Immersive Reality – AR, VR, and MR defined

Learn to differentiate between these 3 technologies with our simple guide!

With the constant advancement of hardware and software, immersive reality technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) that we constantly hear about, are also evolving by the day. During an interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook, he said that AR is “a big idea like the smartphone.” It is definitely plausible that these technologies may one day become as integrated into our lives, as the smartphones in our hands.

So, what exactly is AR, VR, and MR? How does one differentiate between these technologies? And how are they affecting our lives?

Immersive Reality | What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented reality uses a camera to take in the real-world environment, combining it with image recognition and positioning technology, layering virtual enhancement objects such as graphics, audio, and digital information into the real-world that we live in. This way, users can simultaneously see the real-world, as well as the projected virtual objects.

Taking the example of Pokémon GO, where random Pokémon suddenly appears right in front of players’ eyes. The Pokémon in this case, is the virtual object, generated by the program. Thus, AR is the surrounding environment we see right in front of our eyes, and the virtual Pokémon shown on the mobile screen at the same time, in real-time.

Immersive Reality | What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

The virtual reality experience involves hardware in the form of a head-mounted display (HMD) to completely cover the visual range of the eyes. The user cannot see the surrounding environment, and is completely immersed in the virtual world shown by the head-mounted display. They use the operating controllers to interact with objects within the virtual world.

Immersive Reality | What is Mixed Reality (MR)?

Mixed reality generally involves hardware in the form of a head-mounted display (HMD). But in this case, users can still see the real-world surrounding areas, with virtual objects appearing in the environment. MR emphasizes on the integration of real-world elements that is the core of AR, with the immersion and virtual interaction elements that make up VR, presenting the best of both worlds, perfectly integrated in one compact solution.

Looking at the above example of the Dragon Battling MR game, players wearing a head-mounted display sees a flying dragon in their surrounding environment. Using gestures or a controller, players launch magic attacks on the dragon, and run around to avoid the flames shooting from the dragon’s mouth. In a truly integrated environment, the real and virtual world are tightly wound together, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other.

How to distinguish between AR, VR, and MR

To summarize the above definitions of augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, the simplest difference is that with AR and MR, the real-world environment is still visible during the experience, whereas you cannot see your surrounding environment during a VR experience; whereas MR is a combination of AR and VR, with emphasis on a more immersive AR experience, paired with the immersion and interactivity of a VR experience.

Recent developments and challenges of AR, VR, and MR

Since the introduction of AR technology, this stubborn issue revolving around “how to affix the virtual object in the real-world” has always been around, because only through a stable positioning, do we truly have that feeling of a fully integrated virtual and real world. Presently, one of the more stable positioning technologies is mainly image recognition, and other positioning algorithms such as facial recognition, SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), indoor positioning are still in the continuous process of being developed and updated.

As head-mounted displays play an integral role in VR, the biggest issue is the weight and comfort of the head-mounted display. Think about it, no one wants to continuously wear a bulky, heavy helmet just to escape into the virtual world for a short while. Only through reducing the weight and optimizing the comfort levels of the gear, can the use time be extended, allowing users to experience a more comfortable and enjoyable journey into the virtual world.

As MR combines the characteristics of both AR and VR technology, it isn’t hard to imagine the challenges faced in the application of MR technology in real-world solutions. However, we are confident that over time, as AR and VR overcome these prevailing issues, MR can be integrated with many current technologies, providing a new type of immersive reality experience for the general public.

Current applications of AR, VR, and MR technologies

In terms of use cases, AR is the more popular choice among the three, mainly used for commercial purposes, but also in branding, gaming, navigation, and so on. Using AR to enhance the real-world surroundings, step into a time machine and watch as the history of these surrounding areas unfurl right in front of your eyes.

Presently, VR is mostly used in games and training simulations. In the case of training simulations, reduce time taken for practicing, avoid the dangers of hands-on training, and save on expensive equipment and training costs – all you need is a head-mounted display. After practicing in the virtual environment, seamlessly carry out duties by performing a test in real life. It is as simple as that.

MR is still in the adoption phase, as it requires a higher cost of hardware, development, and application, as well as a more complicated systemic process, which results in fewer applications of MR technologies in the general market. However, international companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap have introduced a lot of plans for the future. We are hopeful that MR will be widely accepted by the general public in the near future.  

The future of immersive reality technology

Whether it be AR, VR, MR, or other emerging technology, the singular most important challenge is how the technologies are applied. Remember, back in the days when smartphones were just introduced. How could we have imagined that all major and minor parts of our daily life such as messaging, shopping, learning, transportation, news, and many others, can be easily done with just a few taps on our smartphones. The same applies for these emerging technologies. We are looking forward to see how they can be integrated into our lives.

As technology constantly evolves, what kind of vision do you have for the future?

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