What Is the Difference Between AR and VR? A Lesson in Altered Realities

Augmented reality and virtual reality. Related, but different. The two frequently come up in the same conversations and are often confused with one another by the less informed. But the difference is major, and worth explaining.

Augmented and virtual reality have one big thing in common. They both have the remarkable ability to alter our perception of the world. Where they differ, is the perception of our presence.

Virtual reality is able to transpose the user. In other words, bring us some place else. Through closed visors or goggles, VR blocks out the room and puts our presence elsewhere.

Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, these are names you may have heard about by now. But if you haven't tried virtual reality since that one arcade in the 80's, be ready to be blown away by how far it's come.

Putting a VR headset over your eyes will leave you blind to the current world, but will expand your senses with experiences within. The immersion is actually quite dramatic, with some users reporting feelings of movement as they ascend a staircase or ride a rollercoaster within the virtual environment.

Augmented reality however, takes our current reality and adds something to it. It does not move us elsewhere. It simply "augments" our current state of presence, often with clear visors. Seen below, Samsung is near ready to introduce its Monitorless AR glasses, which would connect to phones or PCs via WIFI and replace the screen on those devices.

Apple is also not-so-secretly excited about and investing in the augmented reality space. Time will tell is that means a pair of Apple AR glasses, or cool new AR features built into a next gen iPhone.

“I’m excited about Augmented Reality because unlike Virtual Reality which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently... That has resonance.”
Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

What is the real difference? Think scuba diving vs. going to the aquarium.

With virtual reality, you can swim with sharks. And with augmented reality, you can watch a shark pop out of your business card.

While VR is more immersive, AR provides more freedom for the user, and more possibilities for marketers because it does not need to be a head-mounted display.

Pepsi Max utilized AR in incredible ways throughout their #LiveForNow campaign. The monster mirror trick is worth noting, but the most amazing display was for their bus stop prank.

What's Hot in Augmented Reality?

When Microsoft first demoed HoloLens at Build 2015, they stole the show. HoloLens created waves in the ocean of augmented reality, painting the most groundbreaking picture of what is to come in the ever expanding world of AR.

Microsoft is essentially injecting interactive holograms into our world to bridge the gap between your PC and your living room. Using HoloLens, you can literally surround yourself with your Windows apps. From a marketers perspective, this becomes one more, intensely immersive and promising way, to infiltrate our audience's homes.

Cramer was fortunate to be one of the first agencies to receive the development edition of the HoloLens and the experiential future for our clients is already looking brighter. Using what we've learned experimenting with AR technology, we've already started building applications for product demos and more.

In 2016, the world witnessed augmented reality take center stage in the form of Pokemon Go. The viral sensation that got Pikachu and Charizard out of the Gameboy and onto your front lawn, whether you wanted them there or not! This was the first major example of AR finding mass market acceptance and infiltrating our daily lives.

Virtual and augmented realities in 2017 are already making dramatic leaps forward as startups find ways to introduce smell and touch to expand your sensory experiences. Technology company Immersion has introduced TouchSense Force, using haptic feedback to bring player's hands into VR worlds, and researchers at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab are having to resist eating foam doughnuts as they experiment with adding scent to VR.

Also, beyond the obvious media and entertainment applications for AR/VR technologies, design and engineering companies the likes of Solidworks are demonstrating their commitment to immersive design with AR and VR related partnerships, including NVIDIA, Microsoft, Lenovo, and HTC Vive.

The State of the AR/VR Adoption Rate

While both augmented reality and virtual reality are gaining speed, and are more relevant in our current marketplace than ever before as millions of users hunt Pokemon and Oculus Rift becomes a consumer ready device, they are still more than anything a toy for a small minority of marketers and tech enthusiasts.

The reason is because both are hindered by our ability to render 3D environments in real-time. AR less so, because the environment already exists and you are just adding onto it, but the problem with creating high resolution, life-like objects, still persists.

We can equate this back to early video games. Take the Nintendo N64 for example. 007: GoldenEye was a remarkable game for its time - and still has a major fan base today - but it has a very low polygon count. A polygon is the most basic form of 3D, and the more polygons that make up an image, the higher the 3D resolution.

Now, games have polygon counts in the billions, and they are only getting better. Trailers for new games these days are looking more and more like movies than games, and that bodes well for the future of VR and AR experiences.

The more life-like these animated realities become, both overlaid and fully-immersive, the more mainstream society will embrace their role as the future of gaming, brand experiences, and communication.

If we map progression of these technologies onto a calendar year, we are about a month into AR, and we're really at day 0 for VR.

We're living through exciting times in the field of marketing and event technology. It's like the internet was reborn, and we're on the cusp of figuring out how to use it!

Experiential Marketing Trends

Explore Cramer and Event Marketer’s first 30 trends of 2017.

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Jonathan Ronzio

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Additional contributions by Eric Webster

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