×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

What the Oculus Quest Can Teach Us About the Future of Mixed Reality

Facebook’s new Oculus Quest headset is a great gaming device that simplifies virtual reality (VR), doing away with the need for an expensive PC and external tracking hardware. But with its integrated tracking, the Quest can also teach us a thing or two about the future of virtual and augmented reality.

Those two areas of immersive computing have long proceeded on separate tracks. Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital objects over a view of the real world. It is especially popular on smart phones, with companies like Snapchat, Facebook, Apple and Google all shipping technologies that enable AR filters, lenses and similar effects.

Microsoft, Magic Leap and some other AR startups have been building and selling headsets that offer a glasses-like form factor, complete with AR games and enterprise applications. Both approaches unite in that they very much depend on a view of the real world, provided either through phone cameras or translucent glasses.

Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, has been all about immersion, with dedicated headsets like the Quest as well as Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive and Sony’s Playstation VR system offering users access to immersive games and stories. All these devices completely block out the real world, transporting users into virtual living rooms, space stations or even into the middle of an animated movie.

Experts have long predicted that these two paths of immersive computing will eventually converge, with one device offering both virtual and augmented reality experiences. That notion, also known as mixed reality, makes a lot of sense. After all, consumers don’t buy one phone for voice calls and one for video chats, and they don’t have two separate laptops for word processing and spreadsheets.

What that convergence will actually look like is a lot harder to fathom, especially as the device form factors are still very much evolving. Will consumers have a switch on their smart glasses that will allow them to block out the real world and transition to a VR experience? Will their futuristic mixed reality contact lenses ominously turn black whenever they ask a voice assistant to transport them to a VR world?

Facebook’s new Oculus Quest suggests another possibility. The Quest is still a true VR device, and Facebook doesn’t pretend to offer any AR capabilities with it. But even in VR, users do have to be mindful of the real world — especially if they don’t want to accidentally crash into their living room bookshelf.

The Quest solves this issue with what is being called a guardian system. Upon first putting on the headset in a new environment, users get to see a grayscale, low-resolution view of the real world, and are then being asked to map out their play space. After that first setup, a grid appears every time a user is in danger of leaving that play space when in VR. Go further, and the Quest switches back to the grayscale view of the real world. Take a step back, and you are back in VR.

Check out the Quest Guardian in action in this YouTube video:

That experience of the real world lurking just beyond the borders of your VR playspace is oddly fascinating. The Quest uses its integrated cameras for video pass-through, which explains why the images are as low-fidelity as they are. The cameras are primarily meant to track the controllers used with the headset, as well as the position of the headset itself in a 3D space, making it possible to lean into VR experiences, and reach out for virtual objects.

But even with those visual constraints, walking up to a Quest guardian and sticking your head through it feels like a profound transition from one world to another. It also hints at the another possibility for the convergence of AR and VR: Users of future headsets or glasses may not just have a switch to choose between AR and VR, but also make that transition as they physically move through space.

Entering one area of your home may trigger VR mode, while another may lead to a transition to an AR experience. Location-based entertainment spaces of the future may also use these same kinds of transitions for mixed reality experiences, effortlessly allowing users to walk into and out of immersive worlds. And while the Quest currently uses a guardian system to keep you safe in VR, future guardian systems may be outward-facing, and alert you that immersion is just a step away.

That kind of fluid transition between different modes of immersion also comes with a lot of challenges around safety as well as privacy. After all, tracking and video pass-through rely on always-on cameras, which could result in companies ingesting huge amounts of visual and spatial information.

Luckily, we’ll have some time to figure out those issues while companies like Apple and Facebook work on their future mixed reality hardware. But to truly be prepared, we might have to follow their work closely, and at times even walk up to their virtual boundaries, ready to take another step.

More Digital

  • hdhomerun roku app

    HDHomerun App Brings Live TV to Roku Devices

    Roku users are getting another way to watch live television with the help of their favorite streaming devices: Silicondust, maker of the HDHomerun TV tuners, has released a beta version of its HDHomerun app for Roku TVs and streaming devices. “We need to start out by saying this is very much a beta product,” the [...]

  • Vox Media

    Vox Media Staff Ratifies First Union Contract, Negotiated by Writers Guild

    Staffers at Vox Media, which includes Curbed, Eater, Polygon, Recode, SB Nation, The Verge and Vox.com, have ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with more than 90% in support. The staffers are represented by the Writers Guild of America East. Vox Media’s 350-member unit began bargaining their first contract in April 2018. The campaign to [...]

  • Joslyn Davis, Lily-Marston - Shared Media

    Clevver’s Joslyn Davis, Lily Marston Launch Their Own YouTube Media Venture (EXCLUSIVE)

    Here’s the latest chapter in the saga of Clevver, the entertainment/lifestyle YouTube network marooned by the shuttering of former parent Defy Media and subsequently snapped up by Hearst Magazines. Two of the principal creatives behind Clevver — Joslyn Davis and Lily Marston — together with Clevver Media co-founder Jorge Maldonado have launched Shared Media, their [...]

  • Money-Diaries-Refinery29

    Refinery29 to Produce Interactive Series Funded by Eko (EXCLUSIVE)

    Refinery29 has been bitten by the “Bandersnatch” bug. The millennial-female-focused digital media and entertainment company inked a pact with Eko, an interactive-video platform developer whose backers include Walmart, to produce several “choose-your-own-adventure”-style series based on Refinery29 content properties. The companies have started development on their first project: an interactive scripted adaptation of Refinery29’s popular “Money [...]

  • Dan Howell

    YouTube Star Dan Howell Comes Out as Gay: 'It Gets So Much Better'

    It’s Pride Month, and popular YouTube vlogger Dan Howell had a message for fans that he’d been working on for a year: “Basically, I’m Gay,” he shared in a video Thursday. In the 45-minute video, Howell discussed coming to terms with his sexual orientation and his thoughts on labels that people use to define themselves [...]

  • Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment

    Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment as Industry Deepens

    Global streaming giant, Netflix is expanding its involvement in the Korean film and TV industries by greenlighting several new shows and renewing others. “When we started three years ago, we had a high degree of confidence that Korean drama would work well in Asia, but we had no internal metrics of our own,” Korean content [...]

  • Instagram Logo

    Instagram Outage: Facebook’s Photo Sharing Service Went Down For Multiple Hours

    Instagram faced another major outage Thursday afternoon, with users from around the world reporting that they weren’t able to access Facebook’s photo sharing service via its app and website. An Instagram spokesperson told Variety around 5pm PT that the issue had been resolved: “Earlier today, a technical issue caused some people to have trouble accessing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content