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Do You Know The Difference Between Virtual, Augmented And Mixed Reality?

The way we tend to see our reality are apparently made to change by many technologies seek to change, whether it is entering a virtual world, or augmenting an existing one in a realistic and interactive way, or somewhere in-between.

To keep a track of what we mean with this terminology, let’s understand the difference.

VR: Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR), also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality is a computer technology that reproduces an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment to allow for user interaction. VR artificially create sensory experience, which can include sight, touch, hearing, and smell.

According to Merriam-Webster, virtual reality is defined as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.”

However, how we intermingle with this virtual environment depends greatly on the platform in use. Most up-to-date virtual realities are displayed either on a computer screen or with a special virtual reality headset (also called head mounted display), and some simulations include additional sensory information and focus on real sound through speakers or headphones targeted towards VR users. Such VRs covers a much bigger portion of your field of vision, taking you in the virtual 360-degree world.

Currently, the Oculus Rift is well-known as one of the well-known VR headsets available to the public. However, it needs both a computer (which the headset is cabled into) and separate controller to operate. Basically, it exists as an immersive screen you wear on your head to surround yourself with a virtual world. Playstation VR looks to operate the same way.

On the lower end, also similar experiences are offered by Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear (the somewhat more robust) VR, which is available at a lower overall quality and price as well. The good part about these devices is that they need not be cabled to a computer. They are instead powered by a smartphone strapped onto your face with a headset for a quick-and-dirty VR experience.

Certainly, there are more strong VR technologies, like The Void, that try to create a “hyper real” environment that allows for environmental manipulation and physical movement.

You will see a virtual world in The Void, but as you are free and not tied to a computer, you can physically walk around the space around you, which is actually a blank set of bare walls. You can interact with the environment, as you are the controller and can plunge yourself completely into the rendered world offered to you. In order to make the game more interactive and immersive, they even create artificial rain, heat, and cold in the space.

On a whole, this is the simplest way to think of VR: It’s an entirely distinct and artificial world created to change your reality and immerse you in it. Everything is virtual, as nothing is real.

AR: Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. The aspects of your existing reality are changed by AR through the lens of a smartphone, a set of glasses, or even a headset. With AR, you will always see what’s right in front of you, but with an added virtual layer on top of it.

According to Merriam-Webster, augmented reality is “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera).”

AR can be found in a lot of different forms, but it is most commonly used in the screen of our smartphones. The first and easiest example comes from Yelp, who created a feature called Monocle that allows you to hold up your phone and see details about closeby businesses. It makes use of your smartphone’s camera to give you a live demonstration of what is around you, but overlaps information on your screen. Check out the video below for a demonstration.

All kinds of different smartphone apps have AR. Quest Visual’s Word Lens locates text your smartphone’s camera sees and translates into a language of your choice. They even provide the app on Glass, Google’s augmented reality eyewear.

Glass was one of the first devices to take AR beyond the smartphone. However, due to privacy concerns, a high price tag, chunky hardware, and a less-than-compelling feature set, it became the source of controversy.

While Glass may not serve as the poster child for AR, other companies (such as LAFORGE Optical, Optinvent, Vuzix, and Epson) look to breathe new life into the AR headset market and promote this more passive method of interaction. While some are of the belief that AR devices like Glass will never succeed, only time will tell.

Generally, AR can be thought as a layer on top of your existing reality, which is not mixed into it. While headsets surely fall into this category, the most common use of AR is a layer on top of your smartphone’s field of view. Only through your smartphone’s screen can this kind of AR visualization be interacted with, as a part of the larger environment.

MR: Mixed Reality

Mixed Reality (MR), on the other hand, refers to the ability to mix digitally rendered objects into our real environment. Wikipedia defines mixed reality as “the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Mixed reality takes place not only in the physical world or the virtual world, but is a mix of reality and virtual reality, encompassing both augmented reality and augmented virtuality.”

While MR experiences can definitely occur on a smartphone, headsets will likely control this space with a more immersive experience. Currently, Microsoft’s HoloLens, is the most popular MR device in development. It can accurately mix in digital objects into your existing environment, as it can scan the room and understand the space it is in.

You can use your own hands as if they were real, and can interact with the projected images on your HoloLens. However, they are not real, which is what MR is all about. As the digital world gets mixed in with the real one, you can go ahead, put on a headset and can interact with it all. The other MR devices in the works are Magic Leap and Meta 2.

As these different technologies are bound to overlap, reality-altering terminology can get a little puzzling at times. Specifically, AR and MR share a lot of space and similar use-cases.

While you could term MR devices as AR, but MR provides a more specific definition. It can be thought of almost as a sub-category of advanced AR, as MR augments the reality you see but in a deeper and integrated manner. While MR mixes everything in more flawlessly and provides a larger amount of user interaction, AR provides an added layer on top of reality that you can see.