As these acronyms (VR, AR, MR, XR) are getting more and more popular, it’s time we understand what they stand for. Even though they all come from different places and have different purposes, they have a few things in common. For example, all of them are immersive technologies (it refers to any technology that extends the current reality or creates a new one through leveraging the 360 space). Also, all of them rely on AI and 3D objects. What makes them different, then?
I propose we analyze each one separately. Once we understand the purpose of each four types of realities, seeing their differences will come naturally. Ready? Let’s go!
Also known as VR, is a complete immersion experience. Once you’ve joined the VR experience, it’s like you no longer have any connection to your former reality. To stop being vague, imagine you want to experiment with skydiving in Dubai. You can stay in the comfort of your home, wherever in the world, and have this experience thanks to Virtual Reality. All you have to do is put on the VR headset and *bam*, you’re falling off the highest building in Dubai. Basically, VR allows you to experiment with any activity anywhere in the world. The guy in the gif below is kayaking, and you could be doing that too!
Through VR, you can transcend into any world you can imagine. Cartoon Network created this VR experience which lets you immerse into three different stories, each happening in its own world. Check out the trailer below.
Remember Dexter’s Laboratory? Or the Powerpuff Girls? Or The Flintstones? With a VR headset, we could join the worlds of our beloved cartoons (or books, movies, games, and so on). VR allows you to be where only your imagination was able to take you before, shutting down the physical world. But let’s talk about the other acronyms too.
Grab your phone, open the camera app, and point it in front. Normally, what’s shown on-screen matches with the real-life view. If there are some extra elements on your screen that look like they should also be in real life, but they are not, we have 2 options: your phone is warning you that your house is haunted, or AR was involved. For the sake of the article, let’s go with the second option.
Augmented Reality, or AR, adds digital elements to a live view, most of the time through a smartphone’s camera. AR doesn’t take you into a different world, like VR. It allows you to make the reality your camera sees be different than what your eyes see. Take Pokemon GO, for example. Through AR, you can walk around outside, turn on the camera, and see actual Pokemons popping out on your screen as if they were next to you in the real world too.
Ikea developed an app that lets you see the furniture you like would also fit into your home. Nike’s AR app allows you to scan and measure your feet, to make sure you order the shoes in the right size. Warby Parker released an AR feature on their app that allows potential buyers to digitally try on their products. Instagram and Snapchat are filled with AR-based filters. They are all adding digital elements to your already existing reality.
While VR would’ve allowed the 5-year version of you to teleport in Dexter’s laboratory, AR would’ve let you interact with his laboratory from the comfort of your room. If you pointed the camera towards your window, maybe you would’ve seen the Powerpuff girls fighting with Mojo Jojo. Or, maybe you would’ve seen Fred Flinstone passing by you on your way to the school.
So, VR takes you into a whole new world. AR adds digital elements to your current one. What does MR do, then? The name speaks for itself, as Mixed Reality is the merge between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. It allows physical and digital objects to coexist and interact in real time. Basically, you can have one foot in the imaginary world, while the other one stays grounded in the real one.
HoloLens 2, Microsoft’s take on MR, is a pair of mixed-reality headsets. They bring digital objects into your reality while allowing you to still interact with physical objects. Thus, if you ever wanted to feel like Tony Stark, HoloLens 2 might help you achieve that dream. Check out one business use case for HoloLens 2:
We also have some projects MR based. Stay tuned, we might share impressive things soon.
I’ll continue using Dexter’s Laboratory example. Picture your room. With an MR headset, you can blend the laboratory among the physical objects in your room. You can even hide the laboratory behind your bookshelf too, just like Dexter.
Okay, now that we’ve settled on what VR, AR, and MR stand for, let’s go further and learn more about XR.
Also known as XR, this one can be described as “A bucket for all the realities”, according to Jim Malcom, the general manager for HumanEyes, an expert in 3D, computer vision, and image processing. You can consider XR as an umbrella term for everything we’ve covered up until now. In this article on the subject, Wired says we should be prepared to see this subject get more and more popular. As this area develops more and more, I’m waiting to see when we’ll be able to make objects from our reality do unexpected things — like making turtles fly around us.
My goal was to define each reality in such a way that their differences become obvious. As Cartoon Network’s cartoons were among my favorites when I was 5, using them as examples came naturally. If you want to dig deeper in VR, AR, MR, and XR, I shared some useful videos and articles below.
Mashable has a 2-minute video that tackles the basic concepts of VR. In this WIRED video, we have an engineer explaining VR to a child, a pre-teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert, adjusting the level of complexity as needed. Jak Wilmot shares in this TED Talk how wearing a VR headset for more than 168 hours feels like. Check out this amazing VR theme park. Or, enjoy these kitties from a cafe in Moscow, shot for a VR experience.
On AR, check out Mashable’s short, explanatory video. If you want to try some AR apps, here’s a selection of 10 pretty cool ones. Or, you can open your Instagram and play with one of these filters. If you’re wondering how far AR can go, the guys from Unveiled tried answering this question here. Adobe made this video showing how artists can implement AR into their work. And, since I am a sucker for TED Talks, I’ll leave you with Aya Sadder’s talk on how AR can make our days longer.
When it comes to MR, check out Microsoft’s presentation for HoloLens 2. And, this is HoloLens 2 in action. Here is a 1-minute video on how the physical and virtual worlds can be mixed. If you are still wondering what are the differences between VR, AR, and MR, Forbes has an on-point article on this matter. The guys from RubyGarage went further on with defining these 3 areas here. In this TED-ED, Beerend Hierck explains how MR could benefit med students.
Final thoughts part 2
During the next few years, these concepts will get more and more popular. VR and AR are already pretty well known, but I’m sure MR will catch up too soon. The tech we see in movies like Iron Man will become a commonality faster than we can imagine.