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Blurred lines: What’s extended reality?

February 15, 2019

Extended reality (XR) is trying really hard to be a part of your lexicon. It really wants to be relevant. It really wants to blur your reality. (Okay, it’s people who are hoping for this.)
 
What does XR really mean? Why are marketers pushing this term? Will the lines of true and false reality soon be seamlessly blurred? Our experts have strong opinions on the matter. Let’s get real about extended reality.
 
Extended reality FAQs   
                                                                                                                                                                             
What is extended reality?
XR, or extended reality, is not a specific technology—it’s all human and machine realities combined. XR is an all-encompassing term that blend real and virtual environments. Therefore, VR, AR, MR and even 360-degree video theoretically fall under the XR umbrella.
 
Our experts define XR as taking one or all of the five senses and augmenting, enhancing or subtracting them. That being said, Smell-O-Vision, a system that released odors to film audiences, could be considered an early attempt at XR. Google Glass, released in 2013, could be considered another milestone for XR.
 
Where did it come from?
The term “extended reality” was manufactured by an industrial engineer professor and later adopted by a select group and tech companies and their marketers. Today, it’s often referenced when innovators pontificate about a seamless transition between reality and virtual reality—where humans can’t tell the difference.
 
Much like “cloud” or “IoT”—but not nearly as mainstream—XR is a nebulous concept that may take years to be truly defined. Many argue that, in a cutthroat tech marketplace, simply being the first to define a term is advantageous—even if you don’t know what it means.
 
Does XR blur the lines between reality and perceived reality?
Contrary to what XR extremists want you to think, our experts balk at the idea that technology has reached a level where humans can’t intelligently identify the difference between the real and virtual world. Not because there aren’t immersive, groundbreaking VR experiences, but because you “know” you’re in an immersive, groundbreaking VR experience. (As one of our IT pros said, “If I’m wearing a headset, I know I’m wearing a headset.”) If XR proponents say we’re almost there, we say we’re 15 years away.
 
What will it take to blur said lines?
 “The day I truly think I’m exploring the Egyptian Pyramids and not sitting in my dumpy apartment with a headset, I’ll start believing in XR,” another Ingram Micro tech expert shares.
 
To help XR get there, there must be extreme advances in camera resolution. We’re talking on a micron level. Filming and scanning technology must be so finite that we can’t tell the difference.
 
If you really want a futuristic, pie-in-the-sky prediction, technology must get to the point where we ditch clunky headsets and the technology is embedded in our bodies. Maybe the lines that must be blurred are biological and digital. Perhaps we’ll harness the body’s energy to change our perception of reality.
 
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