Virtual Reality is NOT the same as Augmented Reality

Original article published on LinkedIn

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

1. 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 can use 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 Pokemon Go app from Niantic, Inc., in which users can search for imaginary Pokemon 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 3D models of a physical object, or they can also be other data (such as video, audio, numbers – e.g.outside temperatures, or coordinates, or text data, such as names of buildings.)

2. Virtual Reality (VR)

When users are “placed” into a digital/virtual representation of a physical environment (from the real word or computer generated, or a combination of both) so that 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 (either with a built in vision system and dedicated computer or simply with 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 were 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 the Google Cardboard, which allows users to use their own smartphones in a headset experience, and the Oculus Rift, which is a high definition headset that connects to an external computer.

Usually, the VR experience includes a multi-sensory process (both visual and auditory – 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 the user 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 video, which 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 effect 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.

By Gavin Finn, President & CEO.

Learn more about Kaon Interactive’s Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Solutions today!

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