The current semantic quagmire


VR, AR, MR, 360video, spherical video – we’re in a bit of a semantic quagmire at the moment. VR has become the generic term that people often use to describe all of the various technological implementations. But it turns out that VR has been around for decades and has some expectations.

The way I describe things is simple:

  • physical reality – that is the human/analog experience. It is continuous, and is engaged by all 5 senses (in varying degrees)
  • augmented reality – that is when digital things inhabit your physical space by some display mechanism (typically a small see-through screen or projection)
  • virtual reality – this is when the person inhabits the digital space, usually with a head mounted display. The key here is that the user’s physical reality is occluded by the digital, and the roles are flipped from AR


The lines are already getting blurred, and there will be somewhat of a spectrum running from a single digital object inhabiting your space (e.g. the speed of your car on a HUD) to multiple objects (data and animations) to mostly immersed (a head mount display with peripheral vision or camera feed) to fully occluded/immersed (current HMD like Oculus). The full immersion will also change over time, with wider field of view coming into play as well as other capabilities.

Of course I’ll argue that all of these end up with varying emulsions, and still will require a binder (e.g. story, memory, etc) to make them stable.