Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: What is the difference?

In the digital world that we live in, it’s not uncommon to come across augmented reality and virtual reality solutions. And If you haven’t witnessed these technologies in all their glory, then you must’ve heard of them and come across them on the internet or on social media.

While both AR and VR alter our perception of reality by adding virtual elements to our real world or immersing us into a virtual world completely, there is a stark difference between the two pathbreaking technologies.

In this article, we are going to understand what distinguishes augmented reality and virtual reality and which technology is looking to win big in the coming future.


What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

According to Techopedia:

Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented Reality (AR) or AR Technology enhances our vision of the real world by superimposing computer-generated graphics and virtual elements in the form of text, images or video over our perception of the real world in real time.

AR apps are already a rage around the world and available on almost all smartphone devices, with games such as Pokemon Go and on social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram which use AR-based facial filters.

Devices such as Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens (which is more a mixed reality device) allow free movement while projecting images over whatever the user is looking at and offers an immersive real-world experience as the user is aware of the real-life environment when using these devices.

AR technology allows for something as simple as time being displayed over an image on AR apps to complicated holograms floating around the middle of the room through the use of mixed reality devices such as the HoloLens.

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

augmented reality and virtual reality

VR headsets such as Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer an intuitive and immersive experience where the users’ vision is blocked by the VR headsets and the computer generated simulated reality becomes the perceived reality.

While Oculus Rift and HTC Vive act as a special VR viewer to view virtual or simulated reality and immerses the user while giving complete freedom of movement, others like Google Cardboard use VR apps on mobile devices thus not giving a complete immersion experience but allowing freedom of movement.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – The Comparison

Immersion Experience

From what we’ve explained above, it is clear that while VR completely immerses the user in a simulated reality through the use of VR headsets, AR, on the other hand, adds a layer of virtual information to the real-time live view of our reality with computer-generated graphics on AR apps and mobile devices.


Freedom of Movement

Both VR, as well as AR, can allow complete freedom of movement, depending on whether they are using 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) or 3-degrees-of-freedom (3DOF) motion tracking.

VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR or Windows Mixed Reality Headsets use 6DOF motion tracking via external sensors or cameras that help detect direction as well as movement.

Whereas VR headsets such as Oculus Go and mobile-based headsets such as Google Daydream View use 3DOF motion tracking, which means they only track direction and not movement.

AR apps on mobile devices can work perfectly using 3DOF, however, most applications use 6DOF such that the projected image can be maintained with respect to your physical position.

Perception of Reality

This is where augmented reality and virtual reality differ distinctly – VR can transform your reality by completely changing your vision of reality through simulations. VR imparts a feeling wherein users experience being part of a virtually created reality.

AR on the other hand only adds on to or enhances your view of the real world image seen on your device or by projecting simulations that can be viewed as part of the real world, thus altering your perception of reality but still ensuring that the real world is very much a part of the perceived reality.

For video games, therefore, in the choice between AR vs VR, VR allows for more scope for creating fictions and fantasies that are restricted with AR.

Automobile industry, on the other hand, prefers AR over VR, as the driver is required to be aware of its surroundings in order to ensure safety, while AR can be utilized effectively to enhance the driving experience or take over the driving as in the case of autonomous cars.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – Who is the winner?

The question is not so much about augmented reality and virtual reality as both AR and VR technologies have shown promising use cases for enhancing human life and making it more efficient, and may we say fun.

Not only are the uses widespread in the video games industry, but there is also immense scope for simulated reality produced by both augmented reality and virtual reality technologies across education, healthcare, retail, real estate, marketing, et al.

AR vs VR debate aside, both technologies are being adopted rapidly, and are more relevant today than ever before with billions across the globe gaining access to smart devices and millions addicted to video games such as Pokémon Go.

Despite this, growth of both augmented reality and virtual reality is hindered by our ability to generate 3D environments in real time, however, comparing AR vs VR the situation is less hindering in case of AR because the environment already exists.

In the comparison of accomplishment between augmented reality and virtual reality, despite the similar design of the devices themselves, they accomplish different things in very different ways.

There is no clear winner, although AR adoption rates look slightly better than VR. However, they are both powerful technologies that have yet to be explored to their full potential.

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