I really don’t like saying ‘mixed reality’. In my opinion, it’s a term that needlessly confuses two similar but separate technologies – VR and AR. HoloLens isn’t an MR headset, it’s an AR headset. Windows’ MR-based VR headsets are really just that, VR headsets. But at MWC this week I saw a glimpse of true mixed reality; something that combined both VR and AR.
That would be Intel and the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Batman experience. This was a small slice of a wider experience built with help from AT&T, Ericsson and Warner Bros.. It was running off a wireless HTC Vive Pro as one of the many 5G showcases at the show. You can see pretty much the entire piece in action in the video below.
It’s a piece of, quite literally, two halves. Look to one side and you’ll see the real world, as captured through Vive Pro’s cameras. Bat-baddy Scarecrow appears in front of you and litters the environment with spiders. Then he steps over to the other side, a fully-rendered VR environment where he does battle with Batman. Nothing about the AR or VR portions was separately special. But, combined together, they made for something intriguing.
Again, this was just a slice of the main experience and the demo conditions weren’t perfect. I couldn’t hear what was being said over the noise of the show floor and the right earphone wasn’t working. Not to mention that it was weird to see Batman and Scarecrow fighting from one angle only to turn around and see MWC carrying on with little care.
Still, it set my mind ablaze with possibilities for true mixed reality experiences. Imagine theatrical performances where you’d see real actors interact with virtual characters or games where the consequences of the virtual world spilled out into ours. You’d need conditions far more controlled than this, but the potential is definitely there.
This felt more like a proof of concept; a technological achievement more than a creative one. But the truth of the matter is that VR headsets aren’t that great at doing AR (yet) and AR headsets aren’t very good at VR (yet). Until the pair inevitably merge, experiences such as this will remain decisively experimental.