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

Posted in Technology

Originally posted on Cramer.com, where I can be found talking about all things technology and digital experiences

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.

The market leader, Oculus Rift, has just released the first look at their consumer ready headset launching in Q1 of 2016. If you haven't seen the Rift before, you'll notice that putting this over your eyes will leave you blind to the current world, but will blow your mind with experiences within.

A first look at 2016's Oculus Rift

Augmented reality however, takes our current reality and add something to it. It does not move us elsewhere, it simply "augments" our current state of presence, often with clear visors. Seen below, BMW's small-car subsidiary, Mini, has actually developed a driving goggle with AR technology.


Mini's Augmented Vision Goggles

These goggles show the wearer information like speed, navigation, phone alerts, and even streaming video from cameras mounted outside of the car, giving the driver x-ray vision for parallel parking and more.

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.

The Latest in Augmented Reality

Just two weeks ago, Microsoft demoed HoloLens at Build 2015 and stole the show. HoloLens uses augmented reality much the same as Mini's driving goggles, but goes much further in the realm of interactivity.

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 10 apps. From a marketers perspective, this becomes one more, intensely immersive and promising way, to infiltrate our audience's homes.

Why the slow adoption rate?

While both AR and VR are gaining speed, and are more relevant in our current marketplace than ever before, they are still the plaything for a small minority of marketers and techies.

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 then games, and that bodes well for the future of VR and AR experiences.

The more life-like these animated realities become, 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!