The Difference Between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

immersive technologies

With the rapid growth of immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), brings a certain level of confusion as to where these two technologies differ. While the two are definitely related, both being perception-altering and immersive, they are also very different. Due to the increasing use of VR and AR in technology today, it is important to know what these differences are. Ultimately, the main difference between the two is the ‘perception of our presence’:

Virtual Reality

Possibly the most prolific of the immersive technologies, experiences of Virtual Reality (VR) leave users completely surrounded by a computer-generated reality or environment, blocking out the room through closed visors or goggles. Virtual reality experiences are typically aimed at enhancing or creating an imaginary environment and are used for gaming but also for training, creating virtual real-life environments, such as flight or surgeon simulations, which help professionals practise before the real thing. In fact, VR is predicted to be increasingly used in all kinds of fields and professions, as businesses figure out the ways in which this technology can enhance operations. The impacts of Virtual Reality on the brain are immense. Putting on a VR headset will shut out the current world, yet, it will expose your senses to experiences within the dramatically immersive Virtual Reality. Some users have even reportedly experienced feelings of movement while riding a rollercoaster, or as they climb staircases. Virtual Reality can feel very real and the technology is constantly improving and evolving.

Augmented Reality

On the other hand, Augmented Reality (AR), another type of immersive technology, differs from Virtual Reality in several ways. AR uses our current reality, and adds something to it, augmenting our current state of presence, rather than moving us elsewhere. This makes our reality more meaningful through the ability to interact with it, usually through apps or mobile devices with digital components that blend into, but can be differentiated from, the real world. One popular example of augmented reality is Pokemon GO, which uses technology that overlays digital information into the real world, rather than providing a completely immersive experience like in a Virtual Reality. Furthermore, Augmented Reality technology is becoming more and more mainstream, for example IKEA has created an AR app that allows potential customers to visualise what products would look like in their homes before buying them, overlaying an image of the product into the actual image of the real life room. This is one of the many ways in which Augmented Reality can enhance our everyday experience.

Essentially, Virtual Reality is much more immersive for the user, whereas Augmented Reality builds upon the user’s perception of real life, possibly giving them more freedom due to the lack of need for goggles or a head-mounted display. Picture the difference as this – with VR, you can swim with sharks, and with AR, you can watch sharks pop out from your smartphone.

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