Tech Times differentiated virtual reality (VR) from augmented reality (AR) in 2014, even going so far as to predict which of the two technologies would more likely succeed.
The verdict: we were under the impression that augmented reality would have more commercial success.
However, as more companies race to compete in the VR versus AR race, each claiming that their products utilize either of the two technologies, another technology has entered the picture: mixed reality (MR).
Startup Magic Leap is already boasting that the highly guarded commercial product it is developing falls under MR. But some experts are still doubtful, saying that the product is overhyped and that the demo videos released by the company were fake.
Now that mixed reality technology has joined the race to trick our senses, it is time to really figure out what differentiates one from the other, to better judge all these products when they hit the shelves.
What's The Deal With VR, AR And MR?
MR, VR, and AR are all technologies developed to fool our brains, making our minds perceive computer-generated objects as part of reality or a certain reality that the user participates in. The major difference between the three is how this "reality" is presented and how the generated objects interact with the user and the environment. Well, that and the device in which the "reality" is anchored on.
Consumers have already seen and experienced what VR is capable of and how this technology is delivered: through a sensory focusing/deprivation device such as a helmet or a pair of goggles. One other thing about VR is that the technology does not approach the user. Rather, the user is immersed in a pre-programmed digitized world delivered through the device. All a user has to do is to wear the helmet or goggles and there's already a different world waiting to be explored and a role to be played.
VR can take you to the Jurassic Age, Ice Age, Moon, MARVEL or DC Universe, with or without superpowers, or to real places on the other side of the world, which users can explore in the comfort of their own home. That said, VR has no direct interaction in the real world unless something else is set up for it, just like the VR Superman roller coaster theme park ride, as seen below.
One major disadvantage of VR is that, since the human brain is quite perceptive, any lag or inconsistency with the latency would cause a negative reaction, such as nausea.
What makes AR vastly different from VR is that it is designed to be part of the user's reality instead of pulling the user into a different one.
In augmented reality, images are set up to overlap with the user's reality and merge with it, not exactly caring whether it fits in or not. It is like adding a clear layer on top of reality and flashing digital images on it. Since the background is transparent, it would seem as if the digital image is part of reality, but the user is aware that this is not the case.
A person using an AR device could look at a major intersection and, based on the current information the device acquired, choose the fastest route to the airport by following the image flashing on the screen.
There is no active effort to fool the user's perception. It is simply there, existing alongside the real world, not affecting it in any way, the way Google Glass is envisioned to work.
MR is basically an effort to try and put together the best of VR and AR in that the technology aims to immerse the user in a pre-programmed world while still being anchored in the real world.
Virtual images can be seen by the user but, unless it is obviously fake, it is harder to discern which is real and which is not simply by looking since it follows the rules of the real world.
Perhaps a user sees a fancy car with a heap of cash inside stopping right in front of them, and a popular host comes out saying the person could win everything if they answer a question.
The user could then walk closer to the images and the objects would get closer. They could change their angle by sitting, jumping or running around, but the way the "objects" are perceived remain very real.
It is not until the user reaches out to touch the image or removes the MR device that they will find out whether what they're seeing is real or not.
You and Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality
The descriptions above are only a simple differentiation of the three technologies but, if there is still a need for a more visual differentiation, take Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception as an example.
In VR, the user is part of the audience who know that what they are seeing is simply a film. In AR, the user is Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team at their peak, able to differentiate the real world from the dream state. In MR, the user is Mal ... or the viewer who is (still) trying to figure out the ending of the film.