Almost every person in the modern world has heard at least once about virtual reality. But do you actually understand what VR means? But can you define the idea of virtual reality and say how it differs from the augmented one? The concept of virtual reality is not new, but since it appeared there’s been a lot of change with many concepts, hardware, and more and more people wonder what the difference between VR, AR, MR is. Today we will guide you through the technicality and decode these terms.
Virtual reality (VR)
On the Internet, it is possible to find dozens of definitions of what is VR. To keep it simple it is enough to say that virtual reality is an immersion of a person into the virtual surrounding. Being in VR, users’ sight and hearing perceive what is generated by a computer. Some solutions include also smell and touch to make the experience most realistic. As a result, a person has a feeling of full immersion into the virtual world. The key feature of virtual reality is the ability to interact with the digital surrounding.
VR is delivered with the help of a head-mounted display (HMD), which is equipped with monitors. Currently, there are two types of such headsets: PC/console-connected and mobile. PC/console-connected headsets usually have more capacity and provide high-quality graphics. A major disadvantage of those is very high technical requirements to a connected computer and lack of mobility, as a person is tied to a device with wires. Mobile headsets, obviously, minus such flaws: they are light, movable, and some of them work on the basis of a smartphone (Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR). Typically, mobile devices provide less quality than desktop ones, but enough to dive into a virtual adventure.
One more approach, which opens new possibilities, is WebVR. This technology allows using VR headsets in browsers. There is no need to download any program or software. It is enough to have a browser, which supports this technology, and a headset to enjoy the view. And even without a headset, it is possible to walk around a museum, play a game, or ride a rollercoaster.
Science fiction promoted an idea of virtual surrounding in many books and movies such as Neuromancer, The Matrix and recent Player Ready One, which leads to many people associate VR with gaming. There is no doubt that gaming is one of the most promising fields to apply this technology. VR indeed takes gaming to a new level, enriching any gameplay and any story played. However, abilities of VR are much more extensive than gaming only. From education to real estate, VR has started revealing its business potential, promising exciting opportunities in the future. Many companies have already applied this technology to deliver their customers incredible brand experience. For example, Merrel footwear company created a VR experience to test their hiking boots on a virtual walk in the heights.
When talking about VR, it is necessary to mention such a thing as immersive videos. An immersive video or a spheric video or a 360 video, which is all the same, is a result of recording the real world with a special camera with 360 degrees angle. This type of camera can catch every corner and every detail of the surrounding. The user can interact with such a video by looking around as if they are in the very center of the event. One of the most famous examples of them used is Google maps and their street view. YouTube nowadays has an official channel with 360 videos playlists of various topics.
A well-done, quality immersive video lets a person enjoy the experience from a first-person perspective. The same video with a VR headset allows one to be the participant. If in the video a person uses a mouse to navigate, with a VR headset it is enough to turn the head to explore the surrounding.
An alternative solution is presented in the form of 180 VR videos, which show what is in front of you only. When seen on a computer a mobile device they keep normal perspective. But in combination with a VR headset, they provide depth and 3D effect as if you are in the very center of the event.
On the one hand, developers are trying to escape from the real world into the virtual one. On the other, some are doing their best to bring extra value to the reality. Here we talk about augmented reality (AR) – a way of altering the world around.
Unlike VR, AR doesn’t substitute the real world with the computer-generеted one but adds digital elements into it. The example, which perfectly illustrates AR definition, is Pokemon Go. The key idea of augmented reality is to enrich the real world with additional information. It is achieved using mobile devices with a camera, like a smartphone or a tablet.
Every augmented reality requires a dedicated application, which can reveal the digital components. In some cases, like Instagram or Snapchat filters, you point a camera to an object and the software overlays it with an image. Other applications work if the camera is pointed on a marker, which triggers the program. IKEA, for example, uses their catalog as a reference. As it is caught on camera, the app applies an image of a piece of furniture in its place. Thus it is possible to furnish the room with virtual pieces and see how it will look.
Practical application of AR technology is rather wide. With some imagination, it is possible to find a way to use it in almost any sphere. Today AR is mostly used in:
To compare virtual vs augmented reality, we should say that these two technologies provide rather difficult experiences and usage. While VR makes a person believe they are in the middle of an adventure, AR simply modifies the world we see with overlaid images. However, it is evident that AR is more usable today due to the fact is doesn’t require any additional equipment, as almost any person in the world today has either a smartphone or a tablet.
On the verge of virtual reality and augmented reality, there appears a new approach – mixed reality (MR). It takes features of both and combines into a peculiar experience for the user. From AR, mixed reality took an idea of overlaying the real world with computer-generated images. VR contributed to it with an ability to interact with the digital elements without any markers or additional features in real time.
Mixed reality idea lays in the ability of a program to attach a digital image to a certain point in the real world without losing the location in the future. So when you once attach your favorite photo on the fridge, it will stay there until you yourself delete it. It is achieved with the help of a powerful headset, which is able to store the information continuously. Unlike VR, where the user is unaware of his real surrounding, MR allows a person to see and manipulate both real and virtual. Virtual elements in mixed reality interact with the real ones and the user sees them as if they are there for real. A person controls the elements via hand gestures, which are rather intuitive and require no controller whatsoever.
Mixed reality concept is vividly displayed in this short science fiction movie. Of course, for the current level of technical development, this story stays a fiction. However, there have been some actions taken to make it real. Google and Samsung already got patents for smart contact lenses in 2014 and 2016. Samsung contact lenses have a built-in camera and sensors controlled by blinking. Most successful mixed reality solution for today is Microsoft HoloLens. This headset is mobile but powerful enough to create a quality virtual layer a user can interact with.
Practical application of MR is rather varied. It can be used to create a virtual working space, with notes and instructions. Video calls and conferences may be enhanced with mixed reality. There are successful examples of incorporating mixed reality into a production process.
Many people compare MR and AR and some even consider them the same thing. The similarity of these two technologies is impossible to deny, but there is a wide gap between them. MR effect is achieved with a headset, which creates the illusion of a virtual object actually exist. AR is seen only on a display of a smartphone or tablet and requires a correspondent app for each of the solutions.
Mixed reality or mixed realities notion is sometimes used as a collective name for AR and VR. But, as it was pointed out, MR is a separate type of interaction with a computer-generated environment. All three types, VR, AR, MR, can be united under the name of extended reality or, shortly, XR.
Reality technologies keep developing, but for the present moment it is safe to say that:
- Virtual reality is an entirely virtual environment.
- Augmented reality is an overlay of virtual content over the real-world surrounding.
- Mixed reality is virtual elements added to the actual environment that can interact with it.
- Extended reality brings all three together.
To compare and contrast VR, AR and MR have a look at this table:
|Technology||What you need||What you get|
|VR||– A VR headset connected to a PC/console|
– A headset compatible with mobile devices
– A VR experience application
|Full immersion in the computer-generated environment with complete isolation from the real world |
|AR||– A mobile device|
– An AR application
|Digital elements added to the real-world surrounding to enrich our perception of the reality|
|MR||An MR headset||Digital elements overlaid on top of the real-world surroundingInteraction of digital and real elements, which merge into a new environment|
Virtual, augmented, and mixed realities represent a fascinating area of technology development, which may seem complicated at first. We hope that we managed to shed light on the nature of these technologies for you.
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