Competing realities: virtual v augmented

The twisting of reality is becoming common practice in the meetings industry, writes Corbin Ball. By using an ever-evolving array of technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, users can enter worlds created from scratch to entertain, inform and sell. But how ‘realistic’ is the implementation of this technology? What is each good at doing – and not so good at doing?

Virtual Reality (VR):

VR is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds.

VR Pros:

  • When done properly, VR can be an incredibly engaging sensory ride. Using computer-generated imagery (CGI), there are no limits aside from money and imagination to create other worlds or to demonstrate products or spaces in novel and interesting ways. VR is the closest technology we have to the Star Trek holodeck and it will continue to improve rapidly in the next few years.


VR Cons:

  • VR is fragmented market. Headset pricing ranges from about $15 (Google Cardboard using a smart phone) to $1,500 (HTC Vive Pro), with much between. VR standards are early in the adoption stage and content created for one platform usually will not work with another.
  • VR is a new medium. Content creation tends to be custom built and expensive. Best practice for effective and engaging content creation is still being worked out.
  • VR is often an isolating, individual experience. This is the opposite of events where one of the main goals is to bring people together live in a group.
  • VR is slow for demos. It takes time to sanitize the headset, to put on/adjust the headset, explain the controls, and for the user to view the content. Even if the content is only two to three minutes, an exhibitor would be lucky to get 15-20 people per hour through the system.

What is it good for?

  • Site inspections, demos, booth and stage set design, 3D room diagrams:

Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR)

AR is a technology that superimposes computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. MR is a form of augmented reality that augments the real world with virtual objects that try to look as if they are really placed within that world. AR can use a number of mediums including smartphone/tablets, headsets, video walls, projection mapping and telepresence systems.

AR Pros:

  • AR, when used properly, can provide very useful and engaging information layered onto a real-world scene.
  • Basic AR apps using smart phones are well-established. One of the first, Layar, was established in 2009.
  • Apple’s latest phones and tablets and the AR developer kit have some very significant new AR capabilities. Newer Google Android phones also have strong AR functionality. Smartphone users can see furniture in their own home before buying (IKEA), find their way to an airport gate (American Airlines AR), see restaurant menu options, measure distances very precisely etc.

AR Cons:

  • Headsets are pricey and have some serious limitations in their current forms. Both have limited range of fields and the gesture controls are somewhat difficult to use. We will not see widespread consumer use until the costs come down substantially and the form factor improves.
  • AR/MR headsets are geeky looking and will be used only for specific applications and not for everyday use in the foreseeable future.

What is it good for?

  • Product demos, video walls and mirrors, Telepresence – the projecting of 3D-looking life-size holograph-like images including people onstage can be very effective and eye-catching.
  • Event wayfinding: Although this is in development stages, the opportunities for guiding attendees through a venue or exhibit hall could be very helpful in the future.


Corbin Ball is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on meetings technology. He can be contacted at his extensive website Corbin Ball & Co. – Meetings Technology Headquarters and followed on


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