“What is XR?” This is a question I get asked on a regular basis. The short answer is it stands for Extended Reality. However, the long answer is that it is the parent term for Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and everything else in between (Mixed Reality). This usually triggers further questions on what exactly VR and XR technologies are and the difference between the two. Although both AR and VR share a common goal of allowing us to further interact and immerse ourselves with virtual creations, both achieve this through very different ways!
Virtual Reality aims to fully immerse the user in a 360-degree, virtual world, so much so, that you don’t see anything of the “actual”/“real life” world. Combined with movement tracking, and handheld controllers, which allow users to interact with the virtual objects, this creates a quite literally out of this world experience. The power of VR allows for a range of different uses and applications. On one side, some of the most common and popular applications are typically video games, allowing fans to feel even more immersed in the video game than ever before. However, on the other side, VR can be used to create incredibly realistic training simulation programs, that could be used for a range of tasks. Imagine being able to learn how to drive a car, train or even a cherry picker truck—all while in the virtual world. If you were to do something wrong, such as crash, you could simply restart the app and have another go. Then, once you developed enough experience, you could advance to learning in the real world, but with far more experience than you would have had otherwise.
Augmented Reality aims to still allow users to interact with the virtual world, but it achieves this by adding virtual content/holograms into the real world, rather than taking the users out of it. This creates a very different effect. It’s certainly not as immersive as VR; however, it brings with it a whole range of added experiences that VR couldn’t offer, because you’re still fully aware of the physical, real world around you. While VR typically must be done with very limited movement (or risk walking into a wall), AR allows you to travel all over and still see the effects of AR. One great example of this that most people have heard of is the Pokémon GO AR Game, that took the world by storm, achieving over 500 million downloads and making over $2 billion. The game allowed user to travel to real-world locations in hopes of trying to find and catch virtual Pokémon—all with the help of AR, which made it look like they existed in real life. Like VR, AR also has a range of applications—from being able to view furniture in your living room before you head to the store to purchase "(like the Ikea place app)", to providing subtitles in live theatre shows to those who are deaf or hard of hearing, using NT smart caption glasses.
Although AR and VR are similar in their overall aim, they both go about achieving this in completely different ways, and both are preferred for different uses. Together, they make up a truly exciting and diverse world of Extended Reality.