Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What Is The Difference?

Lara Raven

Lara Raven

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Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

At a Glance

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two related but distinct technologies that are rapidly evolving.

AR enhances the real world by overlaying digital information and objects. For example, an AR app could provide directions to a nearby destination or display product information when you point your phone at it.

VR creates a completely simulated environment that you can explore and interact with. For example, a VR game could transport you to a different world or allow you to experience a high-stakes event without any risk.

Key aspects of AR and VR:

  • Device requirements: AR can be accessed through smartphones and tablets, while VR requires a headset.
  • Immersion: AR is less immersive than VR, as you are still aware of the real world around you. VR is more immersive, as it blocks out the real world and creates a completely virtual environment.
  • Applications: AR is used in a variety of industries, including gaming, education, and healthcare. VR is primarily used for gaming and entertainment.

Examples of AR:

  • Pokémon GO
  • Google Maps Live View
  • IKEA Place
  • Snapchat Lenses

Examples of VR:

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality allows free movement for the user while projecting 3D images on the screen of a particular gadget. 

AR technology finds its most commercial usage in gaming apps. For example, Pokémon Go uses your smartphone camera to trace your surroundings and provide additional information on the screen.

The possibilities that augmented reality offers are almost infinite. The AR software arrived on smartphone screens several years ago. Since then, it has served various purposes – such as live translation, recognition of the user’s surroundings, pop-up customer reviews of restaurants as you approach them, and so on.

Starting as a tool for completing tasks as easy as a data overlay showing you the time, augmented reality software evolved into a complicated concept that can enhance your smartphone’s powers in ways that could only be seen as a part of sci-fi movies in the recent past.

augmented reality

For instance, while an entertaining game app like Pokémon Go can project an imaginary object (the Pokémon) over the footage of your real surroundings acknowledged by your smartphone camera, smart glasses such as Microsoft’s HoloLens allow you to place 3D decorations in your room and navigate through app windows floating in space around you.

Besides smartphone apps, AR special gear usually comes in the form of smart glasses. They offer a multi-monitor, modular computing setup for an altered user experience.

The main characteristic that distinguishes augmented reality from virtual reality is its lower level of visual immersion. Seeing an additional object on your smartphone camera display isn’t very realistic, whereas AR glasses are transparent and act like weak sunglasses. Disappearing holograms don’t really seem immersive, either. 

Unlike VR, this concept merely enhances your vision of reality rather than completely altering it. 

What Is Virtual Reality?

If you strive to experience a completely immersive computer-generated simulation, virtual reality would be the ultimate choice for you. VR technology takes full control over your vision to transport you into the virtual world. 

Virtual reality headsets, such as the PlayStation VR, the HTC VIVE Cosmos, the Valve Index, or the Oculus Quest, are opaque, preventing you from perceiving actual surroundings. If you try wearing them while they’re turned off, they act as a blindfold.

therapy in virtual reality world

These headsets include LCD or OLED panels which, once turned on, get refracted by the lenses and place your vision field in the desired virtual setting, such as a 360-degree video, a game, or a virtual space of the platform’s interface. Your real surroundings are fully replaced with the virtual world.

There are two main types of VR headsets: 

  • Standalone VR (such as the Quest 2) – monolithic headsets that include all necessary elements to bring you the immersive virtual experience
  • Tethered VR (such as the PlayStation VR and Valve Index) – also called PC VR or desktop VR – these headsets require to be linked to a powerful computer or act as external sensors that help cameras trace the user’s location.

All these headsets employ 6DOF (six-degrees-of-freedom) technology for motion tracking, making the gadget able to detect any movement you make in the direction you’re facing. The equipment also includes 6DOF motion controllers that provide you with free movement in the virtual space using virtual hands.

Virtual reality technology takes your gaming and app experience to a whole new level. Your physical location doesn’t matter – once you put the headset on, visually, you’ve become a part of the virtual scenery. 

Nowadays, VR technology’s ability to replace a user’s surroundings with a simulated setting gives countless new opportunities in various fields on the market.

Differences Between AR And VR

Augmented reality and virtual reality differ in several vital ways concerning required equipment and the experience they offer. 

  • While AR can be incorporated into smartphone technology, VR requires a specific headset device. 
  • Users of augmented reality apps or smart glasses can still control their state in physical reality, whereas virtual reality systems completely control the users.
  • AR takes real-world surroundings and enhances them, while VR replaces the user’s reality with a virtual one.

All in all, both AR and VR are promising concepts that can be found useful by different users, but if you want the full package of computer-generated simulations – you are more likely to prefer the effects of virtual reality.

Lara Raven
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