Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality: Learn the difference in this quick guide from TDA partner Kaon Interactive before integrating them into your marketing plan.

Contrary to some recent assertions, there is a significant difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.  Here’s a brief overview.

Augmented Reality (AR)

There are actually two kinds: real and “pretend.”  

  • Real AR is the superimposition of digital objects into a real-time video stream of a live environment,  such that the digital object is scaled properly, and is anchored or tied into the video stream in a contextually and geometrically meaningful way. A good example of this is the WayfairView app from furniture retailer Wayfair, where users are given a tablet with this app to visualize digital images of furniture placed in correct proportions into their actual physical spaces, such as their living room.

  • Pretend AR is the superimposition of digital objects into a real-time video stream of a live environment, such that the digital object is not linked to the scale of the physical world, and the digital object is simply triggered by some event or data (such as a GPS coordinate). A good example of this is the Pokémon Go app from Niantic, Inc., in which users can search for imaginary Pokémon characters—and when they “find” them, the character appears superimposed on the video stream from their smartphone camera.
  • The digital objects in either real or pretend AR can be images or 3-D models of a physical object, or they can also be other data (such as video, audio, numbers—for example, outside temperatures or coordinates—or text data such as names of buildings).

Virtual Reality (VR)

When users are “placed” into a digital/virtual representation of a physical environment (from the real world, computer-generated, or a combination of both) so they can look at, and even explore this digital world much the same as they would in the real world, this experience is known as Virtual Reality. VR usually involves a headset of some kind that has either a built-in vision system and dedicated computer, or takes advantage of the user’s smartphone as the display and compute system, to create what’s known as “immersion.” This has the effect of providing a similar view as if the user was in that environment—and when they move their head, they see the space as if they had looked in that direction in the “real” world. Examples include Google Cardboard, where users operate their own smartphones in a headset experience, and Oculus Rift, which is a high-definition headset that connects to an external computer.

Usually, the VR experience includes a multi-sensory process that is both visual and auditory (that is, seeing the space and hearing associated sounds in concert with each other) and may also involve some interaction, allowing the user to select certain objects or take actions. This is common in many VR games where users can “drive” a car or “fire” a weapon, and the application reacts appropriately to that user action.


Post-Script: There is another application type, the 360-degree (360) video, that is often confused with AR or VR.  A 360 video is a video of an actual (real-life) scene that is taken with multiple cameras/lenses pointed in every direction at the same time. The intent is to give the viewer the option to “turn” in any direction and see the action unfold from that perspective, in real time. An example of a 360 video is shown here. The user can pan across the video using the mouse (or touching the screen on a tablet or phone) while the action continues. There is usually no interactivity in this kind of video other than the user changing the viewing perspective.