How Do These Extended Realities Differ?

How Do These Extended Realities Differ?

If you’ve heard of immersive video games, virtual travel or AR shopping, then you’ve no doubt come across labels like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (XR). We’ve reviewed these terms in depth to find out what they mean and how they differ so you can have some clarity on which one is right for you.

Overall findings AR VR MR XR Virtual elements overlaid on the real world. Fully virtual experience. Anchored virtual elements that can interact with the real world. Umbrella term for AR, VR and MR. Works through a headset or smartphone. Works through a headset. Usually works through a headset. View your physical surroundings at the same time. View the virtual world only. View your physical surroundings at the same time. Can be used for free through mobile apps. There are free apps, but they require a headset. Can be used for free through mobile apps. Image credit: Lucrezia Carnelos/Unsplash

Augmented reality is a general term that refers to a group of technologies: augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. Therefore, a virtual reality headset and an augmented reality headset, for example, while different, are both considered augmented reality technologies.

This perception-changing technology deals with virtual elements, meaning that an on-board computer generates all the objects. In VR, the CGI fully covers your vision, so you are immersed in a totally fake world. AR and MR also use computer-generated imagery, but since the point is to also see your surroundings, those elements don’t take over your entire vision. Instead, your physical environment is enhanced or changed in some way.

You can use some AR and MR implementations from a standard smartphone without the need for headgear, but VR requires a full headset.

The rest of this article does not include XR in the comparison tables because it is a term used to describe the other three. This is similar to comparing computer hardware with a mouse, keyboard and webcam.

Technology: VR Blocks Your Vision, AR/MR Doesn’t AR VR MR Superimpose virtual elements on real items. Show only virtual elements. Place virtual elements on real items.

Before we delve into this XR technology, we first need to make a clear distinction between how it works. The links at the beginning of this article provide an in-depth look, but for now you should know that there is a single factor that separates AR and MR from VR, and that is the fact that VR completely blocks your vision.

Virtual reality is built to hide anything but computer-generated imagery. Augmented reality and mixed reality are built to show you the real world and the virtual world.

This works because AR and MR, as you will read below, are designed to enhance and change what you already do and see around you, while VR is designed to replace reality with something completely fake.

Availability: AR can run straight from a phone. Image Credit: XR Expo/Unsplash AR VR MR Can work through a smartphone. Requires a headset. Usually requires a headset. Often free when used from a phone. There are free apps, but only after you have the hardware. Most useful after purchasing a headset, but not always necessary.

In terms of widespread availability, AR (and sometimes MR) is already being used on smartphones around the world. Just by holding your phone in front of you, you can experience things like live language translations, filters that change how your face looks in real time, and 3D models anchored in space.

Contrast this with virtual reality, which is only available through a headset, and it’s clear how easily accessible AR and some MR implementations are with nothing more than a smartphone. Most mixed reality experiences are also accomplished through a headset, but with the line being so blurred between these terms, you could say that some form of MR is also possible with just a phone.

Furthermore, there are many free AR/MR apps, so no additional investment is needed to experience those XR types, which cannot be said for virtual reality.

Immersion: VR is the clear winner, and MR is close AR VR MR You see both real and virtual elements. Everything you see is virtual. You see both real and virtual elements. View simulated elements in the real world. View and interact with fully simulated objects in a fake world. View and work with fully simulated objects in the real world.

An immersive experience is one that is meant to simulate a totally different reality, ideally to make you forget you’re even in it. VR is the only augmented reality method to achieve this because you are completely immersed in the simulated world. If you walk around the room with your real legs, you won’t know where you’re going because you can’t see anything other than what the computer generates (although some VR experiences digitize real obstacles for safety reasons).

However, if you think of immersion as an altered perception where your environment is simply different than it usually is, then MR is a close second because there is a level of interaction between the virtual and real elements, something that AR does not not allow

Mixed reality objects can be anchored in real space, meaning you can physically walk around them and often interact with them as if they were real. It creates a solid bridge between a completely real and a completely virtual environment.

Applications: VR/MR excels in education, VR in entertainment Image credit: XR Expo/Unsplash AR VR MR Guided Navigation. Fully immersive gameplay. 3D asset collaboration. Training exercises. Training exercises. Training exercises. Real-time diagnostics. Real-time, avatar-based socialization. Semi-comprehensive game. Games and shopping. Virtual movie theaters and other entertainment. Improved marketing.

There are many applications for all three XR types, and many of them bleed into the others.

AR includes your real environment, so it’s useful for critical real-world information, such as overlaying a hospital patient’s vitals on a body or X-ray details for precision surgery. Similarly, MR, which is not as useful for a scenario like that, but rather more beneficial for ‘performing’ the surgery with virtual objects, is something that can be set up during an unqualified surgeon’s training phase.

Probably more relevant to the masses are entertainment and games. AR, VR and MR create fun experiences in their own unique ways, but the deepest level of immersion can only be achieved through virtual reality. With VR, an entire movie theater can be set up just for you, and realistic first-person shooter video games and virtual tourism are best enjoyed with a headset and without distraction from the outside world.

AR and MR could drastically change how we shop by letting us do all sorts of neat reality-bending tasks, like try on clothes, see if the furniture will fit in a room, and check customer ratings on top of store products. Even VR can provide a fully simulated mall for you to browse with just a headset.

Final verdict: They all have their place

All three of these types of augmented reality are useful, so which one you choose depends entirely on what you want to achieve. AR and MR are built to truly blend real and imaginary elements, with the latter having an edge over the former by leaning deeper into truly blending realities. Although VR doesn’t allow you to see the real world around you, it excels in being fully immersed in a digital reality that you can enjoy alone or with friends.

If escapism and rich, lifelike gaming-like experiences are what you’re after, you can’t go wrong with VR. While MR is almost synonymous with AR, its advantage is that it feels more real than augmented reality because you can interact with virtual elements that stay where they are no matter how you see them. However, AR is much more ubiquitous, available in some form on almost all modern smartphones, often for free.

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