A Beginner's Guide to Virtual Reality,
Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality

Learn all you need to know about the differences between VR, AR, and MR

Today’s technology is revolutionizing how we perceive reality. Virtual reality (VR) technology has many uses that go beyond the realm of gaming and entertainment. VR technology is being used in real-world settings such as education, shopping, health care, space, and the military.

Aside from VR, the terms augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) have been making rounds over the past few years. Understanding the differences between VR, AR, and MR is just as confusing as the concept of altering reality itself.

The key to understanding the three is knowing how the reality is presented, how the computer-generated objects interact with you and the environment, and the device that the reality is anchored on.


What is virtual reality (VR)?

Virtual reality, in simple terms, allows you to completely leave your immediate environment and immerse yourself in a new computer-generated (CG) virtual environment.

The keyword here is the term “immersive” -- a simulation of the environment is created and then you can interact, or immerse yourself, with the simulated world as if it were real.

In VR, you can experience skydiving, without actually doing it, through a sensory-focusing device such as a helmet or a pair of goggles. A VR experience can either be an actual environment (skydiving), a synthetic environment (simulated birth in a delivery room), or a blend of both actual and synthetic.


Example of VR gadgets available in the market today are Google Cardboard, HTC Vive, Nokia OZO, GoPro Odyssey, and Oculus Rift.


What is augmented reality (AR)?

Augmented reality, as opposed to virtual reality, does not pull you away from your immediate environment; instead, AR is designed to be part of your reality. As the name suggests, AR augments or enhances your immediate environment by overlaying it with computer-generated elements, such as images, text, audio, or GPS data. While VR is immersive and interactive, AR doesn’t drastically alter your perception of reality. In AR, you have no interaction with the computer-generated objects. The CG elements just exist alongside the actual reality and do not affect the real world in any way.

A great example is IKEA’s AR app where you position your smartphone camera to the actual area where you want to place the furniture, and then view a virtual version of the furniture from their online catalog.


Wearable devices like Google Glass, CastAR, Vuzix M-100, and Icis are all examples of AR gadgets available on the market today.


What is mixed reality (MR)?

Mixed reality is a hybrid of both VR and AR. It’s a more recent term in comparison to the first two, and here’s where most of the confusion rises up.

The basic principle of MR is, you simulate a new environment, enhance it with computer-generated content, and then you can physically interact with the CG content in real time. It’s an immersive experience (the key characteristic in VR), but you are still being anchored in the real world (the key characteristic in AR).

Microsoft’s HoloLens is the pioneering MR device. Using the wearable gadget, you can view a holographic representation of your design and then you can easily manipulate it using simple gestures and voice commands. MR also allows you to collaborate with people regardless of distance through holograms.


Asus MR Headset and Dell Visor are also top contenders in the rise of MR gadgets.


Wrapping up

The information we’ve included here is a simplification of the concept behind VR, AR, and MR. In summary, we can say that VR replaces your immediate environment with a virtual one, AR supplements your immediate environment with digital objects, and MR seamlessly integrates digital objects, or holograms, into your immediate environment as if they were really there.

With the speed of how technology is scaling, there’s no telling how VR, AR, and MR will go. It’s an exciting time to be alive with all these technological advancements!


tags: virtual reality, vr, augmented reality, ar, mixed reality, mr

article written by Kristenne Q.