Virtual, Augmented, And Er, Real Reality

2016 is supposed to be "the year of virtual reality", mostly because a lot of the much talked about hardware is actually becoming available to us, the unwashed masses.

Devices like the Oculus Rift headset and others hope to grab our attention and money, but I get the impression that a lot of people - particularly those around my age - have very little concept of what is meant by virtual reality or augmented reality.

Let me explain, in terms of movies.

What we think of as "reality" (without delving into the existential morass) is everything around us; all the things we can see, hear and touch. Life, in short.

Augmented reality is simply real life plus a computer-generated layer of stuff on top of it. Google Glass (shown above) or the Pokémon GO game are examples of this, and Microsoft's Hololens hopes to up the ante.

Think of Iron Man; his head's up display in the Iron Man suit shows Tony Stark all kinds of information on what is going on around him. Super-duper computer and snarky AI butler Jarvis can also project things into the real world so that Tony can analyze them.

Augmented reality runs the gamut from targeting information and maps (Iron Man) to pop-up messages apparently floating in front of a restaurant telling you if any of your friends are currently in there (Google Glass).

Microsoft's Hololens hopes to give you the thrill of zombies or space aliens apparently running around in your yard so you can get a bead on them. Car maker Hyundai also has an augmented reality user manual, of all things.  So, you can see this technology has a range if uses.

Virtual reality (VR) is ultimately like the Matrix. All during the beginning of the first Matrix movie, our hero Neo was actually unwittingly living in a virtual reality simulation. Only when he took the pill and woke up in a high-tech bathtub covered in goo was he in "real life".

An extreme and fantastic example of course, but the idea is that by donning the VR goggles or headset - like the Oculus Rift -  you become immersed in another set of experiences; sight and sound at first, but later touch and maybe smell could be introduced too as the technology improves.

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