Tech for your connected self

Charged Up: AR might be the next big thing, but VR still has its place

Immersion can still win out in the battle of the realities

For the most part, we use Charged Up as our base to rant about various things within the wearable tech industry that have got us riled. Features editor Sophie has vented about Amazon's patents for the workplace, and editor Michael furiously pondered whether Google was truly committed to Android Wear.

I'm equally as charged this week, but thankfully it's for good reasons and not bad. After spending a considerable amount of time in a VR headset this week, and seeing recent moves from big players in the space, I'm more confident than ever about the future of VR and its place within the industry.

Read this: How does VR actually work?

I say this as if the platform itself sits in an uncertain place - why? Well, because, in a way, it does. As with any new technology, it takes time to settle and find a spot. And when you have augmented reality as a younger, potentially more powerful sibling, it's natural that virtual reality's future has been called into question. Despite being in the mix for several years now, the platform is still vulnerable to a bit of an identity crisis.

Because, when you think about it, what does the platform do best? Is it gaming, and playing Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality in the front room with flatmates? Should it primarily be used as an educational tool, like what we've seen from Microsoft? It's not entirely clear. And, in my view, although AR is the heir apparent to tech's golden throne — the race everyone is trying to win, the platform Apple is reportedly working to pioneer, as it did with smartphones — it won't replace VR entirely.

Earlier this week, we discussed Intel's dive into live VR broadcasting of the Olympics, and the BBC's dedication to propelling a new style of news storytelling to headset wearers. Both of these players have previously dabbled with 360-degree video projects, but their continued commitment and recent work shows that immersive viewing is the trump card VR holds.

After all, if you're watching sport, what could be better than sitting within the crowd, instead of watching at the pub or on your couch? AR will one day have the capabilities to, for example, overlay stats onto a game you're at, but the fact remains that it's an entirely different proposition to VR.

The same is also true within film. I'm not entirely convinced about using a headset to watching a lengthy film or catching up on the latest TV series, as it's still more appealing to do this on the TV, but we've seen maturing projects from VR filmmakers at festivals such as Sundance - a trend you can expect to continue as 2018 progresses.

Unfortunately, even though this is an area that VR is undoubtedly stronger than AR in, there are still issues to resolve. For starters, the quality just isn't really there yet.

This is mainly due to the catch-22 involved with choosing mobile VR over other, more advanced headsets. Everybody has a smartphone, and mobile VR headsets can be picked up for under $20, so it makes sense to channel initial forays through this technology. But in doing so, there's a risk people turn their nose up at the low resolutions, finicky controlling and tar VR with the gimmick brush it, in fairness, sometimes deserves.

That's why, until advancements make higher quality, standalone VR more accessible, VR viewing needs to give the user something more than what they can get on their TV. As we say, Intel is doing this by putting users in charge of where they view their action, and the BBC is doing this by involving you with a news crew and making you feel part of the reporting. These are both things you can't do through the box, and you won't be doing them through AR, either.

The platform is still developing, and quality absolutely needs to improve in order to keep people interested, but it's easy to forget just how early it is for VR. You have to start somewhere, and the next few years will be revealing, but VR's biggest strength over AR and other platforms is its immersion. If broadcasters, filmmakers and developers can harness it in the right way and also have the hardware to back it up, the platform should comfortably carve out its own area within wearable tech.


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