Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?

Trevor English

If you are still trying to catch up to all of the new technology that makes up the world we currently live in, you might find yourself wondering what the exact difference between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is. Both virtual reality and augmented reality have reached a point that we are seeing them practically implemented throughout our lives. Pokemon Go was perhaps the biggest way we have seen augmented reality used and we've probably all seen virtual reality video games or even amusement park rides. To fully understand each industry and the main differences, let's dive into the complexities of each.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is a computer generated simulation world that presents the user with a fully emersed recreation of an environment. VR completely emerses the user inside of a fictional world with no reference to the actual world. A more concrete definition of VR places it as the "use of computer technology to immerse the user in a simulated environment."

When you use VR or virtual reality technology, you are entering into a world completely different than what is physically in front of you. This is almost always done through a virtual reality headset, which pairs a set of lenses with a digital screen giving the user the feeling of being in a virtual world.

There are currently many virtual reality apps that can be coupled with cheap VR devices that give this virtual technology a fairly low barrier to entry on the surface level of application. With this understanding, we can refine how VR is used to affect and influence our experience.

1-It is used to create a new world and enhance the user's experience of a game or entertainment through 3D virtual spaces.

2-It is used to enhance training for real life situations through simulation.

These 2 approaches segment VR into two different main categories, recreational or practical. VR can be used for gaming or other recreational activities purely to add fun to the experience. VR is also being used for practical training of employees or even for use as a design space for engineers. While the recreational side of VR drives the public's interest, development of the technology relies heavily on more practical and monetizable applications of the technology.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is similar to VR in that it enhances the experience of a user, but it differs in just how far it goes. AR layers a virtual world on the real world. This is the key difference: the user never loses touch with the real, physical, world during use of AR technology. For example, Pokemon Go allowed users to catch Pokemon that appeared to be in the real world, but only through the lens of a smartphone. More complex AR technologies use glasses or the like to fully immerse the user in an augmented reality, but the physical world is still what is being altered.

A hologram is an augmented reality device, it adds something into reality that wasn't otherwise there. More specifically, AR is defined as an enhanced version of reality created through technology to incorporate more information into the physical world.

We will start seeing more AR technology through our smartphones first and then through some form of wearable technology. Augmented reality smartphone apps will allow us to find out way down the street, see where friends are, and interact with the digital world all through the lens of the physical one. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are both trying to advance this realm in the future.

Main Differences and Similarities

So, if you understand what AR and VR are, now it is time to see what differences and similarities exist between them.

Their Purpose

Augmented reality has the sole purpose of enhancing the real world experience by adding virtual components. This can be done through images or graphics, all adding a new digital layer on top of the real world. Virtual reality takes this purpose a step further and creates its own reality that is completely independent of the real world in a relational sense.

Their Delivery

Augmented reality is typically delivered through a device that we already own or through the lens of modern technology. This means that reality is augmented through the screen of our smartphone as to give us a lens into a digital world. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is usually delivered through a fully immersive environment using a head mounted and a hand-held controller. Through this equipment, the user can be fully immersed in a virtual world.

Their Technology

In some senses, augmented reality is harder to implement than virtual reality when it comes to the technology behind each. For augmented reality, the technology and code have to be able to gather real-time data from the physical world then take that data and overlay a digital idea or image over it. This means that the response and interface between each reality needs to be fast in order to make the experience believable from the perspective of the user. Virtual reality has the advantage of not having to deal with the real world. Since while using VR, you have no reference to the real world, VR technology just has to seem believable enough to be the real world in order to trick and influence the user.