Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality vs Mixed Reality  —  An Introductory Guide

Today’s technology has come a long way from the days of View-Master’s thin cardboard discs containing seven stereoscopic 3D pairs of small color photographs to today’s VR and its close cousin AR.

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In fact, thanks to heavy investments from giants like Facebook, Google, Samsung, and many others betting on high-value returns, virtual and augmented reality are finding their way into our newsfeeds more and more frequently.

In this article, we start by highlighting the nuances between VR, AR, and MR, and then take a quick trip back in time to see how VR/AR evolved. Finally, we evaluate how they fit in today’s reality, and how they may affect tomorrow’s.

What Is Virtual Reality (VR)?

Virtual Reality, or VR, is a simulated and immersive experience projected by a device into the user’s sight. Imagine walking down the Champs-Elisée (Paris), while still sitting in your basement in San Francisco. All you need is a headset projecting you into a simulation via a viewfinder. That’s exactly what VR promises, and much more.

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How does VR work?

Some of you may remember what a thrilling experience it was using Mattel’s View-Master, which was introduced in the 1960s. Today’s VR is the modern version of that stereoscopic sightseeing effect: It requires a set of lenses inside a viewport on a headset and a mounted device where the experience is stored or computed.

From pure observation to complete immersion, the range of VR capabilities varies depending on the device and type of headset used. Using a remote control in sync with the mounted headset allows the user to interact with 3D objects in space, within the experience — either for VR games or virtual interfaces and apps.

The Brief History of VR and Its Evolution Through Time

Leaving aside the technicality of VR for a moment, and focusing on the immersive 360° experience that it aims to project us into, we could argue that virtual reality started from the “360-degree murals (or panoramic paintings) from the nineteenth century,” as the Virtual Reality Society states on their History of Virtual Reality. We shifted from an early flight simulator (1929) to Morton’s first VR Head Mounted Display in 1960, to Neo experiencing the whole world as a simulation inside The Matrix in 1999.