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Ready Player One?: The State of VR & AR


Imagine we are in the year 2023. While we aren’t living in a dystopian future often depicted in science fiction, our reality is beginning to echo the immersive virtual world featured in Ernest Cline’s novel, “Ready Player One.” Although such technologies don’t serve as an escape route like the “OASIS,” they are no longer far-off fantasies but potent realities, fueling a revolution in how we interact with the digital and physical worlds.


A global pandemic shoved us onto a fast track towards the digital realm, kindling a revolution in our interaction with technology. VR and AR, fueled by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and hardware developments, are evolving into realistic and personalized experiences. They invite us to step into a digital landscape teeming with potential, making us wonder- are we ready to embrace this technicolor dream?


Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Differences

At their core, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) serve a similar purpose – they alter our perception of reality. Yet, they employ divergent methods to achieve it.
VR pulls users into a fully immersive digital environment, replacing the user’s real-world surroundings completely. Its applications stretch across various sectors. In education, VR offers immersive educational experiences, making subjects like history or science come alive while reducing costs. In healthcare, VR lends a helping hand in pain management and rehabilitation, providing a safe environment for patients to practice procedures with engaging visual therapy exercises. The real estate world offers detailed virtual tours, while engineers harness VR to prototype complex structures. Last but not least, VR is defining the next frontier of gaming and cinematic experiences in the entertainment industry, enveloping users in a 360-degree digital environment.
On the other hand, AR weaves digital elements into our physical reality, enhancing rather than replacing it. For example, if you have ever spotted a Bulbasaur on your kitchen counter playing Pokémon Go, that was AR. It’s not just about catching virtual creatures but about practical applications.
In the automotive industry, AR can provide from heads-up displays for drivers to immersive environments like BMW’s i Vision Dee concept car, offering navigation, entertainment, and safety information without requiring the driver to take their eyes off the road. AR can help visualize blueprints in a three-dimensional space in architecture and construction, greatly aiding the design and planning process cost-efficiently. In the retail sector, AR enables consumers to virtually try on clothes as companies like Dior, Fendi, and Ralph Lauren collaborate with Snapchat or see how furniture might look in their living room with IKEA Place and Amazon’s AR View, all from the comfort of home. 
Extended Reality (XR) & Mixed Reality Differences
The term ‘Extended Reality’ is a comprehensive umbrella, encapsulating AR, VR, and everything in between. XR represents any technology that enhances or extends human experiences by merging the physical and virtual worlds. This blending allows users to exist in and engage with environments where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. 
Under the XR umbrella, Mixed Reality (MR) also holds a unique place. MR is an advanced form of immersive technology that overlays and anchors virtual objects to the real world. Essentially, MR combines elements of both AR and VR, creating a hybrid environment where digital and physical objects can interact. This technology has been implemented in advanced manufacturing, collaborative workspaces, and the entertainment industry to forge experiences that walk the tightrope between reality and the virtual world. 
The contours distinguishing AR, VR, and MR are dissolving as we journey ahead, creating a vibrant tapestry of opportunities and challenges for businesses, developers, and consumers. The promise of XR seems promising – intuitive, human-centered interaction with technology. But as with any leap into the unknown, its triumph lies in its adoption and the value it brings to our lives and businesses.


VR & AR Headsets in 2023


Apple Vision Pro

Apple Inc. has recently announced the upcoming launch of its mixed-reality headset, which is expected to be available in early 2024. This advanced device features a sharp display and interaction methods, including motion gestures, eye tracking, and voice input, emphasizing its XR capabilities. The headset’s unique feature, EyeSight display, renders the user’s virtual eyes, adjusting their appearance based on the level of immersion in the virtual environment, further promoting real-world user engagement.
Despite its premium price tag of $3499 raising eyebrows, Apple Vision Pro has shown the company’s serious foray into the XR space. Targeting developers initially with the brand new visionOS, Apple hopes to seed a thriving ecosystem before turning to the larger consumer market. And as a fun fact, Meta’s presence in the VR space is the key reason why Apple steers clear of the term “Metaverse.”


Meta Quest 2

Meta Quest 2, previously known as Oculus Quest 2, is a strong VR headset in the market developed by Reality Labs, a division of Meta Platforms. Released in 2020, Quest 2 is an upgrade from the original Oculus Quest, featuring a lighter design, improved internal specifications, a higher refresh rate and resolution per eye, and enhanced Oculus Touch controllers. 
The Quest 2 runs on software based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) source code and supports all games and software made for the first-generation model. It also supports Quest Link (USB) and Air Link (Wi-Fi), allowing the headset to be used with Oculus Rift-compatible software on a PC. However, the Quest 2 has been criticized for its requirement that users must log in with a Facebook account to use the headset and Oculus services, raising concerns about user data privacy. 
Other noteworthy contenders include the HTC Vive Pro 2, Valve Index, Pimax 5K Super 1, and HP Reverb G2. Each of these VR headsets brings its own unique strengths to the table, offering immersive experiences that captivate users. On the augmented reality front, Google’s Glass Enterprise Edition 2, Microsoft HoloLens 2, and Lenovo ThinkReality A3 are making significant strides. These AR headsets are transforming the way we engage with digital content and shaping the future of immersive technology.
The Powerhouses Behind VR Headsets
While headset manufacturers like Apple and Meta take the spotlight, it’s essential to acknowledge the silent powerhouse driving these immersive experiences – the semiconductor industry. 
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has become an unrivaled leader in the sector, manufacturing the chips that power Apple, Qualcomm, AMD, Broadcom, NVIDIA, Intel, and Tesla. This also makes TSMC a de facto ETF for the high-tech industries.
Despite the challenges posed by geopolitical tensions between Taiwan and China, TSMC’s strategic relocation to the U.S., coupled with its leadership in semiconductor manufacturing, ensures its resilience in various market conditions. Thus, it appears that we are at the beginning of a fascinating journey in the world of VR and AR, and it will be intriguing to see how this technology evolves in the coming years. 
The Future of XR
Looking at the future, one can’t help but notice how these technologies have the potential to revolutionize our lives in a way similar to how smartphones did. The global XR market reached $29.26 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $100 billion by 2026.
However, with every new technology, it’s essential to remember the challenges it presents. VR still struggles with issues of simulation sickness and the need for substantial computing power. AR, on the other hand, presents unique challenges around privacy and security. It’s crucial to strike a balance between leveraging these technologies and maintaining ethical and responsible use. But if the past is anything to go by, these are not insurmountable challenges, as the tech industry has consistently demonstrated the ability to innovate and evolve in the face of adversity.
As we set sail on this digital odyssey, it seems the adoption of XR devices can lead the way for the metaverse as an integral part of our lives. Stay tuned as we unravel more of this fascinating journey towards the metaverse in our next article!