AR vs. VR: Definitions, Hardware, and Implementation

The terms Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are used with increasing frequency, and technological advancements keep blurring the line between them. For most people, the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality has never been clear; luckily, we are here to explain both concepts in detail and do an AR vs. VR comparison.

Simply put, augmented reality uses the real world as its backdrop and adds a layer on top, but there’s no interaction with the physical world. On the other hand, virtual reality builds a new digital environment or creates a digital copy of the real world with which the user can interact. You can probably see how they’re similar and where the confusion comes from.

However, in technical terms, virtual and augmented reality are on opposite sides of the reality-virtuality spectrum. Let’s dive in and see how they work!

What Is AR?

The idea behind AR is to provide the user with extra information or options in their surroundings through the screen they’re using to view the world.

Augmented reality made quite the splash in the entertainment industry with the resurgence of Pokémon GO. The game allowed its users to capture Pokemons in the real world, with the help of their smartphone. However, that’s far from AR’s only application; it has found use in various industries, from mining to healthcare. For example, IKEA has an AR mobile app that takes a picture of a room and recommends the furniture that can fit inside it.

What Is VR?

Virtual reality, unlike augmented reality, completely immerses users in a computer-generated environment or digital copy of the real world. The main difference between augmented reality and virtual reality is that the latter doesn’t interact with the physical world at all.

However, that doesn’t mean virtual reality doesn’t have practical uses. It can be a training aid in various fields, like police enforcement and healthcare, and serve many other purposes. For example, VR can be a supplemental treatment method for mental health issues, or help artists and architects envision their next masterpiece.

Just like AR, VR has found its place in the entertainment industry, as well. Today, you can find many games made for VR specifically or supporting it in one way or another. The most popular examples are VR Chat and Beat Saber.

Is That All?

That isn’t all. Mixed reality (MR) is another form of this technology, which interacts with the real world through the user’s device, most often their smartphone. Sounds very similar, doesn’t it?

When comparing AR vs. MR, their one distinct difference is that objects from artificial reality cannot interact with the real world, but those from mixed reality can. For example, if the Pokémon could jump on various surfaces visible through your camera as if they were really there, or follow you as you moved, that would turn Pokémon GO into a mixed-reality game, instead of just AR.

To make things even more complicated, there’s also extended reality (XR), a term encompassing VR, AR, and MR under one umbrella, and blending the borders between the real and virtual world even more. More on that in another article – let’s focus on the first two again.

AR vs. VR – Differences

Virtual reality and augmented reality work based on distinct principles and technology, and are used for disparate things. Nonetheless, everyone but the experts might be easily confused. Just remember – the main distinction is that one immerses you in a completely new world (VR), while the other paints a new layer over the existing world (AR). Here’s a simple list of points for comparing VR vs. AR:

Augmented Reality – AR

  • Augments the real world
  • No headset required
  • Users can interact with the real world around them
  • Provides partial immersion
  • Works with a smartphone

Virtual Reality – VR

  • Creates a virtual world
  • Requires a VR headset and controllers
  • Users cannot interact with the real world
  • Provides full immersion

AR vs. VR Hardware

Another obvious difference between augmented reality and virtual reality is the equipment you need to run them. Augmented reality can be accessed via smartphones, tablets, and specialized hardware like Google Glass.

On the other hand, virtual reality uses technology that completely changes our perception of reality and requires different hardware compared to AR. To enjoy virtual reality, you need to obtain a headset and controllers.

Pricing

Virtual reality sets can be more affordable than you might imagine. You can find a used Oculus Go for as little as $220 (it’s no longer available new), but Valve Index costs 499$ just for the headset, and you also need to buy the controllers and Base Station for $279 and $149, respectively ($929 in total). Otherwise, you can get the Valve Index VR Kit with a headset, controllers, and two Base Stations for $999.

On the other hand, often the only thing you need to access augmented reality is your smartphone. If you want something extra, the prices for specialized equipment (e.g., Google Glass) are often upwards of $1,000.

Implementation

With each passing day, virtual and augmented reality are becoming further integrated into our daily lives, often without us even realizing it. Some industries have begun experimenting with VR and AR applications, while others, like the military, have been actively using them for some time.

Virtual Reality Implementation

Machine Engineers

Thanks to VR, engineers can design various machines without building expensive prototypes, and run tests without risking damage. This application is most prevalent in the automobile industry.

Real Estate

Imagine having the ability to look for your new home without having to contact a real estate agent, book an appointment, and travel to see the place. Well, you won’t have to imagine for much longer: Some companies already have VR property viewings from the comfort of your own home; these advantages of virtual reality are particularly useful for buildings that are still under construction.

Training

With Virtual Reality, people can practice whatever skill they’re honing in risk-free environments that will allow them to gain real-life experience. VR excels at facilitating soft skill training, since the scenarios can be scaled; it grabs the student’s attention and blends theoretical learning with practical tasks, building student confidence that will carry over to the real world.

Although VR can’t be used while actively working, due to its nature, it allows us to visualize our projects and gets us ready for that first workday or complicated operation.

Augmented Reality Implementation

Navigation Assistance

Using GPS navigation in this day and age is hardly newsworthy. AR will only enhance that experience, with your AR glasses giving you all the info you need without making you take your eyes off the road. The app Google Walk provides something similar for pedestrians right now, but you don’t even need Google Glass for it – just your smartphone camera.

Shopping Assistance

The biggest problem with online clothes shopping is the inability to see how any piece would look on you. To help with that, Converse embraced AR to let you “try out” footwear from its catalogue and see how it fits; as mentioned, IKEA allows you to see how their furniture will look inside your home, and other companies selling watches and sunglasses are following suit, so it’s only a matter of time before you can really shop for anything from your armchair.

Troubleshooting Assistance

Augmented reality can help technical engineers discover faults, provide troubleshooting steps, and offer solutions, while keeping engineers hands-free until the very last moment. All in all, one of the biggest advantages of augmented reality is that it never detaches users from their surroundings, making its implementation potential in the industrial and personal spheres much greater.

AR vs. VR Implementation

Tourism

Whenever you want to travel, you check out the destination first, but pictures can only show you so much. How about a VR tour of the place before you book your ticket? That’s entirely possible and already available. Also, if the place you want to visit isn’t in the real world, VR can materialize it for you: For example, how would you feel about a trip to Gotham that lets you fight crime with Batman? Pretty cool, isn’t it?

On a less ambitious front, if you need a tour guide, augmented reality provides. Guided tours with other people can be fun, but if you are strapped for time, or crowds aren’t your thing, AR can serve as a personal chaperone, with a pre-planned route, and readily available information on any points of interest.

Entertainment

As mentioned before, AR boomed in 2016, with the release of Pokémon GO. Other companies followed with games like Zombies, Run!, and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. They all work on similar principles, providing us with a portal to another world through our smartphones. While this is pretty amazing, VR’s potential truly shines in this field: It can completely eliminate real-world constraints, allowing for total immersion.

The Difference in AR vs. VR Implementation

That ability to be a part of and engaged with our surroundings is the most significant advantage of augmented reality and the biggest disadvantage of virtual reality. On the other hand, VR takes us to places and lets us experience things we could never get in the real world, or at least not in our location. Augmented reality can dress up our environment, but we can’t interact with what we see outside our screens.

Conclusion

In the end, pitting AR vs. VR doesn’t seem worthwhile: As mentioned, augmented reality coexists with the real world, while virtual reality creates new environments we can move through. In other words, both have their uses, and one is not generally superior to the other – it boils down to what you need from your technology.

The potential of virtual and augmented reality is pretty extensive, and both benefit humankind in one way or another. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before both technologies see widespread use.

FAQ

Is Oculus AR or VR?

Oculus is the Virtual Reality (VR) division of Meta Platforms, Inc., and produces VR equipment.

What is AR good for?

Augmented reality (AR) can be used in day-to-day tasks, since it never detaches the user from the real world. It augments your vision with additional info – for example, it can display your grocery shopping list and tell you where you can find discounted items.

Is AR better than VR?

Augmented reality builds on your real-world perception, adding info and imagery, but never fully detaches you from it. On the other hand, virtual reality immerses you in a fully artificial digital world, and stops you from perceiving the real world. The winner of the AR vs. VR comparison depends on your intent: For now, AR is more beneficial for practical everyday purposes, while VR is mostly training- and entertainment-oriented.

Milica Milenkovic
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