AR, MR, XR and VR Streaming: Understanding the 4 R’s
When it comes to bending reality, it seems clear that the “three Rs” of old have been replaced by four new Rs: AR, MR, XR and VR.
I recently hosted some interviews at Streaming Media East 2018 that shed more light on this topic. This blog post uses excerpts from those interviews to explore the different types of reality:
- AR: Augmented Reality
- MR: Mixed Reality
- XR: eXtended Reality
- VR: Virtual Reality
Each of these acronyms forms a new basis for delivering streaming-media content to a variety of new and emerging devices, including VR goggles and heads-up displays in vehicles.
AR, VR and Other New ‘Realities’ Enable New Storytelling Mediums
Raj Moorjani, a product manager at ABC News, explains each of the “Rs” as part of a “reality continuum.” There are some key differences between the types, he notes.
“If you look at [the] physical reality of the space that you and I are in, that's one end of the spectrum,” says Moorjani. “The other end is virtual reality, which is a total digital environment that's created. Then, in the middle, you have augmented reality, where you'll have digital objects … in a physical space.”
The Reality Continuum
“Mixed reality is an interesting combination of digital objects and real people interacting with each other … in the physical space, while also responding to those digital objects in the same environment,” says Moorjani.
According to Moorjani, extended reality encompasses all of augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality—in other words, XR is a catch-all phrase that covers anything beyond visible, organic reality.
Moorjani explains that traditional broadcasters are interested in moving beyond linear over-the-air (OTA) or cable distribution—and even, in some cases, beyond linear over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting—to emerging technologies such as AR, MR, VR and XR.
“There are a lot of different mediums now,” says Moorjani. “It's amazing.” He describes how storytelling mediums have expanded over time—starting with print, radio and photos and growing to include VR, AR and the like—as “the evolution of the space.”
“I have a very interesting role … because I sit at the intersection of arts, technology and user experience,” says Moorjani. “So I get to work with a lot of emerging technology and emerging platforms and how that works into storytelling.”
Moorjani gave an example of an immersive video experience in which viewers of a “Nightline” segment on Syria were able to view Damascus through the use of VR goggles.
“At the end of the segment, people were instructed to put on a headset and go to abcnews.com/VR,” says Moorjani, “and [they were] able to then go to Damascus and experience that city for [themselves]. People who saw the piece on TV sensed what was going on there—but when you put on a headset and you're transported to a place like that, it adds a level of presence, and you feel like you're there visiting this place. You can develop a sense of empathy to what's happening.”
Watch Moorjani’s full interview at StreamingMedia East 2018.
Applying AR and MR, From the Boardroom to the Game Room
Mark Alamares is CEO of Mobeon: a live webcasting company that has assisted the StreamingMedia.com team over the past several StreamingMedia East and West shows by capturing keynote and panel sessions. Almares says his company is working in all four of the “R” spaces.
“The media darling originally was VR, but AR is grabbing a lot of headlines right now,” says Alamares. “There are a lot of companies realizing that there's a lot of practical usage for AR—especially for entertainment, and even [for] enterprise applications.”
Examples of these types of enterprise applications would include demonstrations of new products, where viewers could manipulate digital versions of the product in question, as well as virtual meeting spaces combining attendees from around the globe into a single, virtual “room” setting.
According to Alamares, MR is an up-and-coming technology, but is not as popular—or even as well-known—as AR and VR.
He describes an example of how mixed reality is being used in video games, where platforms “display gameplay, [while also showing] a person [overlaid] in that virtual world.” He adds that viewers are “able to view it on a flat screen, whether it's a mobile device; an iPhone; an Android phone; an iPad; or even a television screen.”
Watch Alamares’ full interview at StreamingMedia East 2018.
With VR Storytelling, the Medium Is the Message
For TIME’s Editorial Director of Enterprise and Immersive Experiences, Mia Tramz, the story or documentary project being considered for production helps inform the decision around which delivery medium to use.
“I’m one of many editors [at TIME] tasked with programming across all the platforms that we publish to,” says Tramz. “My job really is to find the biggest, most ambitious projects in the mix and kind of bring them to life—to make sure that they hit as many platforms as they can, [and] that they have as wide of a reach as they can.”
That means Tramz must find the most effective mediums for telling TIME’s biggest stories. Her decision to bring a recent story to life through VR filmmaking led to winning an Emmy for Capturing Everest, which Tramz describes as “the first VR documentary to take you from the bottom of Mt. Everest to the summit.”
The film follows two remarkable climbers, one of whom “was the first American amputee to summit,” she explains. By using the immersive storytelling medium of VR, viewers are able to “climb” along with the subjects of the film and experience the thrill of Everest in a way that’s as close to firsthand as possible.
“Video goes every which way, and across all mediums and platforms,” Tramz says. By using innovative new video technologies, Tramz helps “ensure that the brand continues to have impact, and that we are engaging with the culture that we publish into.”
Watch Tramz’s full interview at StreamingMedia East 2018.
Considerations for the Future of AR and VR Adoption
Despite the exciting possibilities these new forms of reality enable, there are still challenges ahead for widespread AR and VR adoption—a point that every interviewee brought up.
“I believe that there will be full immersion in the future,” said Alamares. “There will be times when we will need to integrate … reality with a virtual world. But what I'm seeing right now, on a basic level, is brands want simple solutions that will help them … [better] engage the audience.”
Tramz sees each of AR, MR, VR and XR technologies as just one more way to tell the story, and says the streaming media industry needs to address the best ways to use them. This involves factoring in “how those technologies are being used; where we're already seeing success; where we think the major hurdles are going to be; [and] what it would take for this to reach kind of mass adoption,” she says.
Moorjani agrees that the four “Rs” can be effective storytelling mechanisms, when used effectively.
“When we're looking at any of these emergent technologies,” he observes, “[one thing we’re] trying to figure out is: What is the tool we want to use to help enable these stories? Will this take it to the next level, or is it just something that's we're trying to do as a gimmick?”
There have been multiple attempts at commercializing AR and VR hardware (e.g., headsets and goggles) and services (e.g., VR-video streaming) for consumers over the years—most of which have run into the hurdle of cost-effective delivery at scale. So I asked the interviewees: What makes this time around any different for consumers and content-creators alike?
Moorjani says today’s content-delivery options—including ways to stream immersive video, as well as devices that allow users the experience the four “Rs”—make consumer adoption quite a bit more likely.
“If you are on Facebook or go to YouTube, you can experience 360 video right now,” Moorjani explains. “Twenty years ago, there wasn't a way to distribute that kind of content. That's just our first step into getting people to be exposed to more immersive content.”
The question remains as to whether devices and services that support any or all of the four “Rs” will find their way into mainstream content delivery—either as disruptors, or as augmentors of traditional news and entertainment. It appears, at least this time around, that the tools are less expensive and more readily available to the average consumer. And that may be the key to continued adoption, alongside services that stream more than traditional linear content.
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About Tim Siglin
Tim Siglin, who has over two decades of streaming media design and consulting experience, and an additional 10 years in video conferencing and media production, has written for Streaming Media magazine and other publications for 23 years. He has an MBA in International Entrepreneurship and currently serves as the founding executive director of Help Me Stream Research Foundation, a 501(c)3 dedicated to assisting NGOs in emerging markets with the technologies needed to deliver critical educational messages to under-served populations.