Understanding Virtual Experiences: The Differences Between VR, MR, and AR

Posted by Knar Bedian on Jul 25, 2016 10:55:09 AM

The buzz surrounding Virtual Reality (VR) has not let up, and it won’t anytime soon; research firms like Gartner estimate VR is likely to hit mainstream adoption in the next couple of years.

Let’s take a look at the types of digital realities that currently exist, and how they differ from each other. Currently there are three major types of virtual experiences: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).

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Virtual Reality (VR)

Unlike augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR) which add virtual elements to physical reality, virtual reality completely replaces reality with a virtual world. Computing power and optics simulate a visual and auditory experience that seeks to fool the user into believing the virtual world is a real one.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are a number of different VR system setups. The most basic is mobile VR, which is powered by a smartphone. Thanks to the relatively cheap pricing of mobile VR, it’s also the most prevalent: think, Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear.

Stationary full-feature VR, which includes systems like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, incorporates high-resolution headsets and requires consoles or computers with advanced graphics cards.

Room-scale VR builds on full-feature VR, and requires the most advanced setup. Room-scale VR systems, like the HTC Vive, allow the user to move about the room thanks to two motion-tracking cubes that sense user movement in physical space.

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Augmented Reality (AR)

Though experts expect VR to enter the lives of the average consumer in the coming years, augmented reality (AR) is trailing a bit farther behind. AR enhances reality by layering information or virtual aspects over a direct view of actual reality. Much of what the user sees is still the real world, but additional information (such as navigation cues, or social media notifications) is overlaid. Though no longer sold, Google Glass is the most familiar example of AR. The AR experience centers around utility; the goal of the virtual notifications and overlaid information is to be useful to the user.  

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Mixed Reality (MR)

MR is often confused with AR since both involve a direct, live view of the real world. MR combines digitally-rendered, interactive objects with the real environment. But unlike AR, which involves layering objects and information on top of the existing world, MR incorporates believable, virtual objects with reality. These virtual objects can be treated just like their real-world counterparts. Microsoft’s HoloLens or Magic Leap are examples of MR. Of the three, MR is the technology that’s in its most experimental phase.

Recognizing the differences between these technologies is important for understanding where the future is headed. It’ll be interested to see which virtual experience technology becomes ubiquitous– the experiential VR or the practical AR? Or perhaps, new use cases will be found for MR? Let us know your thoughts below.

To learn more about virtual experiences, download our VR guide below.

Topics: Virtual Reality, VR, Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality, MR, AR

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