Spatial Cinema: The Couch is the Safest Place for Pass-Through Mixed Reality

There is one thing that you can say for mixed reality headsets, like the Apple Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest, they would be much easier to accept and tolerate, and use, if you didn’t have to bother mixing in the reality part. And timing your use. The main problem with any Alt Reality device is the notion that you move around the real world with a fake one thrust in front of your eyeballs, while your brain screams, “I’m going to be sick, no really, I feel sick!”

Source: Display Daily

The expense of years and years of research, and the investment in hardware, all serves a purpose for which the actual use cases are mostly made up after the technology is developed. We have struggled with 3D displays, 3D in cinemas, and virtual reality for decades.

Apple actually promotes its Vision Pro in ways that suggest it would be better suited as a virtual projector.

Source: Apple

My got to guy on the physics and the limitations of these devices is Karl Guttag, as anyone who reads Display Daily regularly will know, and he can cut and dice all the reasons why the display technologies of these devices prove inadequate as virtual monitors, and passthrough devices.

Maybe the emphasis on movement is the problem. Apple seems to have settled on the couch as a good place to use its headset, but at what price? Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of the reality part and just focus on the near-eye displays, and provide a cinematic experience?

We really don’t have the movie experiences that many people even 30 years old had. That sense of being totally immersed in a film in a darkened theater. A near-eye display headset could deliver that immersion, that isolation of the senses, and the therapeutic benefits of darkened cinemas all in the loneliness of your home. We are so immersed in our smartphones these days that it seems like our future is going to be full of one-on-one person-and-screen interactions over traditional communal viewing of film and television.

You just don’t need to strap all that processing power that Alt Reality headsets demand. That adds weight, expectation and, ultimately, disappointment to the experience. And I use the facetious term spatial cinema but, really, do we need to project a large screen onto a pass-through image of our living room to enjoy the experience? What is the point of giving me a poor version of a big screen TV in my living room using a fake TV and my living room?

It’s one of the shortcomings of virtual reality games in so far as they expect you to behave as if you are moving in a real way while delivering a partial reality experience. Makes absolutely no sense to give people a crappier version of their existence and assume that you are being super clever because the technology is so complicated.

I don’t believe that anyone has ever cried out for near-eye displays, and I know enough about the long history of Alt Reality devices to have faith in their total lack of suitability for general use. However, I am also a great believer in MicroLED display technology and have seen enough of the potential image quality to think that there has to be some use for near-eye MicroLED displays.

Keep it simple, stupid. Give me a high resolution near-eye display that blasts my sight with cinema, shutting out the real world, and I think I can be happy, and I know it will be a better use of the technology. Give me a headset, a headache, and no reason to want the experience…. well, you can guess the rest.

Because this is aimed at display people, let me make it even simpler for you: forget Alt Reality. You don’t want people to move around with headsets and pass-through videos, and images mapped onto surfaces etc. etc. So many nerd problems, so few people who care. Focus on the display. A near-eye display is not a great idea as a replacement for a monitor – people have enough to deal with when it comes to their work computers, desktops and displays. Don’t give them more crap (that goes for ridiculous 3D monitors, too, but that’s a whole other rant).

One of many display cases at Siggraph 2023 holding the detritus of Alt Reality inventions through the years. (Source: Display Daily)

Your best shot is at delivering a pure cinematic experience. You can crack that nut all on your own. You don’t need Apple, or Meta. You just need a vision to deliver an experience that is grounded in escapism. You know, like a TV. Reinventing TV for the smartphone age seems to be a better use of MicroLED technology than shoving it down someone’s face as the herald of a new dawn in computing.

Feature/AspectJune 2023 (%)February 2024 (%)
Entertainment/Immersive Content Experiences1611
Hands-free and Device-free Interaction65
Capturing or Reliving Realistic, Spatial Photos/Video65
To be a First/Early Adopter54
Socializing with a Realistic Digital Avatar42
Premium, Personalized Design and Fit4
None of the above/I’m not interested in this3
Not Interested in This7885
Source: Variety via Civics Science “Apple Vision Pro study”; Note: Fielded online Jan 25-Feb 5, 2024 (N=1,110), and June 21-26, 2023 (N=795); Weighted to U.S. Census; respondents chose all that applied.