VR, AR and MR: What do they mean?

Are you struggling to find out what VR, AR or even MR means? That doesn’t surprise me at all. Research conducted by eMarketer shows that only 15% of the US population actually uses virtual reality. In this article I will give you an idea of what AR, VR and MR mean and how businesses use them.

Before diving into each term specifically, let’s start with what these terms have in common. VR, AR and MR are forms of digital technology that creates an experience beyond the reality. They fall under the umbrella of what is called Extended reality. Although they are all part of the same category, they still have their differences. I will explain these below.

What is VR?

VR is short for Virtual Reality. There are many long and complicated definitions for Virtual Reality so let’s keep it short and simple: VR is an artificial environment that completely replaces the real world. Users put on a helmet or glasses and headphones and fully immerse into any kind of virtual world that is generated by the technology. You might have seen the movies The Matrix or Player One which triggered your imagination of a virtual world. There are no limitations to the digital settings, whether you want to experience a beach holiday, feel like an astronaut or see what life with dinosaurs was all about.

When you think about the term Virtual Reality, there’s a big chance you associate it with gaming. The gaming industry has indeed adopted VR by connecting headsets to the gaming consoles, enhancing the experience of imaginary worlds. However, more industries have put this technology into practice. Real estate agents use VR to give clients a virtual tour of a house, the healthcare industry for training purposes, and the travel industry to promote destinations. 

In order to fully immerse in a VR experience, you need to make use of special VR headsets. There are two main types of these: 

PC-connected VR headsets

As the name suggests, these connect through a computer (or gaming console) which generates the digital environment. A big pro of these headsets is that the processors of modern computers are so extensive, the artificial experience is super convincing. A con, unfortunately, is that they are relatively expensive. Examples of these types of headsets are the Playstation VR, Oculus Quest and HTC Vive.

HTC Vive

Standalone VR headsets

Besides the pc-connected headsets, Google Daydream, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR are examples of standalone VR headsets. Rather than being connected to a computer or gaming console, smartphones are inserted into these headsets. This creates the virtual reality experience. Not only does this make them easier to carry around, these headsets are also relatively cheap. 

Other standalone VR headsets, like Facebook’s Oculus Go, generate VR experiences without any additional devices. Developments like these helps virtual reality technology to expand and become even more common. 

Oculus Go

What is AR?

Where VR creates a whole new world, AR (Augmented Reality) adds a layer of digital content over the real world. In other words, AR shows your real environment and adds virtual objects or data to it. In contrast to VR, users do not necessarily need a specific headset for an Augmented Reality experience. AR technology is mostly implemented in two forms:

Smartphones and tablets

The implementation of AR in portable devices has made virtual experiences accessible and cheap for the consumer. Modern smartphones and tablets have access to applications that show the real world and project virtual objects to it. The most popular example of this is Pokemon Go. Here users see and capture Pokemons, based on their geolocation.

Pokemon Go

Smart glasses and AR headsets

Another method of experiencing AR is through smart glasses and AR headsets. Where VR headsets immerse the user in a whole different world, smart glasses and AR headsets add objects or information to the existing world. Glass is an example of smart glasses, projecting relevant data right in front of the user’s eyes. 

The interest in Augmented Reality is growing rapidly as businesses realize its influence. It can be used for workplace productivity, for example with regards to training purposes. Retail businesses use AR for customer experience and interaction. Ikea created the application Ikea Place, enabling customers to virtually place a piece of furniture in their room before actually buying it. Another example is the Zara AR App, presenting shoppers a virtual catwalk. 

Glass Enterprise Edition 2

What is MR?

After discussing VR and AR, we get to MR. Now here is where it gets more complicated. In fact, Mixed Reality (MR) is a step beyond Augmented Reality. Where Augmented Reality shows virtual objects in the real world, Mixed Reality enables you to interact with them. A practical example of this is the Microsoft Hololens 2. These headsets use holograms to create virtual experiences. Also, since the glasses are see through, the real world remains perfectly visible.

There’s also Mixed Reality that is more closely related to Virtual Reality. Like in VR, headsets are used that completely block out the real world. However, MR includes cameras that track the real surrounding and add content of the real world to the virtual experience. This might become more clear with an example. Imagine walking around in the middle of a VR game and see nothing but the artificial world. How do you know you won’t stub your toe on the table or walk head-first into your bedroom wall? This is where MR comes in handy. The camera in the glasses detect the objects in your actual world and copy them into your artificial world, preventing you from hurting yourself. Windows created two headsets that work this way: The Acer and HP headsets. 

Besides the gaming industry, MR provides some great opportunities for communications. Check out the video below for more insight on Skype with the use of the Microsoft Hololens.

Microsoft Hololens

Did this article help you to better understand VR, AR and MR? Or do you know interesting developments regarding this technology? Contact us or let us know in the comments below. We will definitely discuss it!

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