December 1, 2023

Augmented Reality Just Might Be What Binds All Of VR Together

Are we finally approaching the point where all XR experiences begin to blend into one?

Augmented Reality Just Might Be What Binds All Of VR Together
A friend posing in warrior costume in my room. (Typing that sentence just now felt wild to me.)

Augmented reality has always been the other side of what VR enthusiasts call "XR" (otherwise known as "mixed reality", depending on the use of the phrase). There are filter creators on Tiktok, Instagram, and Snap, and artists like Sasha V. Zabegalin who work with different programs to show off unique experiments in videos.

Recently, virtual music venue TUBE released this footage of an augmented reality party. It's in thanks to Virtual Desktop's passthrough mode, which allows users to key out certain color backgrounds on digital maps to replace with their physical world. The result turns their social VR experience into an augmented reality space:

So, I tried it out for myself. Searching VRChat for a room that contained the keyword "passthrough", I picked one and invited a friend to join me. Then, I waited while checking my email at my desk, keeping my Quest 3 on in passthrough mode the entire time.

When I looked back over, I saw what was in the feature image of this article: my friend in warrior costume as a prank, meant to startle me. But she was in my room, her digital outline presenting as tangible and weighted to me. She had also brought all of her friends along with her so that my small office now appeared to be crowded.

I mapped out where my friends could sit. They could only see a green map, but that can easily change with local texture swapping.

Everyone sat on the floor. Another friend with a small avatar ran and hopped up towards me for a hug. My brain registered it as a physical one, so I could almost sense it.

As I pulled away, I realized how AR was truly about to change everything we've ever known about social VR so far.

AR is present in quite a few programs, such as Tripp and Figmin, and have been for a while. But with the latest Quest headset for sale, passthrough mode is advancing in capability. And as headsets get smaller and AR becomes more attractive, it's easier to imagine a world that feels like you've never logged out of your favorite social VR program at all.

Decorating my room at night using Figmin. The slow-falling snowflakes really do bring a sense of presence.

Seriously, what's the difference anymore once you're decorating your physical space with AR elements, and you've overlayed a program that lets your VR friends join you on a map to say hi and hang out? What about if you're laying around and looking at a screen that's showing you a social media feed? Isn't that similar to laying around in a VR platform and doing the same thing, just with a different body? When you're ready to jump into a game, it takes a few seconds to load up, making everything that much more seamless.

It's just my opinion, but I think this is the tipping point where the seamless XR world people have been talking about actually starts. I'm not saying the m-word. You can say it if you want to. I just know I feel a little sad when I've decorated my space the way I want, and then I finally have to take the headset off to go do something else.