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Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?

Thanks to the resurgence of Virtual Reality headsets announced by the Oculus Rift and the use of Augmented Reality apps and games like Pokemon Go, the terms “VR” and “AR” gets thrown around a lot. They sound close, and they spill into each other a little as the technologies grow. Nonetheless, they are two very different terms, with characteristics that readily differentiate them from each other.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality (AR) often adds digital aspects to a live view, using the camera on a smartphone. Examples of experience with AR include Snapchat lenses and the Pokemon Go game.

Virtual Reality replaces the view, and it incorporates Virtual Reality. AR devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens and multiple “smart glasses” at the enterprise level are transparent, allowing you to see everything in front of you as if you were choosing to wear a weak pair of sunglasses. The technology was developed for free movement, while images are projected over anything you look at. The concept extends to mobile phones with AR games and apps such as Pokemon Go, which use your smartphone camera on the screen to track your environment and overlay additional information on top of that.

AR displays can deliver anything as necessary as a time-showing data overlay to something as complex as holograms floating in a room’s center. Pokemon Go projects a Pokemon on your display, in addition to what the camera is looking at. Meanwhile, the HoloLens and other “smart glasses” such as the mysterious Magic Leap One allow you to virtually set floating browser windows and 3D decorations around you.

Compared with Virtual Reality, this technology has a distinct disadvantage: visual immersion. While VR completely covers your field of vision and replaces it, Apps only appear on your phone or tablet screen, as well as the HoloLens only can project images in a small radius before your eyes. When a hologram disappears as it passes out of a rectangle in the center of your vision, or when you have to stare at a tiny screen while believing that the object on that screen is really in front of you, it’s not very immersive.

Apple is planning to release its first AR headset, followed by AR glasses in 2023

Simple AR, which completely covers necessary information about what you are looking at, can work perfectly well with 3DOF. However, in some form, most AR applications require 6DOF, tracking your physical position so that the software can ensure permanent jobs for the 3D space images it projects. That is why the HoloLens employs a stereoscopic camera and highly developed pattern recognition to evaluate where it is at all times. Why more sophisticated, AR-centered smartphones like iPhone X use multiple rear-facing cameras to track depth.

Augmented Reality has almost boundless possibilities for applications. Phone-based AR app has recognized environments and provided additional details about what it sees for years now, providing a live translation of restaurants’ text or pop-up feedback as you glance at them. Specialized AR headsets such as the HoloLens can do even more, allowing you to digitally place various applications around you as floating windows, essentially giving you an immediately versatile multi-monitor computing system.

What is Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality (VR) implies an experience of total immersion that shuts out the physical world. Using VR apps like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Google Cardboard, users can be transported to a variety of real-world and imagined worlds such as a squawking penguin colony or even a dragon’s tail. If you put them on when they turn off, you may think that you are blindfolded.

However, when the headsets switch on, the lenses refract the LCD or OLED panels inside to fill your field of vision with whatever is displayed. It may be a game, a 360-degree video, or just the virtual space of the interfaces of the platforms. Visually, you are brought wherever the headset wants you to go — the world outside is replaced by a simulated environment.

Mostly the tethered VR (Virtual Reality) headsets, such as the Rift, Vive, PlayStation VR, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, use six-degree (6DOF) motion tracking with exterior sensors or cameras (for Rift, Vive, and PS VR) or external (for WMR) cameras. This means the headsets not only sense the direction you’re looking but any movement you’re making in specific guidelines.

Qualcomm’s “Boundless XR” wireless VR that can connect to PCs

This allows you to move around in a virtual space, with virtual hands, combined with 6DOF motion controllers. Usually, this space is restricted to a few square meters across, but it is much more immersive than just standing still and seeing in different directions. The downside is that you must be careful not to go through any cable connecting the headset to your device or game console.

Microsoft calls headsets “Windows Mixed Reality” on its Windows 10 VR headsets. Do not let that term get you confused. In this case, “Mixed Reality” is actually a Virtual Reality. They are VR headsets, with nothing very “mixed” about them, besides the fact that some of the underpinning interface technology comes from the development edition of Microsoft HoloLens.

Mobile headsets such as the Google Daydream View and standalone VR headsets such as the Oculus Go are even less potent than tethered VR headsets since they depend on either connected or built-in smartphone-level processing, instead of a much faster nearby device. Typically, they also give only three-degree-of-freedom (3DOF), meaning they only track direction and not a spatial movement. They usually have only a single remote 3DOF motion controller or are equipped to work with more traditional gamepads. The experiences are not nearly as immersive, but similar.

Virtual Reality completely substitutes your surroundings for both games and apps, taking you to other places. It does not matter where you are physical. In games, you could be sitting in a starfighter’s cockpit. You could virtually tour remote locations in apps as if you were there. In Virtual Reality, there are lots of possibilities, and they all include replacing everything around you with something different.

AR and VR: Difference

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality achieve two vastly distinct things in two very different ways, even though the devices themselves having similar designs. VR replaces Reality and takes you elsewhere. AR adds information to the fact, adding knowledge on top of what you already see. Both are popular technologies that still need to make their mark with customers, but they do show a ton of potential. They will change the way we use computers in the future entirely, but whether either or both can succeed is the guess of everybody right now.

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