What’s The Difference Between Virtual Reality And Augmented Reality?

Virtual reality is a completely immersive experience that takes the user out of the real world and into a simulated one. Augmented reality is a technology that enhances the user’s real-world experience by adding contextual layers of information in real time.

With the rapid advent of technology, the definition of the term ‘reality’, which we so commonly use, is constantly undergoing changes at its most basic level. Lately, these changes have been even more dramatic!

Take, for example, the way we experience reality. The five basic senses that we have are enough for anyone to live their daily life with ease (although that’s quite debatable, actually!). However, even those five senses can only do so much when it comes to seeing, hearing and perceiving things that are not ‘actually’ there. This is where the concept of ‘simulated reality’ comes into the picture.

The two latest technologies that have taken the world by storm in this “simulated” domain are Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. That being said, due to considerable overlaps in what both of these technologies deliver, and the fact that both modify/accentuate the physical reality around a user, people tend to confuse one with the other.

So, once and for all, let’s look at what these technologies are and how they differ from each other.

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What Is Virtual Reality?

virtual reality paradox meme

‘Virtual’ and ‘reality’- the inherent meanings of the word stand at two extremes of the spectrum. Often abbreviated as ‘VR’, Virtual Reality entirely immerses you in a different, visual world that is artificially created and enhanced. It completely transports you from your physical surroundings to a ‘virtual’ world, where you actually become a part of it and interact with it in various ways. In addition to creating a visual experience (which obviously taps into your sense of sight), VR can engage and interact with a number of your senses, including hearing, smell and touch.

What Is Augmented Reality?

augmented reality

Photo Credit: Dragonstock/Fotolia

Augmented Reality (AR) refers to a reality that has been ‘augmented’ or ‘enhanced’ through artificial means. It basically enhances your reality with the help of simulated inputs, meaning that it replaces or adds to the real world with a simulated one within your physical surroundings.

We recently did a full-fledged article on Augmented Reality, along with its details and applications. You can check it out here: What is Augmented Reality?

Now, for the key differences between AR and VR!

Visual Reality Vs. Augmented Reality


virtual reality

Gaming will never be the same with Virtual Reality

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As mentioned earlier, VR takes you from the real world and puts you into an entirely new and different world, where you couldn’t normally go. Put on some VR gear and you’ll instantly be transported to the most exotic locations in the world or places that could only be imagined in fairy tales. In short, VR results in the users’ absolute immersion in whatever they are watching, without any involvement/disturbance from the real, physical world. Once you put on your VR gear, you’re essentially disconnected from the real world.

AR, on the other hand, incorporates whatever it is that you are seeing or perceiving with the real world. It adds, in real time, contextual layers of desired information to accentuate/aid your perception of things. Take Iron Man, for example.

The way he sees and interacts with everything (that is supposed to be displayed on a computer screen) just by shifting and “touching” certain things suspended in the air is a very good example of how augmented reality works. The concept of AR has been used in many other movies, as well, including Minority Report, Wall-E, Avatar and so on. Unlike VR, AR ensures that you are constantly aware of your physical surroundings, while actively engaging with the simulated one.


As of now, both AR and VR operate with different gear; so your VR gear won’t support AR and vice-versa.

oculus rift

Oculus Rift, the most popular gear to experience Virtual Reality (Image Source: Flickr.com)

The most popular gear spearheading VR’s advance in the market is Oculus Rift. The Rift covers both your eyes and ears when you wear it, has a resolution of 1080×1200 per eye and gives a wide-angle view of the virtual world that you enter once you put it on. Some of the other innovations supporting VR include Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Sony Project Morpheus.


Microsoft’s Hololens

AR’s most popular gear is the Hololens. A product of tech-giant Microsoft, its appearance is similar to visor glasses, and are connected to an adjustable padded inner headband. Other noteworthy gear that supports AR include Google Glass, Sony SmartEyeglass, Recon Jet, Vuzix M100, Google Glass 2 and Magic leap.


While both AR and VR offer a different/enhanced view of the real world, there are a few challenges that they need to overcome.

For VR, its primary deliverable, i.e. transportation to a different world, is also what becomes its pitfall. Exposure to such a view for too long could cause simulation sickness. Also, the user has to be in a controlled/monitored environment to be able to use it. Furthermore, the gear of VR is not something that you can simply tote around in your pocket to use whenever and wherever you want.

oculus rift

How long would you really want to wear this gear? (Image Source: Flickr.com)

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As for AR, it offers a very small field of view in comparison to VR, and like VR, there are also some problems with AR’s gear. As is true with any wearable tech, it needs to be made more fashionable and socially acceptable. In fact, one of the main reasons for the lukewarm performance of Google Glass was its lack of aesthetic appeal.

To sum up, as their names suggest, both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tinker with reality; VR diverts you from it, whereas AR enhances and adds to it. However, the way that both technologies progress and play out in the future depends entirely on users. It comes down to simple questions of logistics, convenience, and whether you want to digitally enhance your physical world or be somewhere else entirely. Choose Wisely!

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.