09 Oct 2017
VR vs AR: what's the difference between them?

Virtual reality vs augmented reality: what’s the difference between VR and AR?

VR vs AR 

You can’t seem to turn without bumping into a new form of reality. The tech world is going crazy for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). And don’t even get them started about Mixed Reality (MR).

But what’s really the difference between the two types of tech – both in terms of spec and capabilities? Our resident gadget writer, Emma Marshall, takes a closer look.



VR is hot right now. It’s the hottest tech around. It is so hot, that you could fry an egg on it… virtually obviously! OK, we’ll admit that from the outside, we all look a bit like idiots when it comes to using VR. Huge “goggles” and waving arms and legs is not a good look on most people.

However, what is going on inside the headset is a whole new experience. Users are immersed into an artificial, computer-generated world that almost becomes real-life. At the moment, there seems to be a feeling of limitless possibilities and that is making VR the go-to tech of today.


Have you met AR?

You may think those living in the VR world look a little silly, but if you were one of the millions of people caught up in the AR craze of Pokemon Go, take it from us – you looked the same.

Can you believe that it has been over 14 months since we saw thousands of people started wandering around the streets searching for something that wasn’t actually there? For many, this was the first, and most successful, introduction to AR. Layering computer-generated words, images, or creatures, over an existing reality, has reached the mainstream much faster.


Same, same…

With so many “realities” floating around, it is easy to see that those not fully immersed in the tech scene could be left feeling a little confused. Both AR and VR leverage the same type of technology with the aim to enhance the experience of the user.

They have both found a place in the world of entertainment and both types of technology have been successfully used in the medical field too. Gaming seems to be the natural home for both types of technology, with AR based game apps popping up and VR gaming shops, and even cinemas, becoming more common.

On a very basic level, they have one big similarity. They both alter a user’s perception of the world around them.


…but different

It would be easy to just label them the same and be done with it. At the end of the day, both AR and VR change our reality, right?

The best way to look at the difference between AR and VR is to compare it to going to the theatre vs being in the show. VR fully immerses you into the performance, makes you feel like you are on stage with the actors, letting you take a bow.

Whereas AR imposes the show onto your reality. You are a member of the audience, the only difference being that you can watch the show anywhere you like!


We want to be together!

Using the example above, it would be easy to think of them as two separate technologies, working independently of each other. However, the real excitement comes when they work together.

A vibration or sensation, known as haptic feedback, that is added to interactions or graphics is considered to be a form of AR. However, it is often used in VR to enhance the experience and give a more ‘real world’ feeling.

VR might provide the performance, AR provides the applause and standing ovation at the end.


So is this MR?

Yes… and no.

It depends on who you talk to. Some believe MR is actually just another name for AR. Others, like Microsoft, believe MR is whole “new frontier”, and will help them stay streaks ahead of the competition.

Also known as hybrid reality, Mixed Reality (MR) is, on a basic level, the bringing together of all the VR and AR technology to produce brand new environments. The physical and the digital co-exist and interact in real time.

However, it is not as easy as it sounds. For many in the tech industry, this is a coming together of two of the sector’s favourite types of technology into one single device. At the moment, this does not exist.

Whilst they can overlay sensations, vibrations, and even sounds, to actually respond to live, real-time actions, movements, and thought, is proving a little trickier to master.


Can’t we all just get along?

AR has enjoyed some early success, but VR is coming on fast, but is it really a race? It may seem like there is some rivalry going on, but it is definitely friendly.

There are unexplored territories and sectors waiting for an AR, VR, and not forgetting MR, revolution. The exciting part is not seeing what they can achieve individually but what both types of tech can achieve together!

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