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AR and VR in video conferencing offer post-pandemic benefits

In a post-COVID-19 world, understanding the differences between AR and VR video conferencing will help companies determine which technology might be best for them.

COVID-19 has forever changed the way we use and think about business video. What was once a substitute for travel or a way to accommodate the one remote worker on the team is now a central part of our workday. One perhaps unexpected result of the pandemic is that video and the concept of remote work proved themselves. Thanks in part to video connectivity, remote workers have been just as productive, if not more so, than they were at the office. Video is no longer seen as a temporary way to keep business running when the office is closed. It's now seen as a better way of doing business.

New generation of AR, VR video conferencing tools takes root

One effect of this shift is that, when the pandemic is over, things won't go back to the way they were before. Employees will want to keep working from home, at least part of the week. The use of business video will continue to grow, and perhaps even surge, moving forward. That increase will fuel interest in advanced video-related technologies, among them augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Let's take a look at these technologies to see what we can expect from them in the near future.

Many people are still a bit confused about the difference between AR and VR. They both involve video, often require some sort of goggles or headset and create an illusion where things that aren't real seem real. With VR, everything you see and hear is computer-generated. The VR headset places you in a completely artificial environment. Everything, even your own body when you look down, is a graphic, created by a machine. AR, on the other hand, merely adds computer-generated elements to your actual world. You may be sitting in your living room, but now you might see cartoon birds flying around the room.

Both AR and VR have found some mainstream use and acceptance. A few years ago, we all went wild for the Pokemon Go app, which is a perfect example of AR. We would take a walk in the park, look at the world through our mobile phone cameras and see computer-generated Pokemon cartoons appearing to hop around. AR is a natural fit for gaming, but we are also starting to see popular business uses. One great example is Ikea's app. Pick your furniture choices, use your mobile phone to look around your living room and the app virtually places the furniture into the video image of your living room. You can see what the furniture will look like, in your room, before buying it and putting it all together.

The difference between augmented, virtual and mixed reality software
Understand the difference between VR and AR, as well as mixed reality.

Business benefits in a post-pandemic world

VR is still primarily seen as a product for video gamers, and it is becoming more mainstream and accepted in that community. As more VR video conferencing software and hardware are developed, it seems inevitable that people will find more business uses for it. The question has always been whether there is a need for this technology in business or whether we are all just interested because of VR's coolness factor.

I believe AR and VR technologies offer businesses some tangible benefits. If a picture is worth a thousand words, bringing someone virtually into your vision must be worth a million.

That said, I believe AR and VR technologies offer businesses some tangible benefits. If a picture is worth a thousand words, bringing someone virtually into your vision must be worth a million. I think much of the hesitation around VR comes from how ridiculous it would look to see 10 employees, in full business attire, wearing enormous VR helmets while having a serious conversation as they sit around a meeting room table.

It would look like something out of a Saturday Night Live sketch. But that is the pre-pandemic world. Post-pandemic, it's more likely to see only two or three people in the meeting room, with the rest connecting virtually. In that case, those sitting at home could be wearing headgear without it being so socially awkward. The result would be a virtual experience where everybody could feel as if they were in the same room and see each other naturally.

I don't expect AR and VR video conferencing to explode anywhere near the rate experienced by business video when COVID-19 hit. But I do think our new "working/living on video" culture will be more accepting of AR and VR. I also think that people using more video will be actively looking for more immersive experiences and thus be drawn to AR and VR. The limited acceptance of AR and VR to date has been due to the expense and because it is so new and different. Now that the world has spent a year living on video, these advanced technologies may not seem so new and extreme as they find their place in our business workflows.

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