What is Extended Reality, and How Has it Impacted the Audiovisual Industry?


The impact of Extended Reality (XR) on the audiovisual industry has been nothing short of revolutionary. XR, a term encompassing virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), has completely reshaped the way stories are told, content is created, distributed, and experienced, and how audiences engage with audiovisual content.

From the early experiments in virtual reality (VR) in the 1960s to the widespread use of augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) today, the history of XR and how it intersects with the AV industry is a fascinating journey that has shaped the way we perceive and experience our reality. In this tech brief, we will explore the origins of XR, the advancements in XR technology, its impact on various industries, and the potential for its future use in AV. 

The Origins of XR

Extended Reality Stereoscope

The origins of Extended Reality date back to the 1800s when stereoscopes manipulated viewers' brains into seeing images in 3D. These binocular-like devices used two lenses that separated two images slightly, which allowed the brain to interpret them as 3D. 

The earliest stereoscope has been attributed to both Sir Charles Wheatstone and David Brewster. Also called stereo viewers, they quickly became popular forms with middle- and upper-class families during the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

According to business and technology futurist Bernard Marr, the concept of XR remained in the purview of science fiction writers until the 1950s.

"In 1935, American science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum published Pygmalion's Spectacles, in which the main character explores a fictional world using a pair of goggles. This was the first prediction of VR as we know it today," Marr says.

As described by History of Information, the main character, Dan Burke, met an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who invented a pair of goggles which enabled "a movie that gives one sight and sound [...] taste, smell, and touch. [...] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it."

What we recognize today as VR and AR technology emerged in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The first VR machine was created by cinematographer Morton Heilig in 1956. It incorporated 3D, color video, sound, smells, and a vibrating chair into an immersive movie experience. The first head-mounted display with stereo sound and stereoscopic 3D images was patented by Heilig in 1960.

Harvard professor Ivan Sutherland created the first AR headset in 1968. An early precursor to today's augmented reality, "The Sword of Damocles," displayed computer-generated graphics to enhance the user's world perception.

VPLThe VR experience was enhanced by new technology in the 1980s. VPL Research Inc. first sold VR goggles and gloves in 1985, and its founder, Jaron Lanier, created the term "virtual reality" in 1987. 

Virtual reality arcade games helped XR gain traction in the 1990s. As VR games became fixtures in arcades around the world, they introduced a new generation of gamers to a new, extended reality, paving the way for a new way of living, working, and playing.

Development of AR accelerated in the 1990s, and the idea of combining VR and AR into XR emerged, allowing for the seamless integration of virtual and real-world elements. These early developments in XR set the stage for the evolution of immersive technologies and their impact on various industries, from entertainment to education and healthcare.

What is Virtual Reality?

In virtual reality (VR), we can experience a simulated view of the world that may be similar to our own or completely different from it. It involves an interactive, computer-generated experience within a simulated environment. Virtual reality environments are created using VR software and presented to the user so that they supersede the real world, creating suspension of disbelief and helping the user experience and interact with the 3D world.

How Virtual Reality Works

Virtual reality works through a headset that tracks your head movements and displays a stereoscopic 3D scene, along with a combination of software and hardware such as sensors, trackers, controllers, and input devices. The headset has multiple sensors, including gyroscopes and accelerometers, to track head movements and provide an immersive experience. The display and graphics are designed to create a realistic and immersive environment, while the audio and sound effects enhance the sense of being in another world.

Types of Virtual Reality

There are various types of virtual reality, including non-immersive VR, semi-immersive VR, and fully immersive VR. Non-immersive VR involves viewing a 3D environment on a 2D screen, while semi-immersive VR uses a projection-based system to create a partial virtual environment. Fully immersive VR, on the other hand, involves using a headset to completely immerse the user in a virtual world. In addition to these types of VR, there are also augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technologies that blend virtual elements with the real world.

Benefits of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has numerous benefits and applications, including training and education, healthcare and therapy, entertainment and gaming, virtual tourism, and design and engineering. VR allows users to immerse themselves in realistic scenarios for training and education purposes, such as flight simulations, medical procedures, and architectural designs. In healthcare, VR is used for pain management, rehabilitation, and exposure therapy. Entertainment and gaming industries benefit from the immersive experience VR offers, while virtual tourism allows users to experience different places and cultures from anywhere. Lastly, VR is used in design and engineering to visualize and prototype products and environments.

Challenges and Limitations of Virtual Reality

Despite its potential, virtual reality also faces challenges and limitations, including motion sickness and discomfort, the high cost of VR equipment, technical limitations such as latency and resolution, ethical concerns related to privacy and surveillance, and the lack of content and adoption. Motion sickness and discomfort are common issues associated with VR, as the disconnect between what the eyes see and what the body feels can lead to nausea and disorientation. The cost of VR equipment, such as headsets and PCs with high-end graphics, can be a barrier to adoption for many consumers. Technical limitations, including latency and resolution, affect the overall immersive experience and realism of VR. Ethical concerns related to privacy and surveillance arise due to the use of personal data and biometric information in VR environments. Lastly, the lack of content and slow adoption of VR technology in mainstream markets pose challenges for the industry.

Future of Virtual Reality

The future of virtual reality is exciting, with advancements in technology, integration with artificial intelligence, expansion into new industries, and cultural and societal impact. As technology continues to evolve, VR headsets and graphics are expected to improve, providing a more realistic and immersive experience for users. Additionally, the integration of artificial intelligence in virtual environments will enhance interactivity and personalization, making VR more engaging and adaptive. Virtual reality is also expected to expand into new industries, such as retail, marketing, and social networking, offering unique and interactive experiences for consumers. The cultural and societal impact of VR will continue to shape how we communicate, learn, work, and interact with the world around us, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the future.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality, or AR, overlays digital information like images, videos, or 3D models onto the real world. Its roots date back to the 1960s but have gained significant attention over the last decade due to advancements in technology. AR differs from Virtual Reality (VR) in that it doesn't create an entirely artificial environment but rather enhances the existing environment. This is achieved through the use of cameras, sensors, and displays to merge the virtual and real world seamlessly. The applications of AR are vast, ranging from healthcare, education, and retail to gaming and entertainment. 

The Technology Behind Augmented Reality

At the core of Augmented Reality are hardware, software, sensors, display technologies, and user interfaces. Hardware such as smartphones, tablets, and AR glasses are commonly used to experience AR. Specialized software and algorithms are essential for processing the data and rendering virtual objects in real time. Sensors such as cameras, GPS, and accelerometers are utilized to capture the environment and user interactions. Display technologies such as headsets, glasses, and transparent screens are employed to superimpose digital content onto the physical world. User interfaces, including gestures and voice commands, play a crucial role in interacting with the AR content.

Industry Applications of Augmented Reality

The impact of Augmented Reality is apparent across various industries. In healthcare, AR is used for medical training, surgical navigation, and patient education. In education, AR enhances learning experiences through interactive visualizations and simulations. Retailers utilize AR for virtual try-on experiences, product visualization, and augmented shopping. Real estate companies leverage AR for virtual property tours and visualizing architectural designs. Entertainment industries have integrated AR into immersive gaming experiences and interactive storytelling.

Challenges and Future of Augmented Reality

Despite its potential, Augmented Reality faces several challenges. Technical hurdles such as tracking accuracy, latency, and occlusion need to be addressed to improve the user experience. Ethical concerns, including privacy, security, and the impact on human behavior, also need to be carefully considered. The future of Augmented Reality holds promising developments, such as advances in hardware, more seamless integration with everyday devices, and expanded use cases. As AR continues to evolve, its impact on society and the way we interact with the world will become increasingly profound.

What is Mixed Reality

Mixed Reality

Mixed reality has become a buzzword in the technology industry, but what exactly does it mean? In its simplest form, mixed reality refers to the integration of virtual and augmented reality technologies to create immersive experiences that combine the physical and digital worlds. The concept of mixed reality has a rich history, dating back to the early days of virtual reality and augmented reality research, and has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with the world around us. By seamlessly integrating digital content into our physical environment, mixed reality opens up myriad possibilities for various industries. From healthcare and architecture to education and entertainment, the uses for mixed reality are vast and versatile. This technology not only enhances the way we work and play but also offers new ways to communicate and collaborate in a connected world.

How does mixed reality work, and what sets it apart from virtual and augmented reality? Mixed reality achieves its immersive experiences through the seamless integration of augmented and virtual reality technologies. By mixing the digital world with the physical environment, mixed reality provides users with interactive and responsive experiences that are not possible with traditional virtual or augmented reality. This is made possible through the use of spatial mapping and tracking, allowing digital objects to interact with the real world in a natural-looking and intuitive manner.

When it comes to mixed reality devices, there are various options available to consumers and businesses. From standalone headsets like the HoloLens and Magic Leap to lightweight smart glasses and mixed-reality applications on smartphones and tablets, the accessibility and affordability of mixed-reality devices continue to expand. As technology advances, we can expect to see more immersive mixed-reality experiences that offer seamless transitions between the physical and digital worlds, giving new ways to engage with content and information.

The influence of mixed reality on industries is vast and impactful. In the healthcare sector, mixed reality has already made significant strides in medical training and patient care, offering new ways to visualize and understand complex medical procedures. In architecture and design, mixed reality technology provides architects, designers, and technology integrators with new tools to create and prototype buildings and products in a virtual environment. Educational applications of mixed reality are transforming the way students learn and engage with course material, offering immersive and interactive experiences that enhance the learning process.

Despite its promising potential, mixed reality also presents challenges and considerations. User experience and interface design are crucial in creating seamless and intuitive mixed-reality experiences. Privacy and security concerns arise with integrating digital content into the physical environment, raising ethical implications that must be addressed. Accessibility and inclusivity are also important factors to consider, ensuring all individuals have available and usable mixed-reality experiences. Furthermore, potential health and safety issues must be carefully examined to ensure the well-being of users in mixed reality environments.

Advancements in XR Technology

Over the years, XR technology has seen significant advancements in both hardware and software. Improving VR headsets and hardware has led to more immersive and realistic experiences. At the same time, the evolution of AR applications and devices has made them more accessible and practical for everyday use. MR platforms and software development have further blurred the lines between the virtual and physical worlds, presenting new possibilities for interactive and dynamic experiences. These advancements have transformed how we perceive and interact with reality and paved the way for the integration of XR into various industries and everyday experiences.

XR in Entertainment

The entertainment industry has been at the forefront of adopting XR technologies, using VR for gaming and immersive experiences, incorporating AR into location-based entertainment, and exploring the potential of XR for live performances and events. VR in gaming has created new opportunities for immersive storytelling and interactive experiences. At the same time, AR has allowed for the integration of digital elements into physical environments, enhancing the entertainment value of various attractions and experiences. The potential of XR in live performances and events has also opened up new possibilities for creative expression and audience engagement. The impact of XR on the future of entertainment is vast, offering new avenues for storytelling, creativity, and engagement.

XR in Education and Training

The potential of XR in education and training is vast, offering new ways to engage and educate learners through immersive experiences. The use of VR for simulations and training programs has provided a safe and controlled environment for learning and skill development, while the integration of AR in educational tools and resources has enhanced the way students interact with and learn from their surroundings. The potential of MR for interactive learning experiences has also opened up new opportunities for hands-on learning and collaborative experiences. The benefits of XR in enhancing education and training are evident, offering new ways to engage learners and provide valuable learning experiences.

XR in Healthcare

The impact of XR on healthcare has been significant, offering new ways to improve patient care and medical training. The use of VR for pain management and therapy has provided new methods for managing chronic pain and promoting relaxation, while the application of AR in medical imaging and surgical procedures has improved the accuracy and efficiency of medical interventions. The potential of MR for medical training and visualization has also opened up new opportunities for learning and skill development. The impact of XR on healthcare innovation and patient care is undeniable, offering new ways to improve medical interventions and enhance patient outcomes.

XR in Business and Industry

In the business and industrial sectors, XR has had a significant impact on the way organizations operate and collaborate. The implementation of VR for virtual meetings and collaboration has provided new ways for teams to connect and work together, while the use of AR for remote assistance and maintenance has improved the efficiency and accuracy of field operations. The potential of MR for design and visualization in various industries has also opened up new opportunities for innovation and creative expression. The role of XR in transforming business processes and operations is evident, offering new ways to improve communication, collaboration, and productivity.

XR in the Audiovisual Industry

XR began with AV, and the industry has opened up new possibilities for creating immersive experiences with it. With VR, audiences are able to step inside the story and interact with the narrative in a way that was previously impossible. This level of immersion and interactivity allows for more emotional engagement and can lead to a deeper connection with the content. As a result, storytelling techniques have evolved to take advantage of these new capabilities, leading to a whole new approach to narrative design and structure.

In terms of content creation, XR has introduced a range of new tools and techniques that are transforming the industry. 360-degree video production has become a standard practice for creating immersive experiences, while spatial audio recording is adding an additional layer of depth and realism to the sound design. Additionally, the integration of CGI and interactive elements empowers creators to push the boundaries of the impossible, while real-time rendering has made it easier to visualize and iterate on content in a more efficient manner.

When it comes to distribution, XR has given rise to the concept of virtual reality cinemas, where audiences can experience content in a whole new way. Streaming XR content has also become more popular, making it easier for audiences to access and enjoy immersive experiences anywhere with an internet connection. Furthermore, XR has found its way into theme parks, events, exhibitions, and even education and training, opening up new avenues for reaching and engaging audiences.

In terms of audience engagement, XR has transformed the way audiences experience content. With personalized experiences, audiences can tailor their interactions with the content to suit their preferences, while social interaction in VR has created new opportunities for shared experiences. AR experiences in public spaces have also become more common, blurring the lines between the virtual and physical worlds, while the gamification of content has introduced new ways of engaging with audiences. Lastly, brand marketing in XR has become a powerful tool for connecting with consumers in a more immersive and impactful way.

The Future of XR

Looking ahead, the future of XR is filled with possibilities and potential. The continued advancements in VR, AR, and MR technology are expected to enhance further the immersive and interactive experiences offered by XR, opening up new opportunities for creative expression and innovation. The potential impact of XR on societal and cultural experiences is vast, offering new ways to connect and engage with the world around us. The possibilities for XR in shaping the future of human interaction are vast, offering new ways to communicate, collaborate, and create. The potential challenges and opportunities in the future of XR are vast, offering new avenues for exploration and growth.