What are the Differences Between Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)?
Virtual Reality (VR) is an interactive virtual environment; Augmented Reality (AR) is a real-world environment “augmented” with virtual objects. Both got their start in the 60’s and were developed simultaneously. AR can be thought of as a close relative of VR. Although the technology and applications are different for each, they often work hand-in-hand. Both can be considered to be “artificial realities”.
Does it Have to be 3D to be VR or AR?
In a loose sense, any computerized or non-computerized artificial environment that involves the senses (especially sound and vision) is a “virtual reality”, and when that environment is not fully artificial we consider it to be “augmented reality”.
In a more technical sense, both VR and AR assume the use of computers to create or augment an environment.
Modern Usage of VR and AR
In modern terms, Virtual Reality can be a flat 2D environment, but typically saying VR implies the use of a head-mounted display (HMD) to get a fully immersive stereoscopic “true 3D” environment that tracks head movement. The same is mostly true for Augmented Reality, AR requires a headset for a “true 3D” fully immersive experience. However, due to the way AR works, wearable tech is not necessary to have a “true AR” experience. With AR, the world isn’t virtual, so it can be applied to everything from a cell phone screen, to smart glasses, to a holographic projection in front of you.
CES 2015 – Augmented Reality VS Virtual Reality.
Wearable VR / AR Tech and Headsets
VR and AR typically use wearable tech like headsets and DataGloves (glove controllers) for immersion, but they can also use more traditional handheld controllers (or touch devices) and flat screens not attached to headsets. The screen inside most VR devices is similar technology to a cell phone screen. In fact, a lot of the new VR devices are simply holders for your cell phone. The technology to shoot light directly into your eyes to create a VR experience has actually been around for decades (as explained in this video featuring Tom Furness the grandfather of AR / VR).
The Key Differences
The key difference is VR replaces reality and creates an immersive artificial world while AR overlays virtual objects on top of the real world. It’s important to note that VR and AR both use unique technologies, we won’t get into the nitty gritty, but suffice to say you can run both types of programs on your phone, but they don’t use the same algorithms.
TIP: On one hand VR and AR are two different things, on the other we can kind of think of them as two sides of the same coin. They are both attempts to allow us to better interact with our environment by using virtual information. They were developed side-by-side, and can be used side-by-side as well. Many devices support both types of tech.
Can Devices Support VR and AR?
Despite their differences, both VR and AR can work hand-in-hand with devices, including but not limited to, an Android phone (which supports all VR and AR types when paired with a product like Google Cardboard).
That said, not every device is primed for AR and VR usage. The Oculus Rift is a VR focused machine (it has no camera to see the outside world), while the smart glasses (like Google Glass) are strictly AR devices (they have no way to block the outside world). If the device can’t see the real world, then the environment is virtual, and it is VR. If the device can’t block out the real world, then it’s a real but enhanced environment, and it’s AR.
Upcoming AR & VR Gaming Devices.
FACT: Any virtual environment can be considered a “virtual reality”. That said, the modern usage of the word implies an immersive and interactive “true 3D” experience where you can move your head to “look around” inside a virtual world and interact with virtual objects. Pong is a virtual reality on a very basic level, but Myst was more complex. Virtual Boy was even more complicated than Myst, and the Oculus is true modern VR.
More on the Difference Between VR and AR devices
VR and AR experiences are both possible with headset VR devices like Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, but AR is uniquely suited for both headset and non-headset devices due to its reliance on the real world.
You can download an AR app on your phone right now and see Augmented Reality or you can download ANY non-AR game and see virtual reality. However, if you want to see “true 3D” VR or AR with your phone you’ll need at least Google cardboard to create a mock headset to simulate the experience.<sup><cite><a href=”#references”></a></cite></sup><sup><cite><a href=”#references”></a></cite></sup><sup><cite><a href=”#references”></a></cite></sup>
If you want a true modern VR experience you’ll want to look at the high-end Oculus and it’s competition, and if you want a solid modern AR experience you’ll need to look to smart glasses, or the AR focused Oculus competition coming out in 2016 and beyond.
A full documentary on AR, VR, and Wearable Computing.
Understanding the difference between VR and AR by looking at devices: The Oculus Rift is VR because the environment is virtual and you can’t see the real world, Google Glass is AR because it gives you a virtual display, but allows you to see the real world. Glass may not have taken off, and the next round of VR may have the same sticking points… but make no mistake, VR and AR are here to stay.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have been around since the 50’s, you can learn all about the rich and interesting history of VR and AR here.