What is the Difference Between Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality?

Mixed Reality is a mix of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.[1]

MR/AR/VR can be defined like this:

  • Virtual Reality (VR): A purely virtual interactive environment.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): A partially virtual, partially real, environment. If you can see the real world, it is a type of AR. With the use of the term Mixed Reality taking off, Augmented Reality denotes limited or no interaction between real world and virtual objects.
  • Mixed Reality (MR): A type of hybrid of Augmented and Virtual Reality that allows interaction with real world objects.

TIP: Both AR and VR were invented in the 60’s. The term mixed reality was subsequently coined to describe a hybrid of the two technologies. The term “Mixed Reality” was used as far back as the 90’s, when it was used by companies like Mixed Reality Laboratories, but has been recently revived by Microsoft and Magic Leap to describe their MR products. See Mixed Reality and the Interactive Imagination for a paper on its history.

Windows Holographic: Enabling a World of Mixed Reality (Narrated). This video shows off Microsoft’s new HoloLens. See this video for a discussion Magic Leap’s mixed reality or this video for the HoloLens’ limitations.

Understanding the Difference Between the HoloLens, Google Glass, and the Oculus

The Microsoft HoloLens is mixed reality (virtual and real objects interact), Google Glass is Augmented Reality (virtual objects overlay real environments), and the Oculus or HTC Vive is Virtual Reality (a purely virtual world). Each term denotes whether the environment is virtual or part virtual, and to what degree a person can interact with the non-virtual environment.

Hololens Demo.

TIP: The above is mostly semantics. Technically MR, AR, and VR are all types of Virtual Realities, and MR is Augmented Reality. Learn about the history of virtual and augmented reality.

Mixed Reality Continuum – Computerphile.


  1. Mixed reality

"What is Mixed Reality?" is tagged with: Augmented Reality, Silicon Valley, Virtual Reality

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