When someone enters the immersive technology arena, one of the first questions they may ask is: what’s the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)?
These are reasonably easy to distinguish, but additional terms are less standard, such as mixed reality (MR) and extended reality (XR). Because these terms are becoming more prevalent, they will be separate initially but later become joined aspects of the metaverse as we advance.
We will go through all of these concepts to improve our understanding and provide a few examples.
Virtual reality or VR is what most prominent tech companies are pushing as the metaverse. It is an entirely immersive alternative reality that is coming to the mass market. It can be experienced by wearing a VR headset such as “Meta Quest,” formally Oculus.
Wearing a VR headset is like having a large screen directly in front of you. It surrounds your vision, and you cannot see anything else. This setup means you are entirely immersed in the digital environment. For example, a user could be at home but transported to an entirely novel world by wearing the VR headset through its immersive audio and visual experience.
An excellent example of a VR use case is where hundreds of people in a mall could join the European Rallycross Championship winner.
At the shopping center, people only sat in actual racing car seats mounted to the wall. Still, the virtual reality system allowed them to be in the car and ride along with the champion from Latvia on the rallycross track at full speed.
While Oculus was the first widespread application of a VR headset, and while it was priced out of the range of most consumers, the best-known initial application was much more accessible to consumers. It was the Google Cardboard. These simple folding cardboard items are still available and allow their users to insert their mobile phones into the headset for use as the device’s headset.
Samsung Gear was the next, more widely accessible, application of VR using a head mount that came with every Galaxy S6 flagship phone purchase.
VR has broadened beyond these initial devices. With Meta’s (Facebook’s) purchase of Oculus and their intention to take over the metaverse space, the newer generation of devices is compelling and no longer the freebie novelty item they were. VR has several entertainment uses and is now becoming more familiar with gaming.
However, VR can also add a lot of value to other applications, such as education, manufacturing, and medicine.
The main idea behind AR is to add to the reality we are experiencing at any given time rather than completely overwriting our current surroundings and entering a new world.
While VR takes you away from everything around you, AR enhances the real-life environment by placing digital objects and adding audio to the environment through a handheld device. One of the best-known augmented reality applications that emerged in 2016 was Pokemon Go.
A great use case for AR is the retail sector, providing customers with the benefits once solely the domain of in-store shopping. Through AR, a visual representation–a hologram–of an item, say a piece of clothing, can be overlaid on top of the current environment.
AR can also be an excellent tool to help customers understand the spatial orientation of objects, such as placing furniture, appliances, or fixtures in their immediate location and seeing if it fits into the potential buyer’s kitchen or office.
Other AR companies like Magic Leap are creating lightweight AR solutions and making the technology accessible. They have industrial solutions available from the Americas to Asia. Magic Leap has been working with companies like Cisco, SentiAR, NeuroSync, Heru, Tactile, PTC, and Brainlab to refine and improve their devices for communication, training, and remote assistance for use cases in industrial environments, clinical settings, retail stores, and defense.
The commercial AR market is developing rapidly as well, becoming more accessible for consumers to view AR and create augmented reality content. For example, Overlee has Canvass Prints, augmented photos, albums, cards, or wedding invitations that can be viewed with AR to provide a video along with the photo. In addition, some wine has added AR to their experience.
MR is similar to AR. It will not remove you from your current surroundings, but rather the tech reads your surroundings and adds digital objects into your environment. However, unlike most AR content, which can be retrieved using a mobile device, you will need a headset from Magic Leap to experience mixed reality fully.
Although the MR and AR use cases often overlap, mixed reality can provide more significant interaction with digital content in many cases. There is no need to hold a mobile device to keep the AR illusion going. However, this requirement makes MR less accessible to the mass market. For example, GSMA data shows 10.98 billion global mobile connections.
A similar number cannot be said of MR headset owners. They are pricey and still in their early stages. There will be an extended time for this to change, but there is enormous potential. Once the hardware and software improvements are mastered and acceptance more comprehensive, this could change quickly.
VR has a head start in the field, being more accessible and easier to implement than AR and MR. However, VR still needs to be established. The area has several growth opportunities, including body suits and treadmills.
Though VR does have a lead, the long-term prospects for other realities are equally good. The main difference between VR and AR is the interface. The current generation of VR is bulky and can lead to dizziness or eye strain while that is not true for AR and MR. In addition, they provide many use cases for marketing, art, education, and industrial applications.
The current devices will become less intrusive, and though we use mobile devices now, items like Google Glass (but better designed) will become more common. The future will speak on the growing number of ergonomic devices for alternative realities instead of cell phones.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely the author’s opinion and not investment advice – it is provided for educational purposes only. By using this, you agree that the information does not constitute any investment or financial instructions. Do conduct your own research and reach out to financial advisors before making any investment decisions.
The author of this text, Jean Chalopin, is a global business leader with a background encompassing banking, biotech, and entertainment. Mr. Chalopin is Chairman of Deltec International Group, www.deltec.io.
The co-author of this text, Robin Trehan, has a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s in international business and finance, and an MBA in electronic business. Mr. Trehan is a Senior VP at Deltec International Group, www.deltec.io.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text are solely the views of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Deltec International Group, its subsidiaries, and/or its employees.
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