What’s the Difference Between AR and VR?

Unlike what most people assume, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two different concepts. While both these modern-day technologies may sound similar, a significant number of characteristics distinguish one from the other.

So what makes AR different from VR?

Augmented Reality doesn’t create a separate virtual world; instead, it enhances your real world by overlaying digital information. Whiles Virtual Reality takes you to an entirely new, immersive, and computer-generated world.

In this comparison guide, you’ll discover the key AR vs. VR differences through my countless hours of research, along with a detailed explanation of the two. So, let’s get started. 

What Is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that integrates computer-generated content (like images, text, sound, and 3D models) into your real world. 

You can visualize AR as a system consisting of: 

  • Real and virtual worlds, 
  • Real-time interaction, and
  • 3D registration of virtual and real objects. 

Although the concept of Augmented Reality dates back to the 1960s-1990s when Boeing researcher Tom Caudell coined the term for the first time, it was only in 2016 that the technology got the initial thrust.

But how? 

The credit goes to Pokémon Go, which uses your device’s camera to track your surroundings and visually overlay additional information, here Pokémon characters, on top of it. 

You can read this New York Times article for more details. 

How Does AR Work? 

The complete working of AR can be broken down into three simple steps: 

  • A device, such as a tablet, a smartphone, or smart glasses, captures your surroundings through its camera and a wide range of sensors—for example, GPS, gyroscopes, and accelerometers. 
  • The AR software collects and processes this data to determine the location of AR objects.
  • These AR objects then appear on your device’s screen in real-time.

Note: If you’ve used Samsung’s AR Zone app, that’s exactly how AR works. 

What Are Some Real-World Applications of Augmented Reality Technologies?

Below are some popular real-world Augmented Reality applications: 

  • You can visualize how a piece of furniture will transform your space, be it at the home, office, school, or studio, through AR-powered apps like IKEA Place
  • You can also use Augmented Reality to generate a multitude of professional home decor ideas involving wall colors, area resizing, etc.  
  • With AR, students can attend their solar system class or learn musical notes from anywhere globally. 
  • In the entertainment industry, AR acts as a great marketing opportunity for brands to mix their content with the characters their viewers admire. 
  • Mobile apps like YouCam Makeup (Android/iPhone) let you virtually try on real-life cosmetics via a living selfie.

What Is Virtual Reality (VR)? 

Virtual Reality (VR) is often confused with AR, but it’s different in many senses. 

While AR augments the real world around you, VR, on the other hand, takes you to a simulated environment where interaction is only possible via dedicated VR headsets like PlayStation VR2, Meta Quest 2, Valve Index, or other devices. 

How Does VR Work?

The working of VR is very similar to AR, with the only difference being that you need a separate headset display, also called VR goggles, to experience Virtual Reality. 

Here’s how VR works in three simple steps: 

  • You put on your VR headset, which typically houses two screens, one for each eye, and some sophisticated sensors.  
  • These sensors track your head’s movements to provide real-time feedback to adjust the view in the real world.
  • You interact with the virtual world using controllers or other input devices, thus navigating and manipulating objects. 

What Are Some Real-World Applications of Virtual Reality Technologies?

Below are some popular real-world Virtual Reality applications: 

  • In the medical field, VR improves training procedures and enables remote consultations and treatments by mimicking realistic medical surroundings and procedures worldwide.
  • Students can interact with educational content in a more immersive environment with VR, thus improving their comprehension and retention power.
  • Tourists can explore their favorite travel destinations from the comfort of their homes, all via Virtual Reality. 
  • VR has also proven effective in improving the efficacy of mental health treatments, opening up a new dimension in therapy. 
  • For gamers, VR is their go-to option for 360° immersive gaming with lifelike environments and interactive gameplay.

What Is the Fundamental Difference Between AR and VR?

The fundamental difference between AR and VR lies in their approach to the real world. 

Augmented Reality doesn’t create a separate virtual world; instead, it enhances your real world by overlaying digital information.

This allows you to interact with both virtual and real elements simultaneously. 

On the other hand, Virtual Reality takes you to an entirely new, immersive, and computer-generated world, giving you the impression that you’re somewhere else. 

AR vs. VR: Differences Explained

AR vs VR: Differences at a glance

In this section, I’ve covered the other key AR vs. VR differences. 

Purpose

The main purpose of Augmented Reality is to offer you an enriched and interactive perception of reality by overlaying digital elements onto it. Furthermore, technology often complements your daily activities by providing contextual information in real-time. 

Take the example of navigation apps that display directions directly on the street view as you navigate through a city.

Virtual Reality, in contrast, is designed to create entirely immersive and simulated environments separate from the real world. 

It excels in providing profound and exclusive experiences, be it exploring distant planets of our solar system, simulating high-risk scenarios for training purposes, or immersing yourself in art and entertainment. 

User Interaction

If I talk about user interaction in AR, it occurs through devices like your camera-equipped smartphone or proper AR devices, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, the original Google Glass, etc. 

These are transparent to let you see everything in front of you as if you’re wearing a pair of clear glasses. 

Coming to user interaction in VR, it’s a kind of enclosed interaction. 

You navigate and interact within a 360° virtual environment using specialized controllers.

For example, you can reach out to grab objects lying in front of you, press buttons on controllers to perform different actions, or even use your entire body for certain experiences. 

Device Dependency

To experience Augmented Reality, specialized AR technology devices aren’t mandatory.

But this isn’t the case with Virtual Reality, which calls for special VR technology devices to access it. 

Application Scope 

Augmented Reality has a broader application scope than its counterpart, Virtual Reality. 

While AR finds applications in almost all fields, like education, healthcare, retail, construction, and all kinds of businesses, VR’s use cases are primarily centered around immersive experiences—for instance, gaming, training, and flight simulations. 

This limits VR’s application scope compared to AR. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why Is Understanding AR and VR Important in Today’s Technological Landscape?

A: The understanding of AR and VR is important in today’s technological landscape due to their tendency to revolutionize industries. 

The best example I can think of here is the education and healthcare industry, where Augmented Reality’s ability to overlay digital information has reshaped learning experiences and medical procedures.

Similarly, VR has proved to be every gamer’s best companion, providing an immersive gaming experience in virtual environments. 

Q: Who Benefits the Most From a Clear Understanding of AR and VR Concepts?

A: Anyone, be it a technology enthusiast, a working professional, or a business owner, can benefit from a clear understanding of AR and VR concepts. 

Q: What Sets Virtual Reality Apart in Terms of Creating Immersive Environments?

A: Virtual Reality stands out in terms of creating a fully immersive digital environment due to the use of VR headsets and motion-tracking technology that isolate you from the real world, providing an unparalleled sense of presence.

This isn’t the case with the immersive environment AR creates. 

Q: How Do Users Interact With the Environment in Augmented Reality?

A: You can interact with the environment in Augmented Reality through gestures, touches, voice commands, specialized input devices, etc.

As a result, you can manipulate virtual objects, access additional information, and trigger actions within the augmented environment.

Conclusion 

Here you go, guys. AR and VR represent distinct immersive technologies. While the former overlays digital content onto the real world, enhancing your perception, the latter creates a fully immersive digital environment instead. 

As discussed in this post, both technologies continue to develop, influencing industries from gaming to healthcare, each with unique strengths and applications in reshaping our digital interactions.

Which technology do you prefer – AR or VR? What other industries would you prefer implementing AR and VR in, apart from the ones I’ve talked about? 

Let me know in the comments below. 

Author
Diptesh Das

Diptesh Das is your friendly ‘content maniac’ and drone enthusiastic! Being passionate about content writing. He is a firm believer of the power of words and thereby ended up leveraging them to create an impact by sharing his drone knowledge and experiences.

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