Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Key differences

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Key differences

Although VR and AR might seem identical, they are used for quite distinct purposes and provide very different experiences. Let’s dive deeper into the topic! 

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality continue to dominate the digital landscape, witnessing tremendous growth and ground-breaking innovation in the past few decades. Although the terms “augmented reality” (AR) and “virtual reality” (VR) are frequently used interchangeably, they have very different meanings in terms of the experiences they provide, the technology used, and the equipment needed.

Before we get into the key differences between AR and VR, let’s take a deeper look at the two remarkable technological trends that are swiftly becoming a part of our daily lives and creating waves across various industries.

Understanding Augmented Reality

According to Gartner.com, Augmented Reality is the utilization of information in the form of text, visuals, audio, and other virtual upgrades merged with real-world items in real-time. This “real world” component distinguishes AR from virtual reality. In contrast to a simulation, AR integrates and adds value to the user’s engagement with the real environment.

Essentially, AR facilitates the interaction between the real world and digital elements by implementing real-time information through audio, graphics, 3D objects, and text. AR utilizes a combination of technologies such as SLAM, object recognition, depth tracking, and natural feature tracking to create an immersive and interactive user experience.

Augmented reality can be classified into four distinct types based on the technology being used. 

  • Marker-less AR: By analyzing the features that are present in data in real-time, marker-less AR technology facilitates virtual 3D objects to be placed in a real image environment. Marker-less AR is based on device location and utilizes GPS tracking, gyroscopes, and accelerometers to enhance the overall experience.
  • Marker-based AR: Marker-based AR uses markers, which are a set of unique visual objects such as a sign or a target image, to position objects in a given environment. On opening the augmented reality application, the back camera of the mobile is activated to track markers. This technology is also referred to as Recognition based AR or Image Recognition.
  • Projection-based AR: This technology enables users to move freely in an environment where a projector and tracking camera are fixed in a particular location. Projection-based AR shows digital information in a stationary environment by illuminating a physical surface artificially in controlled settings to give the illusion of depth, orientation, and position of an object.
  • Superimposition-based AR: Superimposition AR is utilized to partially or fully replace the original view of an object by creating an alternate view. This is accomplished through object recognition, which replaces a complete or partial object with an augmented view. 

Understanding Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is the use of computer modeling and simulation to enable a human to connect with a simulated three-dimensional (3-D) visual or some other sensory environment, according to Britannica.com. VR applications engage the user in a computer-generated environment that resembles reality via interactive devices that send and receive data and are deployed as goggles, headsets, gloves, or body suits.

To put it simply, virtual reality produces a highly interactive and immersive user experience that is fully digital. It can be broadly classified into three main categories on the basis of the experience offered. The three main types of VR are as follows:

  • Non-immersive VR: This technology enables users to stay alert and in control of their physical environments while providing computer-generated surroundings. This is achieved using input devices such as a keyboard, mouse, or controller. Video gaming devices such as PlayStation, Xbox, or PC games are excellent examples of VR technology that offers a non-immersive experience.
  • Semi-Immersive VR: This technology blends elements of non-immersive and fully immersive VR by offering users the feeling of being in an alternate reality while allowing them to maintain a connection with their immediate environment. A user equipped with VR glasses can navigate the virtual environment visually but will not be able to experience any other sensations that would enhance the experience. The use of semi-immersive VR technology for educational and training purposes is widespread.
  • Fully-immersive VR: With fully immersive VR technology, the most immersive and involving virtual experience that engages all of the senses is possible. This methodology gives the user a sense of being actively present in the virtual universe, and everything that happens in the virtual world has an effect on the user. Fully-immersive VR involves the use of VR glasses, sensors, and body detectors in order to provide a realistic virtual experience.

AR and VR technologies have vast applications in areas such as healthcare, education, retail, and gaming. Given the continued presence of augmented and virtual reality in the digital realm, it’s beneficial to have an understanding of their main distinctions.

3 Key Differences Between Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality

Different Levels of Engagement with Reality

AR tech engineers enhance sections of the user’s physical environment with computer-generated inputs such as audio, video, GPS overlays, and digital content that responds to real-time stimuli. Instead of generating a new reality from scratch, AR modifies and adds to the user’s existing real-life framework. An excellent example to illustrate the use of AR is fashion brand Gucci’s launch of an iOS app powered by AR technology that allows customers to remotely try its Ace sneakers collection, a feature that became immensely popular during the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the closure of physical stores and the growth of online shopping. 

Augmented reality vs Virtual Reality

The concept of eliminating reality and insulating the user from the real world lies at the core of VR technology. It replaces the real-world setting, transporting the user to an artificially conceptualized environment. Continuing with an example from the fashion industry, luxury brand Prada launched the Prada Virtual Reality project in 2020, allowing users to take a virtual tour of the brand’s most renowned stores worldwide. Users can also immerse themselves in virtual fashion shows and get a sneak peek at new collections via Prada’s YouTube VR and VEER channels.

Device Requirements

AR technology prominently relies on devices such as smartphones or tablets in order to achieve its results without the need for a headset or additional gear. Integrating with 2D and 3D environments can be easily achieved with AR’s tracking technology by simply pointing a smartphone’s camera at the selected area of interest.

If you have used Snapchat or Instagram filters or even photo-editing apps on your phone, you have already interacted with AR. Applications like Snapchat detect the point of interest, in the case of filters, a user’s face, with the help of artificial intelligence. This is followed by the digital overlaying of filters on the face of the user, which looks surprisingly authentic due to the application of augmented reality.

In order to successfully immerse in a VR experience, it is necessary for the user to wear accessories such as headphones and an eye-covering VR headset that completely replaces the real world with a virtual one.

Several mobile virtual reality technologies combine a smartphone with headsets such as Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Google Daydream, or Gear VR. These headsets are equipped with head-tracking technology, which allows users to look around the virtual surroundings by physically moving their heads. The display follows the direction in which the user looks, providing a 360-degree view of the virtual environment. Other popular accessories that enhance the VR experience include hand controllers that translate real-world gestures into the gaming experience.

Bandwidth and Infrastructure Requirements

Live streaming operations with higher quality require more bandwidth capacity. Even though AR needs at least 25 Mbps for low-resolution 360-degree videos, even the best mobile 360-degree videos can’t come close to the dynamic range and resolution that 360-degree cameras can capture.

With advancements in mobile display technology, it is anticipated that the required bitrate will only increase. For a fully immersive augmented reality retinal experience, bandwidth requirements range from hundreds of megabit/s to several gigabit/s per second.

HD TV level resolution for virtual reality calls for 80–100 Mbps. The VR retinal 360° video experience, which includes a 4K TV, requires as much as 600Mbit/s. A lagging effect greater than 0.5 seconds in the delivery of audio or the translation of hand gestures and other non-verbal communication from the real world to the virtual one can have a negative effect on the overall VR experience.

Higher bandwidth is needed because each VR stream must be duplicated twice in order to stream separately to both eyes. According to ARRIS CTO Charles Cheevers, a 720p VR video stream requires a minimum 50 Mbps connection.

To Sum Up

AR and VR are both relatively specialized technologies with promising potential as they evolve. Consumers are very much likely to experiment with future uses of these technologies as interest in novel VR and AR systems increases. The bottom line is that both of them come with their own set of applications designed to provide users with an innovative, interactive, and memorable experience.

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