Virtual. Augmented. Mixed. These three little words are making waves throughout the tech world, but you’d be forgiven if you’re left feeling a little more confused than buzzed about it all. While you most likely have an idea of what virtual reality entails, and the rise in popularity of augmented reality thanks to Pokémon Go has you nodding your head in understanding, mixed reality may be leaving you scratching your head.
What are the differences? Is one reality better than another? What about the pricing? Let’s go back to basics and break down each of these “new realities”.
Virtual Reality (VR)
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality, or VR, is a technology that uses a headset with a head-mounted display (HMD) to create an immersive artificial environment. In-built sensors and software help to recreate the feeling of natural movement – when you move your head, the virtual environment responds in real-time to simulate the same movements.
VR is used for everything from games and entertainment through to education and medical science.
Pros of VR
- A variety of apps and software are available
- Easy accessible
- Has a number of affordable entry points
Cons of VR
- Not suitable for those prone to motion-sickness
- Current technology still lacking complete immersion
- Quality headsets and hardware expensive
- Headsets quite bulky and uncomfortable
Price Range of VR
VR headsets range from as cheap as $5 for Google Cardboard headsets (which also need to factor in the price of the mobile device used) to $700 for a PC-tethered Oculus Rift device. Check out our list of recommended mobile VR headsets for more examples.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality, or AR, uses movement sensors and a camera to superimpose digital objects into the real world that can be viewed and interacted with through a screen. Recently, the main hardware for AR experiences is a smartphone device, but other smart devices such as the Google Glass are also considered augmented reality.
AR can be used for games such as the location-based Pokémon GO, as well as for other uses such as viewing live maps and real-time photo filters.
Pros of AR
- Doesn’t require any additional headsets or accessories
- Compatible with most modern smartphone devices
- Wide variety of compatible apps
- Easy to use and understand
Cons of AR
- Objects that appear can only be interacted with via the screen
- Possible issues with privacy concerns regarding location tracking
- Variety of devices with different processing powers may result in mixed results
- Increase in obtrusive advertising and marketing
Price Range of AR
As AR is primarily focused on smartphone devices, the price of AR can range from $50 for entry level Android handsets to upwards of $600 for Google Tango (Google’s burgeoning AR platform) compatible devices.
Mixed Reality (MR)
Mixed reality, or MR, is a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality. While very closely linked to augmented reality, the main differentiation between AR and MR is that while AR has little to no form of physical interaction with the digital object, MR allows for complete physical interaction and requires the use of a headset.
The most prominent mixed reality headsets are Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Magic Leap, which have inbuilt cameras and sensors that can detect the area around you and project digital objects much more effectively than regular augmented reality.
Pros of MR
- Allows for the real-time overlaying of information for businesses, such as customer information and troubleshooting
- Real-time prototyping and collaboration on projects such as art
- Add new layers to existing experiences, such as watching TV or fashion shows
- Improve long distance communication, such as live, full-body holographic projections
Cons of MR
- The price point of compatible viewers is very high and currently limited to developers
- The range-of-view and screen quality are still works in progress
- There are only a very small amount of manufacturers currently developing headsets
- As a new technology, it’s future and popularity of use is still uncertain
Price Range of MR
As mixed reality headsets are still in their initial stages, development editions of viewers such as the Microsoft HoloLens are currently upwards of $3,000 (link). As the technology advances, however, the price is sure to drop.
With 2016 being the standout year for VR and AR, many are saying that mixed reality will be the most important tech of 2017, and by the hype, this prediction might just become a reality with companies already testing the waters. Are we looking towards a future where real-life and the digital world merge and the lines of reality become blurred? Only time will tell!