During CES last month I hiked across Las Vegas to find Alvin Wang Graylin, HTC’s Vive President in China. He pulled a Vive Focus from his bag and I got to try the headset, which offers full freedom of movement for your head in a completely standalone device.
We still need to put together our thoughts comparing the experience to the Lenovo Mirage Solo and the newest Pico standalone headset, but it was quite a joy to duck out of the way of incoming projectiles and move my head around freely. Graylin helped make sure I didn’t bump into anything as I used up the last bit of juice from the Vive Focus’ battery. Afterward, we talked briefly, and Graylin shared his thoughts about broader trends in VR and AR.
It was interesting to hear him echo the thoughts of leaders at both Google and Microsoft who seem certain that over time VR and AR headsets will merge into a single device. Here’s what Graylin told me:
Immersive computing will be your key interface to other people, to society, and to computing and machines in general. And it’ll be on one device, and that one device will serve the functions you need at the time. If you are outside it’s not going to be a VR mode because you need to walk around. It’ll turn to AR mode. If you’re in an immersive experience — if you’re trying to go underwater — you don’t want it to be in AR mode, it’ll be a fully immersive mode. And that device — it won’t be two devices. It will be one device….when you say AR and VR people feel like there’s going to be two devices and one is going to win and one is going to lose.
Microsoft is so certain of this eventual merging, in fact, that its leaders called the Windows software platform “Mixed Reality” while only powering devices that are firmly in either the AR or VR categories. The expectation is that later devices will span both types of experiences, but for right now the decision to call everything from HoloLens to Odyssey “Mixed Reality” fuels considerable confusion as consumers try to understand the capabilities of these gadgets.
It is worth noting Google VP of VR Clay Bavor’s comments on the subject:
We’ll have AR headsets that can augment your whole field of view, and VR headsets which can pull in photo-realistic digital representations of your environment, and devices in between which do a bit of both. Once the technology progresses to this point, the distinction between VR and AR will be far less relevant than it is today.
In the meantime, if VR and AR are two points on a spectrum, what should we call the spectrum? Here are a few ideas — immersive computing, computing with presence, physical computing, perceptual computing, mixed reality, or immersive reality. This technology is nascent, and there’s a long way to go on our definitions, but for now, let’s call this immersive computing.
It is interesting to note, too, that both the Vive Focus and the forthcoming Vive Pro have dual outward-facing cameras. While the Focus uses those cameras to detect its location, HTC says its Vive Pro cameras will be made available to developers. That might mean devs could incorporate hand-tracking or certain kinds of AR functionality using props. We’ll have to wait and see what emerges.
For now, though, it is nice to hear another executive cut through the jargon and embrace the term “immersive computing” for its clarity.
Update: More information added from HTC about the Vive Pro’s cameras.