Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Their Differences and Similarities

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When you hear the terms augmented reality and virtual reality, what comes to mind?

Augmented reality and virtual reality are relatively new concepts with which many people are not yet familiar. But without even knowing, many of us are already well-acquainted with these technologies. And often, we use them daily. 

To get a better understanding of these concepts, let’s further break them down and see how we can incorporate them into your business.

Image credits to Unsplash

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is a type of technology that allows users to alter their immediate environment in real-time by enhancing it with digital art, which artists usually render in 3D. This experience is enabled through devices, commonly smartphones, where users can view the graphics. 

A classic and popular example of software using augmented reality technology is Pokémon Go (2016). Pokémon creatures appear on a player’s mobile device screen when they view their environment through the application’s camera. Nothing about the environment is changed — it’s only augmented with 3D creatures. Other well-known examples of AR software are Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger.

Because one of technology’s goals is to be as compact and portable as possible, access to augmented reality graphics is widespread. Some of the devices that provide this access include:

  • Mobile devices, such as smartphones
  • Smartglasses
  • Projectors

Learn more about how augmented reality is currently changing the future of art in our blog post How Will Augmented Reality Change the Future of Art?

Image credits to Pexels

What Is Virtual Reality?

If augmented reality technology achieves the effect of augmenting real-world environments with 3D graphics, virtual reality wholly immerses a user into an entirely new one. 

The book Developing Virtual Reality Applications notes that virtual reality convincingly influences a user’s mind that they are in a completely new environment through visual and aural stimuli. This means the user is immersed because of how believable the visuals and audio are, which are transmitted through certain systems. 

Additionally, virtual reality technology gives “synthetic feedback” where the virtual world can sense a user’s positions and actions.

Virtual Reality Systems

According to author Sean M. Grady, the three pertinent systems to “enter immersive environments” are the following:

  • Computers
  • Effectors
  • Computer user

Grady states the centerpiece of any VR-based experience is the computer capable of handling data that will render 3D graphics realistically. Computers of this caliber should have “advanced graphic boards”, microprocessors built for showing 3D images, sound processors for the aural stimuli, and controllers connecting a user to the VR world — also known as effectors.

The most popular effector is the head-mounted display (HMD). These HMDs, in our opinion, are the real centerpiece of VR, quite literally. It’s the device that feeds a user 3D data from the computer, whether that data is in the form of visual, aural, or vestibular stimuli. Some of the most popular HMDs are the Google Cardboard and Oculus.

As for the computer user, that’s you, the receiver of all this data and stimuli.

Because of how immersive virtual reality can be, several companies have used it to simulate real experiences. For example, therapy programs have begun using VR to help patients recover from trauma or other mental health conditions. A surgeon in Mexico City had even successfully performed a procedure by virtually transporting their patient to Machu Picchu instead of administering sedatives, the BBC reports.

Image credits to Unsplash

Applications of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality are technologies you can presently see across industries. The industries they are most used in are:

  • Tourism 
  • Engineering and manufacturing
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Healthcare
  • E-learning

In tourism, virtual reality and augmented reality technology work hand in hand. One study finds that people’s interest in traveling to a particular destination increases when VR is used as a marketing tool. This provides destination marketers an enhanced and more informative strategy to influence prospective customers to travel. On the other hand, augmented reality can improve a tourist’s experience, thanks to their destination’s added layer of reality, another study has found.

Engineering and manufacturing is another industry greatly benefiting from the immersiveness — and capacity for real-time collaboration — of virtual reality and augmented reality art. According to Steve Aukstakalnis, these technologies allow companies to visualize big data, resulting in fewer design errors and even eliminating manufacturers’ need for physical prototypes. Moreover, he notes when a manufacturing process’ production phase is developed in virtual reality, multiple people across the globe can collaborate on a project and impart their builds in real-time.

Marketing and advertising, as we have seen, can effectively make use of virtual reality and augmented reality development. One of NarraSoft’s clients outsourced the company’s digital artists to render 3D versions of its products, which are furniture. Interested buyers can use 3D versions of the furniture and the power of augmented reality to see how a piece looks like in their space. This is a helpful marketing tool because it moves prospective customers closer to conversion.

As for healthcare, numerous therapy programs employ virtual reality technology to aid a patient’s healing. And in e-learning, virtual reality and augmented reality art are being used to facilitate experiential learning.

Differences Between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in Table Form 

Now that we can clearly distinguish augmented reality from virtual reality, we can summarize their core differences and similarities. To make it easier for you, we tabularized them in the most succinct way possible.

IMMERSIONA user’s real environment stays. There is partial immersion.A user’s real environment is totally replaced. There is complete immersion.
HARDWAREUsually mobile devices, glasses, and projectorsUsually head-mounted displays, glasses, and projectors
ACCESSIBILITYMore accessible due to the common device’s portability and availabilityLess accessible; the common device must either be bought or made (e.g., Google Cardboard)
• Marketing
• Education
• Product Design
GRAPHICSGenerally high-resolution 3D graphics

But What Is Mixed Reality? 

We have heard the term mixed reality pop up almost every time people talk about augmented reality and virtual reality. So what exactly is it?

According to technology leader Paul Mealy, mixed reality occurs in either an augmented reality or virtual reality environment. Mealy says augmented reality-based MR occurs when users can interact with the augmented reality art in real-time. So if you can pet a 3D animal overlaid on your environment, and it reacts, that’s an instance of mixed reality taking place.

Virtual reality-based MR is a little more complicated. The objects in your immediate environment become 3D art in your virtual environment. According to Mealy, mixed reality technology happens when the “digital environment is connected to real-world objects around you.”

In Summary

Augmented reality technology alters a user’s immediate environment by “adding” 3D digital art that can be seen through a user’s device. 

On the other hand, virtual reality technology completely immerses a user into a new environment, usually with the use of a head-mounted display.

Some of the industries that can derive a ton of benefits from using AR and VR are:

The industries they are most used in are:

  • Tourism 
  • Engineering and manufacturing
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Healthcare
  • E-learning

Do you want your business to benefit from augmented reality or virtual reality art development

We can design and create well-defined 3D graphics for your AR or VR app. Boost your company’s conversion rate by outsourcing our services today.

Contact NarraSoft today to get a free consultation at or send us a message on our chat box or contact form.

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.