In 2014, global tech-giant Google helped raise a little over half a billion US dollars for an unknown startup company named Magic Leap. The details of Magic Leap’s project remain fuzzy to this day, but they’ve been working on a technology called “cinematic reality” – is this just another buzzword in the VR / AR universe? What the heck is “cinematic reality” and how does it differ from VR / AR?
Well let’s distinguish these things, to have proper context for this article.
- VR – Virtual Reality. Typically using a headset that immerses you completely in whatever is being displayed through the headset.
- AR – Augmented Reality. Uses a headset (or glasses) that superimpose images over what you already see in real life. Kind of like Terminator-vision.
- CR – Cinematic Reality. More similar to AR, but in (hopefully) hyper-realistic, cinematic-quality detail. It’s supposed to be AR on steroids – an entire Guangzhou factory of them.
To illustrate this:
“This is all right, but I know I’m in VR because of this bulky headset.”
“This is a bit nicer, but it’s basically Minecraft in my living room.”
“JESUS JUMPIN’ BABY CHRIST THE ROBOTS HAVE BECOME SENTIENT”
So, as you can see, cinematic reality is attempting to take the superimposed images concept of AR, and dial the realism up to 11. The implications for the entertainment industry are innumerous, though Magic Leap has been keeping the product tightly under wraps. They managed to raise another $793.5 million USD in funding in 2016, giving the company a total value of nearly $4 billion USD – but still, the most they’ve shown is tech demos and concepts.
After teasing a few new details about the headset back in December, Magic Leap finally released a developer’s version of its headset, but only to a few very select developer’s – and only under a very strict NDA. With so much secrecy surrounding the project, it’s really quite difficult to say what the headset will (and won’t) be capable of. But here are a few of the key concepts being touted by Magic Leap (mostly taken from their original concept video):
This is pretty basic augmented reality fanfare – being able to see your email, web browser, Youtube videos, etc. directly in front of your eyes, and “interact” with it by waving your hands around in front of your face (which, honestly, will probably look really silly to bystanders). The demo video makes it look pretty cool though, as the Magic Leap will have a UI that gives you easy access to a bunch of things by simply making spell-casting motions with your hands.
What’s the point of “cinematic reality” if it isn’t being used for cinema? In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), CEO of Magic Leap Rony Abovitz, suggested that Magic Leap’s headset would render physical television screens obsolete. But while Magic Leap’s concept videos show holographic-esque entertainment, like the picture above, this isn’t likely something Hollywood will be on board with. The intricacies of filming a feature-length movie for this sort of technology is outrageously complex. It’s more likely that Magic Leap hopes to create a television screen in front of your eyes, rather than have Brad Pitt actually standing in the room with you.
Cinematic reality gaming
Magic Leap is touting some kind of alien-technology in its area tracking, which will not only utilize your environment for gameplay, but be able to realistically depict your walls exploding as sentient killer robots crash through it. On paper, this sounds really awesome – but I feel like it’d lead to Facebook challenges like “can you play Five Nights at Freddy’s game in cinematic reality without $%^#@ing yourself?”. Well, now I’m kind of curious to try, but we’re all probably a little safer if we stick to things that won’t give us heart attacks, like Scrap Metal game.
If this really happens though, it will completely revolutionize AR gaming. Some doubters are wondering how they’ll be able to pack the hardware necessary for this into a little device that fits in your pocket, but I don’t get tripped up over such things. They’re sticking deca-core CPUs with 16GB RAM in mobile phones these days and selling them for $700, imagine what they can fit inside a >$1,500 AR headset.
I could fill this article with examples of what Magic Leap and cinematic reality is promising, but because the project has been shrouded in so much secrecy, a lot of people are starting to call this vaporware. It probably didn’t help that Magic Leap would rather unveil details to mainstream publications like Rolling Stone and Wired, instead of more industry-focused websites. Although, Magic Leap likely realized the tech-savvy public wasn’t quite ready to buy their pitch, as CEO Rony Abovitz found himself downvoted for some questionable claims in the Reddit AMA, as pictured below:
Still, despite some of Magic’s Leaps more dubious claims, we can’t exactly call the technology “vaporware” just yet, considering Magic Leap recently launched its developer kit – so we’ll likely get something, it just remains to be seen if it’s all that and a bag of chips.