What Is Extended Reality (XR), and How Will It Affect Our Future?


Everyone is talking about extended reality, which is a new and exciting technology. But what exactly is XR, and when can you start using it? We’ll look at how XR differs from AR and VR, as well as how it will integrate with new devices and existing gear.

XR, also known as cross-reality or extended reality, is a catch-all term for several distinct but related technologies. It combines similar acronyms such as VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), and MR (mixed reality). Understanding XR becomes much easier once you know that tidbit.

We’ll walk you through the jargon that surrounds XR technology in the sections below. There will be quick comparisons to VR, AR, and MR, as well as XR examples. After reading this overview, you’ll have a better understanding of your reality in relation to this new term.

What exactly is Extended Reality?

In a nutshell, XR is a “reality-plus” technology that can be used with any type of display. XR combines VR and AR.

XR stands for “extended reality,” a catch-all term for VR, AR, and MR. All XR technology modifies the human-to-PC screen interface, either by 1) immersing you in a virtual environment (VR), 2) adding to or augmenting the user’s surroundings (AR), or 3) both (MR).

For decades, the term XR has been used. It first appeared in the 1960s, when Charles Wyckoff applied for a patent for his silver-halide “XR” film, which was intended for photographing extremely bright light events like nuclear explosions.

Recently, the term has entered the mainstream as device manufacturers struggle to describe the various display upgrades they’re working with. Immersing gamers in the action by putting a screen (a smartphone display or headset) directly in front of their eyes (VR) is one example, as is placing game characters on actual locations, as in the famous game Pokémon Go (AR).

In the gaming world, virtual reality is taking off. Read our guide on How VR for PC Elevates Gaming to see some of the ways. It’s also making waves in the business world, as detailed in our HP Tech@Work article How Businesses Can Excel with VR.

Explanation of Extended Reality technology

Because XR is a catch-all term, there’s no need to wonder if your laptop is XR or if you can buy an XR phone. This is because devices that use AR, VR, or MR technology are all referred to as “XR devices.” You’ve already used XR technology if you’ve played a VR game Star Wars: Squadrons, Half-Life: Alyx, and Google Maps.

The term “XR technology” is overused, which adds to the confusion. As with previous umbrella terms like “digital” or “natural,” there’s a bit of a marketing gold rush going on as every major tech company rushes to brand their latest gear with the buzzword.

VR vs. XR

Extended reality (ER) includes virtual reality (VR) (XR). VR is an immersive computing or gaming experience in which the device’s display fills the user’s entire field of vision. In some cases, this is as simple as inserting your smartphone into a headset that positions the phone’s screen an inch or so away from the viewer’s eyes.

However, not all XR is VR, and not all VR is XR. For example, augmented reality (AR) may use your phone’s camera to superimpose game characters onto the display of your smartphone, as if the character were in the same room as you. That’s augmented reality, and it’s also XR, but it’s not virtual reality.

What would you like to learn more about? Please see our guide, What is the distinction between AR and VR?

AR vs. XR

AR is an XR subset. AR takes live video of a device’s surroundings and adds visual elements to it, like a Pokémon Go character in your living room or a tiger in a Google search. or educational markup in a workplace or historical location.

To reiterate, while all AR is XR, not all XR is AR. That is, you can use your phone in a VR headset to play a VR video game. That is both VR and XR. But it’s not augmented reality because there is no “augmented” slice of the pie. Nothing from the digital world is superimposed on a display of your surroundings.

See our list of 7 incredible augmented reality experiences for some inspiration.

MR vs. XR

MR, also known as “mixed reality,” is a hybrid of two popular types of XR technology: VR and AR. To be specific, VR is immersion, as in using a smartphone screen in a headset to fully immerse yourself in gameplay. Augmentation is when you use an app to superimpose a digital tiger in your living room on the display of your phone.

MR is technically a hybrid of VR and AR, but the terms AR and MR are often used interchangeably. However, there is a distinct distinction between MR and XR. To put it simply, all MR is XR, but not all XR is MR. A smartphone tape measure app, for example, is both MR and XR, whereas a VR video game is XR but not MR.

Get a head start on XR technology with these three HP VR-ready desktops and our best HP VR-ready laptops.

Examples of XR

XR is already being used in a variety of industries, from manufacturing to retail to human resources to gaming. We’re seeing AR, VR, and MR in our lives under the banner of XR, with more applications on the way. These five XR examples only scratch the surface of how to use current and emerging applications.

1) XR inThe Works

Businesses are already benefiting from XR technology, with immersive technologies used as part of try-before-you-buy experiences. For example, if you’re looking for a couch online, you can see how it will fit in your living room. Some retailers are utilizing XR technology to provide a preview of the real thing. This reduces returns and even outperforms the traditional retail experience.

Manufacturing is also benefiting from XR. AR can show how new factory layouts will look before they are built, and maintenance crews will soon create plant walkthroughs that highlight machines that need servicing in bright red or orange. Hands-on XR training can provide step-by-step virtual experiences in real-world settings.

2) The Best XR Games

Star Wars: Squadrons is a virtual reality game that allows you to pilot an X-Wing or TIE Fighter using a VR headset. Trover Saves the Universe, Half-Life: Alyx, and No Man’s Sky are among the best XR games. You’ve probably already played Pokémon Go, one of the most popular XR games in history, which places friendly little “pocket monsters” in your living room and neighborhood.

3) Top XR Devices

XR technology is making inroads into our homes and businesses in both high-end devices like the Oculus Rift and low-cost devices like Google Cardboard. That’s a piece of simple VR technology that attaches your smartphone to your face. Other notables include Sony’s PSVR, which includes popular titles such as Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Tetris Effect, and Beat Saber.

VR headsets like HP’s Reverb G2 VR, laptops like the HP OMEN, and AR displays like the Microsoft HoloLens 2 can track your hand and eye movements for a seamless blend between the virtual environment and the real world are examples of today’s XR devices.

4) The XR You Are Now Using

You almost certainly use at least one XR application regularly: Google Maps. Street view, as well as the satellite view available during navigation, are technically XR. You also employ XR whenever you are watching an NFL game and notice the bright yellow first-down line on the screen. In reality, this does not exist. When you make a Zoom call and someone uses a virtual background or an “I’m not a cat” filter, that’s also XR.

5) Future Applications For XR

Prepare for XR to profoundly alter your life in the coming years. It will appear in sports (for example, analyzing your golf game and providing pointers) and in healthcare (showing your path through the hospital to the X-ray department with blinking arrows). Virtual field trips in education will broaden students’ horizons in novel and exciting ways. You’ll even be able to navigate tomorrow’s physical stores using AR maps that direct you to the products you’re looking for.

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