The Birth of Mixed Reality

 

The year of virtual reality is over. The first commercial headsets have hit the shelves and brands have seemingly exploited every opportunity possible. From Excedrin’s Migraine Simulator to Google’s tour of Abbey Road studios – VR is done.

This point of view is of course pretty short sighted. Virtual reality has just been born; it’s not yet eating solids and it’s going to be a good few years before it’s walking, talking and making its own way in the world. Think of the mobile phone for instance. When the first Motorola handsets were launched back in the 1980s, we could have never imagined the smart phone capabilities of today. I think it’s fair to say, the full breadth of opportunity for VR within branded OOH experiences is still to be realised. JCDecaux Airport’s experience-led approach is a major step forward.

In the meantime, what else is coming down the track to excite marketers? Last week, we attended a ‘Techspiration’ (yes, it is a word!) event at Engage Works to explore that exact question. One answer was ‘Microsoft HoloLens’.

HoloLens is a mixed reality headset which mixes the real world with the virtual. It launched to much acclaim in 2015 but very little is known about how it might work until now.  Unlike VR, HoloLens is designed to add value to your everyday life rather than completely removing you from it. It enables you to see digital content as holograms anywhere within your environment. You are no longer constrained by the presence of real-life digital screens. Incredibly, you’re then able to navigate and select this holographic content using hand gestures with surprising ease. Therefore, a real opportunity for the future in the changing and dynamic landscape of Out of Home.

This will revolutionise the way we learn, particularly in fields where it’s difficult to simulate in other ways. From medical students performing surgery for the first time to helping a friend navigate a blocked U-bend over Skype. HoloLens will facilitate a new level of education and communication.

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Naturally this will appeal to brands that want to align themselves with emerging technology but the opportunities span far wider. HoloLens OOH experiences can be created almost anywhere, with or without access to a physical product.  Take a car launch for instance, the hero features are often hidden inside the tech and engine. HoloLens can apply 3D holographic content to the car and bring its value to life allowing consumers to interact, personalise and create an entirely virtual brand landscape on their own terms. Connecting the physical with the digital in such a way makes for a more rich and seamless user experience.

Whilst this tech is fascinating (and creepily close to a real life Minority Report), the HoloLens does have one key issue to tackle. Whilst the marketing photos show incredible room-sized holograms, at the moment the holographic content appears rather small within a rectangular window. This feels strange when you’re used to over 200° of natural peripheral vision and will make it difficult for consumers to visualise large scale products without panning their heads up and down (or side to side for that matter). It’s been suggested that Microsoft have no plans to work on this for any future releases. Although I’m really hoping they do as the potential remains huge…

HoloLens is officially released to developers in the UK next month. Whilst development costs still feel a little hefty, as more developers get to grips with the kit, costs will start to tumble. Given the expected creative lead times, I predict we’ll see mixed reality OOH experiences in high dwell time locations like rail stations and shopping malls before autumn next year. Just in time for VR to enter it’s toddler phase and grace us with a new wave of developments.

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