What is VR? ... and AR? ...and MR?
Virtual reality (VR) is an interactive, computer-generated depiction of a real or
artificial world or activity. Mixed reality (MR) is an interactive depiction or
view of combined real-world and computer-generated elements. Augmented reality
(AR) is a real-world view with additional, computer-generated enhancements.
That's one version, anyway. Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen different
descriptions of VR, AR and MR. One thing's for sure, however. From industry to
education to entertainment, it's increasingly a
VR (...and AR... and MR) world.
Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality: Differences and
The acronyms VR, AR and MR are often used interchangeably. And for many, "VR" is
a catch-all that applies to anything life-like that's computer generated. But
the terms are clearly distinct.
Virtual reality (VR) vs. augmented reality (AR) vs. mixed reality (MR)
Here's a simple way to understand the differences between VR, AR and MR:
- Virtual reality (VR) example: A computer generated living room in
which your simulated self can move around and interact with the virtual
furniture and houseplants or the simulated selves of other like you.
- Augmented reality (AR) example: A real-time view of your own living
room that you can virtually enhance with different paint or carpet colors or
call up virtual "floating" screens to read email or watch a game.
- Mixed reality (MR) example: Another real-time view in which virtual
selves or objects are also displayed -- but where the real and artificial
elements can interact (e.g., placing a virtual pencil on a real table).
Again, these descriptions are simplified. Virtual reality (VR) is easy to
distinguish from the other technologies because it's a 100% digital experience,
whereas the others combine real and digital aspects. Meanwhile, the distinction
between augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) may be lessening, as in
many ways, MR is just an enhanced, more interactive kind of AR.
How are VR, MR and AR used?
Virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality are changing the way we live
and work. Surgeons can now train for life-saving operations on virtual operating
tables. Home chefs can use augmented eyeglasses to see step-by-step recipes
while working at the stove. There are even plans for vast, mixed reality
warehouses where goggled staffers fill shipping boxes based on packing lists
that "float" before their eyes.
VR, AR and MR are changing the way we play, too, as each technology is being
widely applied in the computer gaming industry. Some of these games need just a
smartphone while others demand a VR
gaming laptop or VR-ready
tower PC. Viewing goggles (see the Lenovo Mirage Solo) are sufficient to
enjoy some games, but for more immersive experiences, there are advanced VR
headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Microsoft Hololens and our own Lenovo
Explorer Lightweight Headset.
Virtual reality gaming
VR games place users in completely digital, computer generated environments. Game
action is viewed with advanced VR headsets or goggles and controlled through the
movement of the headsets or other devices such as VR gloves, control pads, and
Augmented reality gaming
AR games place digital game elements into (or lay them over) the users' actual
environment but keep the digital/artificial aspects of the game separate. Some
AR games use head-mounted devices but others need only simple views such as
through a smartphone camera.
Mixed reality gaming
MR games combine real and digital elements in a way that allows the user to
interact with both at the same time. Unlike VR games, MR games are considered to
be "anchored" to actual physical space, so your coffee table can be an integral
part of the contest. Windows Mixed Reality is a popular mixed reality platform,
although analysts say it is still mostly VR focused at this time.
Ready to explore the world of VR, AR, and MR gaming? Learn more by reading these related FAQs: