There is a mounting consensus that virtual and augmented reality are the most interesting technologies on the horizon with the potential to give companies an edge in their field. Over the past two years, with an increase in consumer awareness and engagement, virtual and augmented reality have gradually been carving out their niche in the home as well.    

The two terms are often conflated as article titles mention the increasing number of tech companies and CEO’s implementing “VR/AR,” or discussing what future purposes “VR/AR” holds in a certain professional field. To further complicate matters, the recent display of the Microsoft HoloLens’ capabilities at the 2016 Windows 10 event harkens the advent of mixed reality, which effectively combines aspects of virtual and augmented reality into one seamless experience.      

Although there is considerable overlap between the two technologies, it is useful to provide a definition of each one to better examine the best application for each.

Virtual reality is a fully immersive, 360 experience where the user is transported to a pre-created environment, either completely computer generated, or a space that exists in the real world and has been captured in 360 video. VR is best experienced within a headset; indeed, without one many people will argue that it isn’t real VR, just 360 video. Without getting too bogged down in a discussion over the distinction between VR and 360 video, and whether or not such a distinction truly exists, the main idea is that VR involves the experience of content which has already been created. Whether it be a video game for a high end headset like the HTC Vive, or 360 videos that have been filmed and edited with the intent that they be viewed in a virtual space.

Augmented reality, in its current iterations enhances a user’s real-world environment by superimposing supplementary content in real time in the form of graphics, video, audio, etc.

Finally, mixed reality, as its name suggests, combines aspects of both virtual and augmented reality.

Where do each of these technologies find their greatest use?

VR continues to be the stronghold for experiences that demand full immersion. High end video games with detailed graphic environments have been the most prominent example of this. Cinematic 360 film and narrative content also remain firmly in the VR camp. VR has proven a powerful tool for escapism, but this doesn’t scratch the surface of its capabilities.

The immersive quality of VR has made it extremely effective in the realm of philanthropy and fundraising because it brings new perspectives and realities to audiences in a way they’ve never before experienced. I explore this topic more here.

Virtual travel is yet another advantage that VR has over AR. People who are unable to access various locations or specific viewpoints due to some sort of handicap–physical, financial, or otherwise–are now able to have privileged access to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

VR, however, demands a headset. And the most immersive headsets with the highest quality resolutions cost a pretty penny. The sometimes complex installation process for room-scale hardware has been another large obstacle in making VR accessible for everybody.

Meanwhile, accessibility is perhaps the greatest selling point of augmented reality. AR can be experienced on smartphones and tablets which gives it a much greater audience. Although AR can be experienced on headsets like the HoloLens, they are not necessary for utilizing AR in its most basic form.

This leads to AR’s second advantage over VR which is plurality. When you slide on a VR headset, you are fully engaged in that experience for however long it lasts. There is no opportunity for multitasking. Augmented reality, however, allows the user to be engaged in multiple tasks if they choose, and they can remain engaged with their real world environment and responsibilities.

AR has found its greatest purpose in enhancing real world experiences and tasks, rather than replacing them.

There are augmented reality games, with Pokemon Go being the most famous example; however, AR holds more practical uses as well. There are AR apps that allow you to view a tattoo design on your skin before you commit to it. With this example, the marketing value of AR is evident. With specific apps, consumers can try out various items on themselves or in their homes before they purchase.

Apps like Wikitude World Browser allow you to use the camera on your phone to scan your location, providing you with heaps of useful travel information specific to your location.

Apps that can provide real-time feedback that enhance the user’s experience of their daily activities will likely remain the backbone of augmented reality moving forward.

While AR seems to have more practical applications than VR at the moment, and VR has more value as a fully immersive experience, we are still in the very early dawn of these technologies. The evolution of VR, AR, and mixed reality will be something to watch as more consumer feedback comes in and more content is created for each platform.

Catherine Tershak

As Content Strategist, Cate is responsible for creating, delivering, and optimizing written content across Greenfish Labs’ digital channels. Her primary responsibilities are writing on the Greenfish blog and across our social media platforms. Her skills in research help to keep Greenfish Labs one of the top thought-leaders in virtual reality.


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