Virtual reality and augmented reality or VR and AR are terms used to describe the use of technology and related systems to facilitate interactive computer-generated sensory or perceptual information and experiences. Both utilize sensory feedback, such as auditory or visual cues, to provide users with an immersive experience within a computer-mediated reality. However, despite the mentioned similarities, virtual reality and augmented reality have different conceptual and operational frameworks, characteristics, and applications.
VR vs. AR: Understanding and Explaining the Difference Between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Definitions and Characteristics
Virtual reality provides an interactive computer-generated perceptual information and experience that takes place within a simulated environment. Consequently, when using a VR system or device, a person is transported to a new environment and exposed to artificially simulated perceptual information created by a computer.
On the other hand, augmented reality also provides an interactive computer-generated perceptual information and experience overlaid onto a real-world environment. For example, a user of an AR system would be introduced to perceptual information that is superimposed on an actual environment.
It is worth mentioning that some consider AR as a subset or form of VR. Others, however, encourage using the two terminologies separately due to their distinct characteristics and applications. Nevertheless, based on the definitions above, the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality is evident.
VR focuses on immersing users in an artificially produced virtual or simulated environment to enable them to experience computer-generated perceptual information. AR augments or supplements the real world with computer-generated perceptual information. It does not transport users into a simulated environment but instead keeps them in their real world while providing additional perceptual information generated by a computer.
VR simply replaces the real world with a simulated world and AR overlays the real world with computer-generated perceptual information. VR offers a more immersive experience than AR because it allows users to interact with a new virtual world or an alternative reality.
It is important to note that AR modifies the real environment or introduces components of the digital world, often called digital elements, into the perception of the natural environment. AR adds to the existing natural world, while VR transports its users to a new, albeit artificial, world.
A Note on the Difference Between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and the Arrival of Mixed Reality
There are those who classify mixed reality as a subset of augmented reality and thus, another type of virtual reality, there are those who argue for strictly differentiating these three to avoid lexical confusion.
Remember that virtual reality immerses users in a simulated world or artificial environment. Augmented reality overlays computer-generated perceptual information, such as digital objects or content, onto the real-world or natural environment.
Mixed reality or MR has emerged as a technology that combines virtual reality and augmented reality to merge real-world environment and computer-generated environments or create a mixed environment where the real world coexists with digital content. MR anchors computer-generated perceptual information to the natural world and the real-world environment.