Why Your Newsroom Should Be Paying Attention to AR

23 September 2015

Jean Yves Chainon @OOArevo

Outside the world of new media and tech, augmented reality is probably less understood than virtuality reality but, according to industry experts, its capacity to change the way we interact with news will be phenomenal. AR works by projecting images onto reality, rather than replacing reality with a simulated world. But how far away is AR from transforming our media landscape? GEN interviewed Peter Oberdorfer, President and partner at Tactic: a San Francisco-based company specialised in design and post-production for both virtual reality and augmented reality.

“Augmented Reality is really amazing, but virtual reality is the lower hanging fruit for the next five years,” said Oberdorfer, who has also worked as a consultant in the early days of the Microsoft HoloLens.

However, “there are many inherent challenges in augmented reality,” Oberdorfer explained, citing the attempts of Google and Magic Leap, or Microsoft and HoloLens. They’re trying to create a parallel to VR headsets with an overlay or illusion of CGI imagery applied to objects tracked in the real world. As of now, the main challenges for AR result from hardware limitations in mobile devices.

Many AR applications currently attempt to overlay virtual objects in real time on physical objects, which are, for example, captured through a mobile device’s camera. This usually results in increased latency.

And unlike Virtual Reality, where users can be fully immersed in their environment through a headset, thus partially masking latency, its negative effects are much more apparent with AR experiences seen on the screen mobile phone.

AR lesson

Simplified uses of AR, which require less processing, include apps to overlay facial expressions or colours on selfie pictures, as is now the case in Snapchat.

“What I’ve seen with AR is cool, but it’s not a game changer yet,” said Oberdofer.

While there is no doubt that virtual reality and augmented reality are going to be a revolutionising new medium, with TechCrunch predicting the industry to generate $150 billion in revenue by 2020, even the biggest proponents of VR and AR are still figuring out the ground rules.

AR man on mobile

“Part of it is just a learning process for the industry as a whole,” said Oberdofer, who has extensive background in film post-production and has worked on visual effects for movie productions such as 'The Matrix'. “We’re all trying to apply outside experience to a new problem,” he added, which is empowering for smaller companies, because “there is no mothership yet”, he explained, in reference to Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon, who are also trying to figure out VR.

But as both clients and content producers get more familiar with the medium, VR literacy is steadily increasing. And once the mechanics of both VR and AR are fine-tuned, what could be the next step to create an even greater sense of presence? 

As Oberdorfer cautioned, achieving greater immersion and sense of presence may become more challenging with time, as the tweaks required to replicate real-life cognitive perceptions in VR will become more and more infinitesimal.

Holographic experiences could be one path, suggested Oberdorfer, referring to the work of pioneers such as OTOY, a Los Angeles-based company, whose aim is to deliver real-time, highly photorealistic 3D graphics through cloud computing.

Further links on AR:

The Future of Augmented Reality

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality headset is still half a decade away

Facebook adds support for 360-degree videos

Newspaper ads using Augmented Reality