The terms augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and extended reality (XR) have become familiar terms in the recent few years. However, many of us confuse the technologies for each other, their uses and differences. While they share some similarities, there are key differences that make them unique. You must understand these differences so you know what can solve your problems and aid your projects.

Understanding the differences – AR, VR, MR, XR

In the most simple terms, AR, VR, MR, and XR are different forms of immersive media, which means they deal with objects and scenarios that are created digitally and can be used in different ways to enhance the experience for their users. That being said, XR forms the umbrella term. It is the combination of AR, VR, and MR experiences. Let us learn the differences between AR and VR and also how they compare with other technologies.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality (AR) overlays computer-generated content like images, video, or sounds onto the real-world environment. AR does not create a fully virtual world, instead, it uses the real world as a platform to add digital elements. For example, AR shopping apps that let you visualize furniture in your home before buying. 

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality (VR) creates a completely immersive, computer-generated environment that users can interact with making its functioning opposite to that of AR. VR headsets block out the real world and place users inside a digital space. VR is used for gaming, training simulations, virtual travel, and more.

Mixed Reality (MR) 

Mixed reality (MR) combines real-world elements with interactive digital objects. MR headsets are transparent, so users can still see their actual surroundings, with virtual objects overlayed on top. It allows for more seamless interactions between real and digital content. Apple Vision Pro is a good example of it.

Extended Reality (XR)

Extended reality (XR) is a combination of the above three technologies – AR, VR, and MR and is designed to meet the needs of a project or solve a specific problem that needs all of them to become a unit. It adds the likes of AR that can be seen in the real-world environment, the simulation of virtual reality, and the likes of interactive mixed reality. 

AR, VR, MR, and XR – the differences in their usage

Let’s now take a brief look at how AR, VR, MR, and XR are being used right now.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality overlays digital content or models onto the user’s surroundings through a device screen or headset. It allows for interactive experiences that complement the real world. Hence, its applications are enormous and extending. One could be using AR for shopping on your favorite eCommerce site – virtually trying on clothes, shoes, eyewear, or cosmetics.

Educational apps use it to recreate academic content. The classrooms could be more engaging than ever with 3D and AR content that students can see in their space and interact with. 

Assisted instructions are another great use. AR guides overlay step-by-step instructions onto, let’s say, a product that involves complex operations to assist users in assembly or maintenance.

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR allows its users to immerse in the virtual world of their choice through VR headsets. 

Its most popular use is witnessed in gaming, immersive players in a simulation that is a pure work of fantasy and fiction.

Another great way to use VR is for training simulations. You can create lifelike simulations for training in fields like healthcare, aviation, military, and more. Simulations allow safe, repeatable practice.

Virtual travel and tourism are also picking up. VR content allows users to experience being transported to far-off or even fictional places and explore without leaving home.

Mixed Reality (MR)

MR experiences are such that the objects of both AR and VR interact with each other. The main point revolves around seamlessly merging real-world environments and digital objects, allowing natural interaction between the two, and making it feel more natural.

Industrial workflows

MR headsets are used in fields like engineering and design to view and manipulate 3D models overlaid onto the real workspace.

Next-generation computing 

MR has the potential to develop into an advanced computing interface that blends overlays with gesture/voice control.

Extended Reality (XR)

XR is an umbrella term that covers the full spectrum from real environments to fully virtual ones. AR, VR, and MR all fall under the XR banner.

Future technology 

It is considered a forward-looking term that will encompass the full range of real-to-virtual interfaces and environments that have yet to emerge. 

Industry direction 

Major companies point to XR as the future vision for blended real-virtual technologies and their applications.

How are they different from each other?

They are all forms of immersive reality. So what makes them stand different from each other?

Practical implementation

AR overlays digital content onto the real world, while VR creates a fully virtual environment. MR focuses on bringing them both real and virtual together without any lag, and XR covers the full spectrum, acting as a link between all of them.

Methods of using the digital interface

AR can be used on smartphone screens through applications and websites or transparent headsets to display digital creations in the real world. VR uses opaque headsets that block out reality and immerse the users in a virtual world. MR focuses on transparent headsets to blend the virtual and real seamlessly.

Hardware differences

AR uses cameras and sensors. VR requires high-end graphics and processing power to render virtual worlds. MR headsets have transparent displays and multiple cameras to blend realities.

Software Differences

AR’s software and algorithms focus on tracking environments and anchoring virtual objects. VR software builds full simulations and renders 360° views for headsets. MR software is focused on seamlessly integrating virtual elements with the physical space.

How different brands utilize them

Tech giants like Apple and Google use AR in their mobile operating systems. Meta’s Oculus and HTC have also invested in VR gaming and entertainment. Microsoft also has HoloLens, which currently leads in MR headsets. 

Way Ahead 

Many experts believe that AR, VR, MR, and XR technologies will converge over time to help enable the metaverse, which is a persistent, shared virtual space interconnected with the physical world. Even now, the metaverse and its popularity are soaring high in many tech communities.

VR will evolve to become increasingly immersive and photorealistic, with enhanced social presence and avatar interactions. AR will move beyond basic overlays towards seamless integration with physical spaces and activation via natural user inputs like gesture and voice. Even the MR headsets will become smaller, more affordable, and much easier to use for the masses. And XR will act as a link to connect them in the metaverse.

Major tech companies like Meta and Google invest heavily in developing XR interfaces and metaverse platforms to guide these technologies toward an interconnected spatial computing future. While their separate development is undeniable, the metaverse is where all of them will be used to their complete potential.

On top of that, a no-code approach to building AR and VR projects with platforms like ours could be the no-brainer for anybody to kickstart their journey into immersive technology, all without the need for intensive coding or technical skills. So, if you believe all these forms of immersive media will go through their development curve to become part of people’s everyday lives, there is no point refraining from adopting them into your workflow. AR and VR could aid your initiatives across design, development, marketing, and maintenance needs. So, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Sign up or book a free demo now to learn more! 


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