Augmented Reality (AR) vs Virtual Reality (VR): Knowledge Guide

Augmented and virtual reality is becoming a staple in brands’ marketing activity, and with so much buzz around AR and VR coming in 2023, what is the real difference between the two? Here we explore augmented reality vs virtual reality.

In the realm of immersive technologies, the ongoing debate of AR vs VR takes centre stage. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have emerged as transformative forces, captivating audiences and pushing the boundaries of human experiences. Both AR and VR offer unique ways of merging the physical and digital worlds, but their approaches and applications differ significantly.

This article dives deep into the realm of AR vs VR, exploring their defining characteristics, applications across industries, and the distinct advantages they bring to the table. So, fasten your seatbelts as we embark on a journey to unravel the intricacies of AR and VR, uncovering their similarities, differences, and the limitless possibilities they hold. Here is your guide to AR vs VR:

A grpahic that has an icon to represent AR on the left and VR on the right with "VS" written between them.

What is virtual reality?

People often associate virtual reality with hardcore video gamers and large headsets, and whilst VR is dominant within the gaming industry, this isn’t where its applications end. The truth is, virtual reality is any three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated environment that can be explored, interacted, and engaged with. Although we are mainly comparing AR with immersive VR in this article, there are also two other types of VR, non-immersive VR, and semi-immersive VR. Here is a quick breakdown of the three:

Non-immersive VR

Don’t let the name trick you, non-immersive virtual reality is the most common type of VR and, when executed correctly, is incredibly immersive. This type of VR places the user in a computer-generated environment (like all VR), but the user will still see their physical environment.

Have you ever been hooked on playing a computer game on a console or PC or explored and interacted with a virtual showroom or exhibition on a browser? These are both types of non-immersive VR. And before you mention it, yes, we agree the name should be changed!

A desktop computer screen showcasing the Ultimaker virtual showroom.

The inside of cockpit on a flight simulator.

Semi-immersive VR

We’re getting there but still not quite fully immersed in VR yet. As you’ve probably guessed, semi-immersive VR combines a physical and digital space. This combination is designed to provide an experience of being somewhere else, whilst still having control of the physical environment.

Semi-immersive virtual reality is commonly used for learning and training exercises, such as flight simulators. The physical space will look like a cockpit whilst high-quality monitors display 3D graphics to replicate real-world space and situations.

Full immersive VR

Blindfold or VR headset? Honestly, without the unit turned on you won’t be able to tell the difference. Full immersive VR totally takes over your vision, all you’ll be able to see is the 3D environment you have entered. This is just about the peak immersion you can get in VR in its current state. VR headsets commonly include a display screen, sensors, compatible controllers, and stereo sound systems to deliver an experience dissimilar to anything else. All of this completely replaces the physical world you know with a virtual one. Don’t try and actually run in the virtual though, because although you won’t believe it, you are still in the physical world and going face-first into a wall still hurts.

A person wearing a VR headset with a white controller in their right hand.

Immersive VR can take you almost anywhere. When gaming you could become a Jedi fighting stormtroopers on a distant planet or maybe you’ve accessed an exhibition through an app, interacting and communicating with other people’s avatars as if you were there.

Although we’re not quite at Ready Player One level yet in terms of technology, VR is becoming more accessible thanks to some affordable headset units. The Meta Quest 2 and PlayStation VR headsets are two of the most popular and cheapest, whilst the Valve Index comes in at a higher price. These headsets are mainly built for gaming, but the new Quest Pro from Meta looks to tackle some other industries, and even includes some AR features.

How is augmented reality different to virtual reality? AR vs VR

Turn down the immersion (for now) but notch up the potential. Whilst VR totally replaces your reality, AR adds to it, bringing the virtual world into your real world. Augmented reality works by allowing you to see the world around you with digital images or information layered onto it. See although augmented reality vs virtual reality is an incredibly hot topic, it’s important to note that realistically they should not be pitched against each other, although similar, their technology and execution is incredibly unique and both serve different purposes.

Check out our augmented reality ultimate guide for more.

Anyway, let’s check out how augmented reality is different to virtual reality.

AR glasses…?

We know what you’re hoping we will say, “AR glasses are here”, and although this is all but guaranteed to be the future of augmented reality, we are still some way from reaching the expectation of augmented realities’ potential with glasses. Whilst some fairly advanced AR ‘smart glasses’ exist, they are still more like headsets and can be extremely expensive. The Microsoft HoloLens 2 is considered the most advanced but coming in at roughly $5000 and, only having specific use cases, doesn’t exactly make it a household item.

A man looking upwards wearing a MR headset with his hand out in front of him.

Unlike VR, AR is designed for free movement and, despite access to smart glasses being somewhat restricted, AR is far more accessible than VR. The technology extends into smart devices, particularly smartphones which nowadays are more than capable of running complex AR experiences.

How can I use AR?

AR on smartphones can be accessed in two ways, through an app (app-based AR) or a browser (webAR). Whilst app-based AR is powerful and usually fulfils a defined purpose, it does require a download (which most people simply won’t bother doing). On the other hand, webAR is accessed through a browser, making it almost instantly accessible, flexible and appealing to wider audiences and marketers. Never tried webAR? Test out the REYDAR 3D viewer below and tap the ‘AR’ button to ping the headphones into your own space:

It’s incredibly likely that you, yes you, have experienced AR at some point. Have you ever used a Snapchat or Instagram filter or played Pokemon GO? Yep, both use augmented reality.

Augmented reality applications could be as complex as having animated characters jumping around your room to a simple data overlay displaying the date, the potential for augmented reality is limitless, and ideas and desires are currently ahead of the technology available. Ideas will one day in the not-too-distant future meet reality.

The difference between augmented reality and virtual reality

Whilst sharing similarities, augmented reality and virtual reality are both unique, achieving different things in different ways. Virtual reality replaces your reality, whilst augmented reality adds to your reality. VR is currently more immersive, and high-end technology is more accessible in comparison to high-end AR tech. However, AR is more accessible in general and has far more applications for marketers due to the number of people with smart devices, providing more freedom and flexibility.

Despite their differences, AR and VR have overlapping benefits that make them valuable tools in different contexts. VR’s immersive nature lends itself well to training simulations, virtual tours, and gaming experiences where users can be fully immersed in a simulated environment. On the other hand, AR’s ability to enhance real-world experiences has found applications in areas such as navigation assistance, remote collaboration, and interactive educational tools.

From a marketing perspective, both AR and VR offer unique opportunities to engage customers in innovative ways. VR experiences can transport users to virtual showrooms, allowing them to explore products in a virtual environment. AR, on the other hand, enables customers to visualize products in their own spaces, facilitating virtual try-on experiences or providing contextual information about products in real time.

Augmented reality vs virtual reality: which is better?

When it comes to deciding between AR vs VR, the answer is subjective. This is because it heavily depends on what the use case is, in some scenarios and applications augmented reality will be the perfect solution, whereas others may be more suited to virtual reality.

While AR and VR have distinct characteristics and applications, they offer unique and complementary benefits. Understanding their differences and considering the specific goals and requirements of a project can help businesses leverage the right technology to deliver engaging experiences, enhance productivity, and captivate audiences in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Ultimately, the answer to the AR vs VR question depends on the specific circumstances, goals, and preferences of the individuals or organisations involved. It is essential to carefully evaluate the unique characteristics and capabilities of both technologies to determine which one aligns best with the desired outcomes and target audience.

Does the Apple Vision Pro change anything?

If you go online, at any point in your day-to-day life we can almost guarantee that you saw hundreds of posts, articles, updates, and news announcements about the announcement of Apple’s entry into the AR and VR universe. Yes, the Apple Vision Pro was announced in June this year, and it’s fair to say that it got a lot of people talking.

The device might be the first introduction to augmented reality for many and has sparked new life in the world of augmented reality and what will be possible. Apple refers to the Vision Pro’s technology as ‘spatial computing’. Spatial computing is an umbrella term that fuses VR, AR, MR, machine learning, and other tech to create an immersive environment.

The device looks incredibly powerful, with the capabilities to run both virtual reality and augmented reality. With functions, applications, and uses for both, does this change virtual reality vs augmented reality to virtual reality and augmented reality?

The partnership between the technologies is the driving force behind the Apple Vision Pro, and with such an influential company leading the way on this, you can’t help but think they are setting the tone for the future of the technologies.

3D, AR & VR with REYDAR

Transform your customer engagement, reduce decision-making time, and increase conversions with our 3D and AR viewers. Host an online virtual exhibition with our innovative Metaspaces that can be accessed anywhere. Invite your audience to an online retail environment with our virtual Metastores. We make brands metaverse-ready with innovative technology. Contact the REYDAR team to find out more.