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Augmented reality vs virtual reality (Infographic update)

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two of the most promising up and coming technologies in the field of electronic entertainment.

Pokémon Go rose to popularity thanks to its clever use of AR that let it blend the ever-popular pastime of catching Pokémon’s, with the player´s real surroundings and neighborhood. At the same time, millions of virtual reality headsets had been sold in the past couple of years alone. Each technology is quite popular and distinct from one another,

So, what’s the difference between AR and VR?

The short explanation is that virtual reality transports you “inside” a virtual world, while augmented reality takes our world and adds a digital overlay on top of it. To put it simply:

An Inforgraphic describing the difference between AR and VR. It compares what each technology does, how it alters reality, their requirments and what do you need for them to work (Ie, headsets vs cellphones)

Let´s go into detail.

VR (Virtual Reality), what is it and how does it work?

A person playing with a VR headset.
VR takes you inside a virtual world.

Virtual reality is, as the name implies, a fictional world, a simulation. Thanks to the VR goggles, you are inside the game, not watching it on a screen. When you wear a VR headset, all that you can see and hear is the simulation itself.

This technology has existed for a long time now, but it was limited to expensive flight simulators and the occasional theme park ride. With the advent of the personal VR headsets, however, millions of people were able to try it out from the comfort of their homes.

If you combine the goggles with motion controls and the ability to track your movements, then you have the most immersive experience in the video game market today.

While the most famous examples; the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and the Vive, cost hundreds of dollars, you can make your own headset with only cardboard and a smartphone, albeit sans the tracking equipment. The prices of the headsets vary according to their type.

While VR gaming might seem niche, it´s actually blooming. The PlayStation VR alone has more than six hundred games. Combine them with all the titles available on Steam VR, the Oculus Store and the Viveport, and you have thousands of titles. Plus, you can turn some non-VR titles into VR games.

However, it´s applications are not limited to gaming. Flight schools across the globe use VR to train pilots, you can find some pretty creative 360° videos, and there have even been efforts to use VR to practice complicated surgeries without endangering patients with tools like the Osso VR.

Its chief disadvantage over augmented reality is that virtual reality needs more hardware to work; a headset at the very least. Flight simulators, the most prominent type of VR before the advent of these headsets, cost thousands of dollars each, rendering them out of reach for the everyman.

Not to mention that some people find the experience nauseating, but you can quickly get used to it.

AR (Augmented Reality), what is it and how does it work?

A person playing pokemon Go.
In Pokémon Go, AR uses your location and camera to let you find Pokémon.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is simpler. It doesn´t take you to a virtual world but adds a digital veneer to the real one.

Pokémon Go is the most well-known example of augmented reality. The game tracks your location with your phone´s GPS and tells you if there are Pokémon or Pokestops nearby. If there are Pokémon around, you can find them by looking around with your camera and throwing a poke ball at the critters.

Therefore, the game borrows two facets from your real life to create an experience that couldn’t be replicated without them (the successful Pokémon franchise notwithstanding), your location and surroundings.

That is the heart of what AR is about, improving your experience by adding or modifying how you perceive reality. The most common way to do so is by superimposing an image to a camera feed. In the previous example, that would be the Pokémon “popping-out” in the middle of the street.

But this is not the only way AR works.

Remember Google Glass? Perhaps the most expensive attempt to bring AR to the mainstream. It failed, unfortunately, and it is no longer available to the public, although an Enterprise version is available to any business that wants to purchase them.

Google Glass was a prime example of what technology can do. They could display the time on the corner of your view, along with the weather, missed calls, directions, and more, if you so wanted.

Third-party apps added even more functionalities. For example, a special software helped people with autism recognize emotions on the faces of those detected by the Glass.

A photo of Google Glass by Mikepanhu on Wikimedia
A photo of Google Glass by Mikepanhu on Wikimedia

AR is not limited to visuals; sounds can be distorted or modified as well. This might provide with exciting applications in hearing aids or real-time translations in the future, but in the present, it is relegated to funny apps that make your voice sound like a monster or a celebrity.

AR doesn’t require specialized equipment as VR does, so it has more day-to-day uses. There are a lot of examples:

  • Navigation apps with arrows and virtual roads to help you reach your destination.

  • 3D modeling programs that let you superimpose furniture into your house to plan which sofa to buy.

  • Heads Up Display (HUD) that is not limited to military use, but for your windshield as well.

  • Marketing campaigns that send prospective clients into a scavenger hunt across the city.

There are a lot of ways that AR is used to change how we see reality.

However, when it comes to gaming, VR has an AR beat. There are thousands of VR games for pretty much every genre out there, while AR tends to be relegated to free-to-play smartphone apps.

In conclusion

Virtual reality (VR) is all about taking you to a virtual world; it replaces reality with a simulation. Augmented reality (AR) modifies how you perceive and interact with reality. It uses the real world as a base and adds or modifies it on top of it.

Thanks to the rise of the VR headsets, this technology is more popular for videogames, with hundreds of new titles coming out every month.

AR, meanwhile, has its strength in its real-world applications. Because it doesn´t require a headset, there are a lot of apps that use the technology in more practical ways, like helping you navigate a city or real-time translations.

If I were to bet, I would say that you will see more AR in the future to help certain professions with complicated tasks, while VR will be relegated mostly to gaming.

What do you think? Which one do you think we´ll see more of in the future? Let me know in the comments.

If you want to try submerging yourself on a Virtual World, you will need a headset. Here we have a list of the best VR headsets available on the market. Or you can try the Oculus GO. It is a standalone headset that doesn´t require a powerful PC to work.

We have written additional infographics comparing these headsets. Check them out! The Oculus Rift Vs the Quest, the Go, and the PlayStation VR.


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