Technological terminology can prove confusing. If it’s not impenetrable jargon, it’s a bevy of terms that are similar yet distinct. This is apparent in the extended-reality sphere, in which numerous modalities contend for your attention and confuse you along the way. Figuring out the differences between augmented and extended reality has thrown even tech aficionados for a loop. In this guide, we’ll set these brave new worlds straight—no eyewear necessary.
The most immersive form of extended reality is virtual reality, or VR. With VR equipment, wearers close themselves off from external stimuli altogether, fully committing themselves to the simulation and the interactions within. Ever on the technological forefront, both the healthcare industry and the military make use of VR applications for rehabilitation and training, respectively. But not every foray into VR has been a successful one—Nintendo’s 1995 console, the monochrome-red Virtual Boy, was an idea before its time and one of the biggest and costliest flops in video game history.
Speaking of technology before its time, this is where Google Glass comes into play. Google Glass was among the first widely popular civilian uses of augmented reality, or AR, in which wearers continue to experience a real-world environment, albeit one that software supplements, or augments, with additional information. Augmented reality headwear overlays this information atop what the eye naturally sees, creating an annotated, “Pop-Up Video” world. AR’s uses range from the frivolous, such as Pokémon GO, to more serious applications, such as education and healthcare. Augmented reality also holds great promise for the retail industry, giving potential customers key information not just at their fingertips, but straight at their retinas.
MR would seem to be the best of both worlds: the real and the virtual. Much like augmented reality, it represents a bridge between naturally occurring stimuli and computer-generated equivalents. However, while augmented reality firmly transpires in the physical world with only overlaid information, mixed reality truly straddles both spheres, where virtual objects can interact with those in the real world.
Extended Reality: All Together Now
With the bundle of terminology that is virtual, mixed, augmented, and extended reality, the differences can prove hard to parse. Before you worry about adding a fourth class to the mix, breathe easy: “extended reality” is a catch-all term for virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. If computers change your perception of the world around you in any way, whether by adding to what you’d normally see or by replacing the real world entirely, that’s extended reality—and it’s extending its way into our lives more and more with each passing day.