VR skeptics are exultant because the numbers for new buyers are not adding up to be a big deal. On the other hand, this issue is full of new announcements, new developments, and even new companies in the VR and AR fields.

VR has got a ways to go before it flames out, if it’s going to flame out, and that’s not at all a given. Too much money has been spent and there are too many useful applications for VR. But, one of the applications that doesn’t make sense is plain ol’ run-around-shooters. And yet, that has been the first frontier for gaming. No wonder there’s so much pessimism. It’s the same thing as stereographic gaming all over again. It’s totally fun for a while, but in the long run and by definition, twitch gamers are an impatient lot and they’re not going to take time to put on a helmet and find their controllers any more than they’re going to use gas pedals, and steering wheels, and dance boards, and 3D glasses, and all the other stuff cluttering up their play area.

But it’s starting to look like people might enjoy building and sharing their own worlds, art, and 3D models. And news stories are kinda cool when the settings can be explored in VR or art is shared in museum environments as we discussed in this issue about Somerset House and the upcoming Tate Museum exhibit of Modigliani.

However, the glasses are a big barrier. Yes, that is an issue that has been beaten to death. But, it’s really not just a matter of glasses, it’s really more about accessories. Stuff that comes between us and the experience we want. That’s why dreams of alternative technologies such as glasses-less 3D TV just won’t die. CAVE’s are still a staple in some design houses, especially in Europe. And, many people see light field technology as the real future.

There are new trajectories coming out of all this. For instance, there is the professional aspect. Immersion is becoming a powerful authoring tool thanks to the power of CPUs and GPUs, the evolution of game engines, and the expanding workflows of CAD and content creation. Artists are getting the ability to create environments by being in the environment. It’s not for everyone. People still have to learn the game engines, programming, modeling, and what all, but there has been an important transition in the way we think about design and creation. People in all levels of content creation want this, and that means entertainment as well as work. A holistic approach is evolving that gives people more control within a 3D environment for play, for work, for socializing.

And that’s why VR isn’t going away. It will remain as a professional tool as it has been all along. It never went away it just got more powerful. As for becoming a mainstream entertainment resource, it all depends. Better content needs to happen (another dead horse groaning). There has to be more content that exploits the strengths of VR: the ability to look around, the ability to interact, the ability to handle things, the ability to move around. Games like Robo Recall and Serious Sam are highlighted as interesting early tries but we probably haven’t seen the likes of Doom, which helped kick off the huge 3D gaming business.

People want to play in a fantasy gameland and one day they are going to be able to.

So now, let’s think about the VR and AR and why they seem to come together and don’t. Augmented Reality is even a more practical-seeming technology than VR. It’s readily available on mobile phones. It has a role as a working tool for tasks such as directions, sales, warehouses, and it even checks the magical Internet of things box. So why are the sellers of AR glasses so darned sad?

Because, and you may say it with me, people don’t want to wear stupid glasses. So far they don’t even want to wear smart glasses. There is an almost superstitious hope that Microsoft or Apple will crack the code with a fabulous pair of magical glasses and that might well happen… but probably not. At least not for a while.

There is a fascinating continuum between AR and VR with MR somewhere in between – glasses that can darken to let us watch movies or explore and work in the daylight to let us access information. Can’t wait to see how that all turns out, but in the meantime what VR and AR most have in common is a problem with the glasses. ▲