At a Glance – Mixed Reality (MR)

Breaking down barriers between virtual and physical reality

Most people have now heard of Virtual Reality (VR), which creates totally immersive environments usually viewed through a headset. Thanks to the success of Pokemon Go, you’ve also probably heard of Augmented Reality (AR), which combines real world environments with digital content. Both AR and VR have captivated technologists and investors alike, breaking into mainstream culture with the help of the multi-billion dollar gaming industry. Despite the success of AR and VR, Mixed Reality (MR) has received far less attention. So what is it, and how does it differ from AR and VR?

MR (also known as hybrid reality) is characterised by the interaction of synthetic, digital content and real world content in real time. Admittedly, this sounds a lot like AR. That’s because MR is often described a form of AR – Microsoft Hololens, for example, is actually a Mixed Reality platform. MagicLeap is also described synonymously as an AR and MR company, although there are differences between the two.

MR is focused on breaking down the barriers between virtual and physical reality, merging real and synthetic content seamlessly to the point where they become almost indistinguishable. Whilst this sounds somewhat worrying, it could be used to enhance numerous industries. For example, imagine a surgeon overlaying virtual images on a patient whilst operating, or a mechanic fixing a piece of complicated machinery using a digital overlay as a guide.

It would be unfair to say that Mixed Reality has suffered from a lack of investment – especially when Microsoft Hololens and MagicLeap have been categorised as MR platforms. Perhaps MR will break into mainstream culture when tech companies commit to the terminology – the recent release of an affordable headset called ZapBox could be the product to do this. For now, it’s still confusing for consumers as to where MR starts and AR finishes, and if there’s any real difference at all. Despite this, there’s potential for the use of MR in various industries and also within the gaming sector to enhance physical environments via real time, interactive, digital content.