Reality Check: VR, AR, MR, and XR…What’s the Difference?

VR has been knocking around for long enough now that it’s probably fair to say most of the world is familiar with the concept behind it. But with the buzz surrounding the development of the metaverse, we’re starting to hear a lot more talk about AR (augmented reality), MR (mixed reality), and XR (extended reality). But what exactly are the fundamental differences between the four? 

In this guide, we’ll talk you through the basics of augmented, mixed, and extended realities.

What Is Extended Reality?

While it’s a term that’s been bandied about a lot in the last couple of years, extended reality has really come to the fore as more companies have started to develop more XR devices.

Extended reality uses a combination of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. An XR device is one that fuses elements of the three to deliver a unified experience. To further understand the capabilities of XR, let’s recap on the three key elements it includes.

Virtual reality – VR allows users to interact with a virtual world. Your entire experience is made up of elements that have been digitally constructed. 

Augmented reality – AR combines both digital and physical elements within an experience. 

The most popular examples of augmented reality include the type of social media filters popularised by Snapchat and the video game Pokemon Go. Another fine example of the utilisation of AR can be found on the Ikea Place app which allows you to visualise how furniture from Ikea’s catalogue will look in your own home.

Mixed reality – MR is often referred to as a hybrid reality. Mixed reality experiences blend both virtual and physical worlds in a way that lets you interact with both simultaneously. Mixed reality takes virtual and augmented reality a step further by neither replacing the physical environment with a virtual one, nor simply augmenting content onto it.

In mixed reality, both the real world and virtual worlds coexist, allowing you to seamlessly navigate between the two.

Microsoft’s Hololens is one example of a device  that utilises mixed reality. The HoloLens smartglasses let you see the physical world and interact with holograms within it.

What’s the Difference Between Mixed and Extended Reality?

If mixed reality already combines VR and AR, what then is the difference between mixed and extended reality? Are they not the same thing? Well, XR is somewhat of an umbrella term that incorporates all of the digitally altered realities.

Which Devices Work With XR?

Headsets that incorporate the capabilities of both VR and MR would be classified as XR devices. These are typically traditional VR headsets that include a camera. Examples include Valve Index and the Vive Pro 2 

At the moment, the mixed reality elements of these devices feel like an afterthought since MR is an emerging niche predominantly used in industry and enterprise whereas VR already has some mainstream success and a rich catalogue of games and apps designed around it.

That said, we’re about to see some exciting developments in the application of XR as Meta pushes forward at full speed with their metaverse aims.

What Can We Expect From XR and the Metaverse?

When Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his plans for the metaverse, he spoke of a virtual environment that allows you to be present with other people in a digital space. He also discussed how they want to open up access to the metaverse to any app or device so that it’s not solely a virtual experience. 

This implies that there’ll be a combination of virtual, augmented, and mixed realities coupled with social networking, entertainment, and practical work-related applications co-existing.

What is certain is that we’re very likely to see more companies developing devices that seamlessly integrate VR and MR to create a perfectly unified extended reality experience.

Watch this space to find out more about about XR and the metaverse.

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