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August 30, 2023

| 6 mins read

Reality Remix: Understanding the Differences Between VR, AR, and MR

Reality Remix: Understanding the Differences Between VR, AR, and MR

As the metaverse gains momentum nowadays, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) have seen massive adoption. Collectively called extended reality (ER), these immersive technologies will represent a lucrative market of US$ 138.5 Bn by 2030. 

While VR has been around for a few decades, AR and MR have also made a splash in the recent past. However, do you know how these leading-edge technologies differ from each other?

Fret not! This article answers your question with an elaborate VR vs. AR vs. MR comparison.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality immerses users in a three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated environment where they can interact with digital elements from a first-person perspective. These fully intuitive experiences separate users from the real world.

The most innovative VR experiences even offer freedom of movement – users can hear artificial sounds and see realistic images in a digital space as if they are in the real world.

VR combines hardware (controllers, headsets, and treadmills) and software (content management, game engines, and training simulators) to build these fully immersive experiences.

Users can enjoy VR using two types of headsets:

  • PC-connected headsets: These VR headsets connect to a PC or gaming console to generate high-quality, true-to-life virtual experiences. Since modern PCs boast tremendous processing power, they create the most engaging digital worlds. Users can also couple special controllers with VR headsets. Here, they can actually interact with amazing digital spaces and engage with other users.
  • Standalone headsets: These VR headsets do not rely on PCs or consoles. Instead, they provide intuitive experiences through smartphone screens. All users have to do is slide their smartphones into the headset to enjoy these cost-effective gadgets.

Use Cases

VR serves multiple use cases across industries, including the following:

Gaming

Virtual reality allows gamers to submerge themselves inside animated game scenarios, engage in action-packed gaming sessions, and socialize with other players through their chosen digital avatars. Plus, it translates users’ actions in the real world – crouching, jumping, and snapping – into virtual actions in no time.

Real Estate

Unlike static photographs, VR is immersive. Hence, potential buyers can take 3D walkthroughs of homes and better understand what each property offers before visiting them in person.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing workers can use advanced VR headsets to analyze equipment, build virtual models of a particular product to monitor its lifecycle, and dig deep into its inner workings. Additionally, they can rebuild manufacturing operations and study them in a VR simulation to determine more efficient ways to run specific machines. All these while residing anywhere in the world without the risk of on-site injuries.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality integrates digital objects with users’ environments in real time. Unlike VR, which builds a completely artificial space, AR uses the existing surroundings and superimposes virtual objects or animated characters onto them. These include images, text, or videos. That being said, the objects in the physical world do not interact with the digital ones.

AR uses sensors and recognition algorithms to look for colors, patterns, and similar features to understand the world around it. Then, using a combination of GPS, accelerometers, compasses, and gyroscopes, AR apps overlay digital objects within real-world surroundings.

Users can access augmented reality through these gadgets:

  • Portable devices: Users can allow “camera access” on their tablets or smartphones to enjoy AR experiences. AR apps capture real-world images from mobile cameras and superimpose virtual elements onto them. Finally, users can view them on their mobile screens. Remember Pokémon GO? That is the most popular AR use case.
  • AR headsets and glasses: These gadgets do not take users into a fully immersive environment. Instead, they simply add digital elements to the physical world. For instance, the screen in Tony Stark's Iron Man helmet displays critical information, including his altitude, the distance of other objects, and an opponent's speed.

AR software is more accessible than VR, and MR as users can activate these experiences using mobile devices.

Use Cases

Augmented reality serves the following use cases across industries:

Healthcare

Surgeons can use AR to overlay patient-centric health data, CT or MRI scans, onto a real-time view during surgery. This helps in accurate incisions, minimizing damage to healthy tissues. Moreover, AR-enabled pre-operative planning allows surgeons to simulate procedures and practice complex surgeries before performing them on patients.

Retail

Customers can see how jewelry, clothing, or makeup products will look on them without trying them on physically from smartphones, tablets, or HMDs – otherwise called virtual try-ons. This reduces return rates, saves time, and delivers a more personalized shopping experience.

Gaming

AR overlays digital content, including 3D objects, effects, and characters, onto the physical world through a mobile. Users can interact with these virtual elements in unique ways. For instance, in Pokémon GO, players can find and catch virtual creatures (Pokémon) that appear in real-world locations using their smartphones.

Social Media

Social media platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, offer engaging branded AR filters and lenses that users can apply to their videos and images. These filters range from simple overlays to complex animations that change facial features, add virtual accessories, or transform the background. 

Food & Beverages

AR menus offer diners a realistic view of every dish. They can point their smartphones at menu items to see 3D visualizations, images, and detailed descriptions of the dishes. Also, AR displays real-time nutritional information when buyers scan a product's packaging, helping them make informed dietary choices.

What is Mixed Reality?

Mixed reality combines the best capabilities of VR and AR. The immersive technology not only overlays digital objects in physical settings but also allows users to interact with them. Additionally, users can view and adjust objects from both real and virtual environments.

Users can enjoy MR experiences using these gadgets:

  • Holographic devices: The translucent glasses on these headsets offer an exceptional view of the surroundings. They add a layer of interactivity by superimposing digital objects onto the real world using holograms.
  • Immersive devices: These headsets have non-translucent screens that completely block out the physical world and use cameras for tracking.

MR consumes significantly more processing power than AR and VR, making it the least accessible technology.

Use Cases

MR caters to the following use cases across industries:

Architecture

MR enables architects and designers to examine and manipulate 3D models of buildings within physical environments, including pillar markings, spatial linkages, and other design aspects. This improves design accuracy and collaborative decision-making.

Education

MR brings history, science, and other subjects to life by overlaying intuitive 3D models, animations, and simulations on physical textbooks and classrooms. This approach fosters students’ critical thinking and problem-solving abilities while encouraging deeper understanding.

Automotive

Carmakers can use MR to virtually design and test new vehicle prototypes, reducing development costs and time. Additionally, the technology overlays visual instructions and diagnostic information on actual vehicles, thus boosting repair efficiency.

The Promise of Realities: Paving the Way for Next-Gen Interaction

VR, AR, MR – these computer-simulated experiences are reshaping how we engage with the physical and digital worlds. The dynamic interplay of these immersive technologies is pushing innovation across industries, driving us into an era where our interactions and perceptions are going beyond imagination.

The future promises even more captivating and transformative experiences, where the boundaries between real and digital settings blur even further in ways that redefine how we perceive, learn, work, and play.

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