The differences between augmented and virtual reality

When it comes to technological trends including the reality tech market, there are a couple of crucial distinctions that set each type apart. Between Augmented and virtual realities (AR and VR) there are significant as well as nuanced differences which make each so unique as well as incredibly useful in the industries it permeates. Here are the key distinctions between each type of innovative reality tech and why they both deserve a place moving forward in the 21st century.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality where live direct views of our physical real-3D world and it’s environments have computer-generated images as a layer superimposed on top of them. This computer-generated image gives whoever is viewing the augmented reality device an enhanced perception of their environment and is typically created by a smartphone application

The virtual information that is overlayed when using augmented reality is used to simplify day to day life and tasks. There are however a variety of sub-categories within augmented reality.  

Marker-based augmented reality is when you use an augmented reality application via first scanning a marker in the physical world. For example, after you scan a fast food chain’s barcode from a poster, menu selections will be superimposed on the world to browse.

Markerless based augmented reality uses information via a third party app or GPS to overlay images onto the physical world. This can be seen in location-based marketing where you look through your smartphone camera and see restaurant signs overlayed on the street in front of you.

Projection based augmented reality projects artificial light onto real surfaces. The projected light onto the environment can be manipulated and interacted with. You can use this to project new designs onto existing sneakers at home to see what your next purchase will be and what they may look like physically. These projections are especially useful with online shopping.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality is using computer technology to create a completely simulated environment. Instead of just viewing the environment like you would watching a TV show or a movie, you can move through the environment and interact with it in a 360 degree space.

Virtual reality worlds, environments, and interfaces are viewed using a head-mounted display and render 3D graphics as opposed to viewing a graphical overlay onto our existing world.

Oculus, HTC, and Sony primarily manufacture Head-mounted displays. There are no subcategories to VR, as VR is the most immersive reality technology currently on the market.


While augmented and virtual reality may have some crossover in utility, there are key factors which distinguish them from each other. Both have impactful implications for the present and future of tech, and both of these reality experiences have trickled into a dizzying array of industries. Augmented and virtual reality can simplify our lives, expose us to new forms of entertainment and can even be used in building infrastructure and saving lives.

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