What is mixed reality? How is it different to augmented reality? Who's making sure I don't puke every time I put on an Oculus Rift? Won't someone please think of the children?
There are countless questions around VR, AR and all the other 'R's you've probably heard of - and we still don't have a lot of the answers. That's why people are coming together to decide what the rules, requirements and taxonomies of the different "realities" ought to be. Right now it's a mixed bag of ideas, platforms, and overlapping definitions. Take Acer's new "mixed reality" headset, which definitely impressed us - but without the use of a passthrough camera, could we really call it mixed reality? I have my doubts.
The IEEE Standards Association just announced it is working on a set of standards for virtual and augmented reality, which includes things like safety, how different technologies should be defined, and even how virtual and real objects should interoperate. It's formed a team of industry experts, games companies and device makers into what it calls its VRAR Working Group.
This superteam will brainstorm many of the uncertainties around these exciting new technologies throughout 2017 with an aim to set out a series of guidelines. "Technology related to VR/AR is evolving at a very rapid pace and the current standards being developed only cover a small portion of the VR/AR landscape," said Dr. Yu Yuan, who's serving as chair of the IEEE VRAR Working Group.
Things get more interesting than the hardware too. For example, one question the IEEE wants to answer is how you verify a person's identity in virtual reality, which all sounds very Snow Crash, but it's a problem we'll have to answer to in time.
This week the Consumer Technology Association is also meeting in San Francisco to discuss standardization around health metrics such as heart rate, stress and sleep, and the CTA's senior vice president of research and standards Brian Markwalter told Wareable that VR and AR is also on the agenda. However, when it comes to definitions, the CTA "finalized" its standards back in December, demarcating VR from AR, AR from mixed reality, and all of them from 360 video and "immersive experiences".
The quality standard is also vital, and another thing the IEEE VRAR Working Group will discuss. Also this week, the Video Electronics Standards Agency (VESA) announced it too has formed a group for the purpose of creation universal rules on some of the more technical aspects of VR and AR including data transfer protocols, software drivers, and interoperability between all manner of devices. VESA has good pedigree, having set out many important standards in the past including the digital display interface DisplayPort commonly used today.
Said Bill Lempesis, VESA's executive director: "When and how will these products be able to play well with each other? To our knowledge, no other standards organization is currently addressing the key challenges associated with AR/VR product function and interoperability,
No really, what the hell *is* mixed reality?
Of course for standardization to work, you have to have the support of the big names, and the Khronos Group consortium - yes, another one - which is working on its own standardizing efforts in its OpenXR Working Group, has already got Oculus, Valve, Samsung, Google and AMD signed up as partners. The IEEE and VESA are currently looking to get major players involved too.
That's not to say all of the big companies will be 100% committed to the idea, even if you argue they should be for the greater good of the technology. Oculus and Valve have different platforms and are taking different routes, as is PS VR, and things get even more complex when you turn to mobile. Then we have augmented and mixed reality, which open up a whole other can of worms with their own problems and quality demands.
How we track VR and AR - outside-in, inside-out or something totally different - or how accessories work are also subjects that need some consideration. There's a lot to untangle, but if we want VR, AR and MR to get better, we need to find a way to move forward together.
Oh, and right now the CTA defines mixed reality as "an experience that seamlessly blends the user's real-world environment and digitally-created content, where both environments can coexist and interact with each other," while AR is seen as "overlaying digitally-created content into the user's real-world environment".
So, you see why we need to set some rules, right?