Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?

virtual reality

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?

Key Points

  • The term “virtual reality” refers to a digitally simulated experience that can either mimic reality or create a unique version of reality.
  • Augmented reality brings digital elements into the real world through augmented reality glasses or any number of other digital devices rather than bringing a person into a virtual world.
  • Augmented Reality uses the real world as a setting, while Virtual Reality is entirely fabricated

Augmented reality and virtual reality are becoming more prevalent in everyday life. They have many similarities and differences, and we’ll discuss how much they’ll overlap with each other. There is an emerging spectrum of experiencing reality known as the “reality-virtuality continuum”. This spectrum is a range that measures the ratio between reality and virtual reality. Pure reality is at one end of the spectrum, and total virtual reality immersion is at the other end. Everything in between is some mixture of augmented reality and actual reality. Deciding the best place on that continuum for yourself depends on your goals, motivations, and capabilities.

What is Virtual Reality?

metaverse vs virtual reality

Augmented Reality

uses the real world as a setting, while Virtual Reality is entirely fabricated

The term “virtual reality” refers to a digitally simulated experience that can either mimic reality or create a unique version of reality. This is generally accomplished with a VR helmet and hand-held motion controllers of some sort. These pieces of hardware allow the user to interact with their new virtual environment. They’ll be able to move around and interact with objects in this space. The user will be completely immersed in their new virtual environment. There are also VR simulators that don’t require a helmet or glasses for immersion into the virtual simulation environment. The use of screens in an enclosed area creates the simulation. Each variation has its pros and cons, but they both accomplish the same task of creating this world. The virtual world is completely fabricated, so it is completely safe. Users will be able to replicate experiences that would otherwise be impossible to produce.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality digitally simulates content into the real world.

Augmented reality is kind of the opposite of virtual reality. Instead of bringing a person into a virtual world, augmented reality brings digital elements into the real world through augmented reality glasses or any number of other digital devices. Augmented reality glasses project these digital elements onto the user’s field of vision and thus incorporate them into a new “augmented” reality. The user can interact with these digital elements as if they were to exist.

The more augmented a reality becomes, the closer it gets to full virtual reality. You’ll have to decide for yourself how much augmentation you need regularly and how often you’ll need fully virtual reality. They each have their uses and specializations in the process of blending reality and virtual reality.

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: Side-by-Side Comparison

Virtual RealityAugmented Reality
What It does:Virtual Reality fully immerses a user in a completely fabricated digital world.Augmented Reality digitally simulates content into the real world.
Current uses:VR has been around in some form or another for decades. Currently, Oculus Rift is the most famous device for VR games and simulations.Google Glass was the first major attempt at augmented reality. They are currently being used in surgery and to help autistic children’s emotional development.
Availability:Dedicated rooms and enclosures, Audio/Visual Helmet required, Controllers requiredAvailable anywhere that you can use a smartphone, tablet, or similar device
Current developers:Oculus RV, Sony, HTC, Samsung Gear VRMicrosoft, Vuzix, Skully, Epson
User view:The user is in an immersive world that replaces the real worldReal and virtual objects exist simultaneously in the same space
Virtual reality:Games, Simulations, Education, and TrainingGames, Simulations, Education, training, commerce, exercise, etc

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: Four Must-Know Facts

  • Augmented Reality uses the real world as a setting, while Virtual Reality is entirely fabricated.
  • Augmented Reality can be accessed with a smartphone or special glasses, while Virtual Reality requires a helmet and controllers.
  • The more that reality is augmented, the closer to virtual reality the simulation becomes
  • Both technologies have more similarities than differences.


The similarities between augmented reality and virtual reality are pretty apparent. They both create virtual elements that would otherwise not exist. The differences depend on how immersive the virtual world is. So it comes down to semantics. Are you in the virtual world, or are parts of that virtual world spilling into reality? For example, a virtual path in a VR world could be identical to an AR virtual path in the real world. The difference is that you would physically walk the AR path while you would virtually traverse the VR path. Both of these outcomes have their pros and cons. The AR path is a more tangible experience, but the VR path is completely safe for everyone involved.

Now that you have an example of the difference between the two, you can apply it to other situations. A VR flight simulator is safer, cheaper, and easier to use. Using AR glasses while piloting an actual aircraft isn’t that beneficial. In that situation, VR is much better. Now imagine a VR simulator for engine repair. It’s unlikely that it would be detailed enough to be beneficial. But if you were to use AR on an actual engine, you’d be much more connected to the learning experience with very little risk. It would be the complete opposite if you were going to use them for medical training. You would want the safety of the VR world compared to the reality of AR.

At a certain point, we’ll all be so accustomed to using both AR and VR that the differences between them won’t matter. Ar will probably be more ubiquitous because you can physically manipulate reality. That in combination with information from your AR glasses, will have more tangible benefits compared to Virtual Reality. VR will always have the edge on safety and imagination, but AR can be used to improve anything in the world.

The future is bright with potential. The popularity of VR helmets like Occulus and AR games like Pokemon Go are paving the way for new and better uses for these technologies. Hopefully, they will be used to bring us closer together and help to create a better “real” reality.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are virtual reality and augmented reality?

Virtual reality is a simulated experience meant to either mimic reality or create a new variation of simulated reality. Virtual reality requires either an audio/visual helmet and controllers or an isolated environment with image screens. The user is fully immersed in this new reality for the purposes of entertainment, education, or business practices.

Augmented reality is an interactive experience in the real world where digital elements are superimposed on real objects through the use of special AR glasses or other digital devices. The user is able to interact with these digital objects as if they existed in reality.

Which is better: virtual reality or augmented reality?

“Better” is a subjective term. Both virtual reality and augmented reality have their pros and cons depending on the situation. The three main uses of augmented and virtual reality are entertainment, education, and business. They approach each category in their own way and they can accomplish different objectives as they do.

There isn’t really a clear winner for the individual categories either. For example, both forms of technology have limitless potential for games, shows, and any other type of entertainment. Total immersion into a VR movie theater can give you an IMAX experience at home, while augmented reality games like pokemon go have hundreds of millions of users. I’d say they both get an “A” in entertainment. They both have the capacity to even create new types of interactive entertainment altogether. As both technologies grow, they will continue to blur the lines between virtual reality, augmented reality, and reality.

As an educational tool, they again outmatch each other depending on the situation. Military and medical training exercises can be too dangerous or costly to regularly train for in reality. Flight simulators don’t run on jet fuel, surgical simulators don’t need real people, and combat simulators don’t use real bullets.

The possible business applications are nearly endless. Virtual meetings and virtual shopping will likely be the next evolution of zoom and amazon. The ability to be virtually in the same room as your associates will be invaluable. You could even record these virtual meetings and send them to anyone that wasn’t able to attend. With augmented reality, you could incorporate details into every item in a store. The applications are only limited to the imagination of the developers. AR and VR can work together at the same time to produce unique results.

So, it’s not really about which one is better. It comes down to how much reality you need for a certain situation. Sometimes reality gets in the way and you need to go fully virtual, and sometimes you just need a light dusting of augmentation to spice up reality.

When were virtual reality and augmented reality created?

The concept of Virtual reality has existed for several decades. The first business-grade VR hardware was developed in the late 1980s by Jaron Lanier at the VPL Research Firm.

The first functional AR system that provided mixed reality experiences for the user was developed in 1992 at the U.S Airforce’s Armstrong Laboratory.

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