MR, AR and VR – what is the difference between those?

Difference between MR, AR and VR

Nowadays we hear all those out of the future acronyms few times a week or even more. Soon MR, AR and VR will become a huge part of everyone’s lives, because these technologies can be easily used in education, training, entertainment, shopping, science. These technologies immerse users into the worlds they couldn’t even imagine and (or) supplement the reality with elements. This means that even a reality is getting an upgrade these days. You might think that virtual 3D models and live volumetric video are some kind of science-fiction, but it is actually real and for that we owe MR, AR and VR. All three of those have different purpose, but they can use similar technologies.

So, how do we tell what is the difference between these technologies?

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

This picture is showing people playing VR game

Photo source: AP Photo/Francisco Seco

The Virtual Reality is an artificial reality created with software. It is presented to the user in a way that he accepts it as a real environment. This means that a person becomes a part of that virtual world and can manipulate the surrounding objects, or perform a series of actions. Our entire experience of reality is simply a combination of sensory information and our brains sense-making mechanisms for that information.

VR can be:

  • Non-interactive VR

The digital reality fully immerses it’s user, but only as a spectator. He is still able look around, but no interaction except clicking and pointing.

  • Interacting VR

This type of VR gives user an ability to live in a created world. Users senses expand and he is able to walk forward and backward, sideways, up and down. It is even possible to interact with objects by throwing, pushing, holding and even more, just like with physical objects.

Basically, virtual reality shuts your real world and immerses you into the digital environments. User uses closed head-mounted displays, so he is fully enclosed and there is no sense of a real world. There are various of games that you become a shooter, a car driver or even a spaceship pilot

The ideal virtual reality would interact with all 5 of human senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. The virtual world should be designed in such way that it would be difficult for user to see the difference from what is real and what is not. But lets wait for that.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality is a digital content projected on your real world, it doesn’t block it. It expands our world adding layers of digital information to it, like videos, sounds, graphics, or GPS data, but it still remains centered. It is easy to display AR on various devices: screens, glasses, handheld devices, mobile phones, head-mounted displays. Mostly used are phones and tablets. AR apps use camera of the device, add layers of digital information and enhances present. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple said, “AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently”.

AR complements our reality in many different ways. The most popular now would be entertainment. For example Snapchat created by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown that allows users to get playful photos by using devices camera. The app scans faces and adds digital elements to them.

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Other great AR example is a game called Pokemon Go, published by Niantic.

This picture shows how the Pocemon Go works with AR

Photo source:

It had a huge success in 2016, and it promoted a more active outgoing way of life. Virtual creations, called Pokemons, appear in players real environment as if they were really there.

There are also other potential fields of use. Not even for entertainment, but also for education, science, and even military training.The video below is an amazing example of how AR enhance accuracy of fires and provides digital information in real time.

What is Mixed Reality (MR)?

This picture shows how interacting is MR

Photo source:

This is the most recent development in reality technologies. Mixed reality, sometimes called hybrid reality is a combination of real and virtual worlds, where real life physical and synthetic digital objects co-exist and interact with each other in real time. MR is a next step from AR and VR.

MR is somewhere in between AR and VR. The real world remains (AR), but it is supplemented with believable 3D objects (VR), that user can treat as “real” interacting with those objects using gestures, while still being at the actual physical world. Mixed reality works by scanning users environment and creating a 3D map, this is why it knows how and where to place a digital content realistically. Imagine that you will literally be able to experience any event, from sports game, roller-coaster ride, action movie, to Moon discovery. Only thing to do is to put on a mixed reality device and relax.

Mixed reality will bring many benefits to retailers and shoppers, allowing customers to try products at home, in their own environment, before purchasing.

With MR education is going to another level. 2D photos of human anatomy won’t limit faster learning anymore. The technology in a video below is showing how medical learning is going to change in a near future.

So, what we’ve learned?

  • VR is immersing people into a completely virtual environment;
  • AR is creating an overlay of virtual content, but can’t interact with the environment;
  • MR is a mixed of virtual reality and the reality, it creates virtual objects that can interact with the actual environment.

If you still confused and hardly recognize the differences between MR, AR and VR, checkout this picture below.

This picture shows the differences between MR, AR and VR

Photo source: Vimeo by Guilherme Schmitt “Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality”

If you want to learn more about VR, AR, MR  and volumetric video go here.

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