XR stands for Extended Reality. XR is an umbrella term covering virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). 360 degree photography and 3D models are used in building extended reality environments.
VR (Virtual Reality)
Virtual reality immerses the user in a completely digital experience either through a virtual headset or through a surrounding display. The environment can be either computer-generated or captured from the physical world.
Virtual reality allows the user to be brought to the center of any environment and experience. Virtual reality is immersive, meaning it allows the user to delve into the experience so that his or her focus is entirely on virtual reality and he or she is unaware of the outside world. This is a particularly good feature, for example, in educational and entertainment use where the user wants to be engaged and concentrated on the task at hand.
Virtual reality requires special devices, which exist in both tethered and stand-alone versions. Tethered versions benefit from their ability to run higher quality and more complex graphics than stand-alone devices, but the downside is that they require a separate computer to which they are connected.
Nowadays it is also possible to build VR content so that it is physically located on a cloud server from where it is streamed in real time to VR devices. This so-called CloudXR technology will enable lighter and cheaper devices in the future, as well as a higher quality and more realistic experience. The technology already exists and can already scale, for example, training to several different locations without having to physically store the training on different devices.
MR (Mixed Reality)
In mixed reality, in addition to the physical environment, the user sees interactive, 3D-modeled content through virtual glasses. 3D models behave like physical objects, meaning the user can, for example, view them from different angles. Mixed reality devices resemble or are similar to VR technology devices and their biggest difference to AR technology is that in mixed reality the physical environment is projected to the user through an image created “through” the cameras while in augmented reality the physical environment is normally seen.
The strength of mixed reality is the ability to mix the virtual and real world almost limitlessly and seamlessly. In addition, with mixed reality devices, the size of the field of view is consistent with the normal human field of view, while the ability of current augmented reality devices to produce virtual content is limited to a slightly narrower window. Mixed reality can be used to create virtual elements in a physical environment or to transfer physical elements to a virtual environment.
The best applications of augmented reality are, for example, different simulators that combine a physical cabinet or space with a virtual environment, as well as virtual demonstrations that can bring devices of any size to the physical environment in the right proportions and appearance.
AR (Augmented Reality)
Augmented reality adds virtual content on top of the physical environment. Digital information is overlaid on the view of the physical world as an additional virtual layer through a mobile device or a virtual headset.
Compared to virtual reality in augmented reality virtual elements complement the physical environment, while virtual reality means replacing the physical environment with fully virtual content.
Augmented reality can be used on both special AR devices and a smartphone. The most common applications for AR devices are various smart glasses, which allow for virtual content to be brought close to the user's field of vision, into the physical view. With the help of smartphones, AR content can be utilised when viewed through the phone's camera.
The advantage of smartphones is their wide penetration, but the requirement to install a separate application before content can be displayed has so far slowed down growth in use. Today, smartphones can display AR content even without an application, utilising the WebXR interface, which enables the easier use of AR-technology in consumer advertising or other contexts. On the smart glasses side, the market still lacks reasonably priced consumer devices, but thanks to the rapid development of technology, they are estimated to be widely used within a few years and to replace mobile phones as people’s everyday tool. There are already a number of smart glasses for business use, and they enable companies to streamline their operations in production, maintenance and logistics, for example, by making it possible for their employees to complete processes to be completed faster and with higher quality.
360 degree photography means still or video images capturing the entire 360 degrees of a scene in a panorama view and shot using a 360 camera. 360 images do not include the perception of depth.
The strength of a 360 image and video compared to traditional 2D material is the amount of information it contains, which allows, for example, the physical space or environment to be displayed much more extensively than a traditional image or video and more information to be brought to the viewer.
360 material can also be produced using a computer-generated, virtual model. The material can be viewed on the screen of a mobile device or computer, as well as with the help of VR glasses.
3D graphics means computer graphics made using three-dimensional images that provide the perception of depth. 3D models are computer-generated, three-dimensional pictures of physical objects.
The 3D model can be used to create a better understanding of a product or process compared to standard 2D graphics. The 3D model creates a better and more lasting impression in people’s minds, which improves the image and deepens the memory footprint as well as the commitment to the product.
3D models can be utilised on either digital websites for mobile or computer use, or they can also be brought as part of the experience of virtual or augmented reality, for example.