- Augmented Reality
- Mixed Reality
- Virtual Reality
- Augmented Reality
So much is happening so fast that most of us aren’t really sure of the difference between VR and AR. From beauty masks on Instagram to fully-immersive outer-space experiences, extended reality (XR) technologies are truly shaking up the landscape and redefining our understanding of work and entertainment.
In this article, we’ll give a quick definition of each type of technology and look at some practical applications and the opportunities they provide.
Virtual reality is a technology that creates a computer-simulated environment. VR uses a specially designed headset to block out the user’s surroundings, virtual reality software to project 360-degree visuals and realistic sounds, and motion capture gear to simulate your physical presence in a virtual world.
With virtual reality devices, you can look around an artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual objects. The effect is commonly created by placing a small LCD or OLED screen in the headset, but it can also be achieved with multiple screens in specially designed rooms.
VR’s immersive audio and video experiences can be enhanced with other force and sensory feedback via kinaesthetic communication, also known as haptic technology, or 3D touch. VR equipment includes a pair of controllers which represent your hands in the virtual environment, allowing you to manipulate virtual objects as if they were real.
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VR technology is most commonly used in the entertainment industry, e.g., in video games and 3D cinema. Beginning with the first headsets released in the mid-1990s, and following a new wave of VR app development in the 2010s, the VR game market now offers more than 1000 titles. The 3D cinema also brings live sports events, virtual trips, music videos, and short films.
Consumer-oriented VR equipment ranges from standalone headsets that don’t require any other devices to PC-paired headsets or add-ons for consoles such as PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. Whatever technology you choose, you can enjoy all capabilities of VR, including games and 360-degree videos.
Let’s take a look at some real-world applications of VR technology outside the entertainment niche.
Business, the military, medicine, manufacturing, architecture, education, retail, and professional sports are just some of the industries that are actively implementing VR today. VR technology lends itself particularly well to improving learning. The reason is that the human brain responds to a VR experience in the same way as it responds in real life, building the neural connections that support new skills.
In medicine, VR provides an effective means of surgical practice for medical students, eliminating the risk of mistakes on real patients. Since the 2000s, virtual reality has also been used in rehabilitation for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. Finally, simulated environments in the medical industry help organizations optimize costs and improve training quality.
In education, VR’s new opportunities have redefined academic study, making it more interactive and engaging. The technology has opened up endless possibilities for virtual field trips—from visiting museums to going back in time and touring the solar system. Two examples are ClassVR, a VR platform for school education, and Floreo, a program for teaching social skills to children with an autism spectrum disorder.
VR has revolutionized the training experience in sports by providing accessible practice environments for athletes and performance analysis tools for coaches. One example is Immersive Learning – a program that helped skiers prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. VR-powered practice recreated the experience of tackling the actual slopes, which were inaccessible in real life. Virtual reality also benefits spectators, as it offers a cost-effective way to attend live sports events from anywhere in the world.
Immersive videos, also known as 360-degree videos, are filmed using an omnidirectional camera that records a view simultaneously in all directions. The separate footage is then merged to create an interactive panoramic video.
During the playback on a flat screen, the user can pan around the video by moving their device in different directions (on smartphones) or by clicking and dragging (on PCs). With VR headsets, the user can control the view by simply moving their head.
You’ve probably faced this technology while navigating your way in Google Street View.
Immersive videos can either be stand-alone or embedded in a VR experience — video tours are a popular application. With its endless interactive potential, immersive content is shaping the future of storytelling: the viewer is no longer an outside observer of a narrative, but a protagonist that can change the storyline. Moreover, it’s the most accessible form of VR as it doesn’t require costly equipment.
In comparison to virtual reality, augmented reality doesn’t fully replace the real-world environment but seamlessly blends the virtual world with the real one. The digital components overlay real objects, so you perceive them as parts of the environment.
The accessibility of augmented reality tech also underlines the difference between VR and AR. Most users access AR technology through mobile devices and tablets, although some applications require special equipment such as AR glasses.
Just like VR, commercial AR experiences first appeared in the gaming and entertainment industries. Mobile games such as Pokemon Go and Snapchat filters have made AR an essential part of popular culture.
If you’re not much of a player, perhaps you’ve interacted with AR using Google products, such as Google Maps with its walking navigation mode or Google Translate’s live translation.
Recent smartphone models are also upping their game by adding AR support to their hardware. One example is the LiDAR scanner in Apple’s new iPhone 12 Pro. LiDAR uses distance and depth mapping to place virtual objects more realistically in an environment and has exciting potential for 3D scanning.
Despite the tangible difference between VR and AR, applications of augmented reality have also found their way into many other industries, including medicine, education, e-commerce and retail, architecture, urban design and planning, automotive, and the visual arts.
In the automotive industry, AR can help mechanics with car repairs and give consumers an interactive online shopping experience. As an example, Porsche’s Tech Live Look system connects dealership technicians and remote experts via smart virtual glasses, enabling live assistance that reportedly shortens service resolution time by up to 40%. And Porsche is not alone: you can hardly find any car brand that doesn’t use AR to engage their customers with virtual tours or in-store vehicle customization.
In fashion and retail, augmented reality has fast become a new normal. Try-on apps enable virtual fitting for just about anything: from a new pair of shoes to jewelry, make-up, or a new coffee table for your living room. This is obviously good news for anyone who doesn’t want to visit a physical store.
In summary, AR technology is already transforming the way people interact with customers, colleagues, and the world, and new benefits and applications are just waiting to be discovered.
Statistics predict that the extended reality market will reach $72.8 billion in 2024, meaning that now is the best time for adopting XR technologies. Knowing which way the wind blows, corporate giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Google have already been in the game for some time. If you’re considering taking steps into the XR content market, here’s a quick summary of each technology.
Creating AR content is a more affordable option as it doesn’t require any special equipment. The internet offers a wealth of knowledge for developers, including creating an AR app in under two minutes. Even though we doubt two minutes is all it takes, an AR application can be an excellent way to get a toe-hold in XR.
As for virtual reality, you’ll need an omnidirectional camera, a powerful computer for processing 360-degree videos and heavy graphic calculations, a license for using the VR engine, and your own VR set. If that sounds expensive, that’s because it is. But there’s no workaround: the success of a VR project entirely depends on the quality of content.
As you see, the difference between AR and VR goes far beyond perception. When choosing between VR vs. AR content creation, you deal with two completely different software and hardware requirements.
Like everything digital, AR and VR technologies are evolving at an astonishing pace, with cutting-edge graphics, animations, sounds, and 3D touch improving every year. Everyone who ramps up earlier is more likely to succeed.
Although AR and VR offer unparalleled opportunities for expanding user experience, mixed reality (MR) uplevels them by combining the best of both worlds. In MR, physical and virtual objects can co-exist and interact in the same space, revealing the unlimited potential for practical mixed reality applications.