The reality-virtuality continuum, and how augmented reality and virtual reality are different

Different shifted and mixed realities are relatively new concepts even for researchers (the first theoretical paper has been published in 1994), and they are just going mainstream right now. No wonder there's quite a bit of confusion about the terminology, and sometimes you still hear people referring to the Google Glass as VR, or the Oculus Rift as AR. It's a bit like calling GMail a social network. You might argue it's not completely wrong, but definitely not right.

So what is, exactly, the difference between AR and VR?

For thousands of years humanity knew only one reality: the actual, or consensus reality. And for thousands of years, people wanted to escape. They fabricated tales and epics, taking the reader or listener to far away shores with unthinkable landscape and mythical creatures. They didn't have the tools to create an immersive experience. Luckily for us, we have these tools now - and they are getting better by the day.

It's important to define "immersive experience". Immersion can be reached by altering the senses, and most importantly altering what we see. It's not the only way to deliver an immersive experience, but it's the most impactful. (If you've ever been to a Hollister or a Shanghai Tang, you know exactly that some level of immersion can be created through smelling, by using the same scents in every store.) This altering of the senses , most importantly vision, is predominantly achieved using computer hardware and software; therefore it is called computer mediation.

The reality-virtuality continuum is a scale, with consensus reality on one end, and virtual reality on the other. Computer mediation is another scale, and all shifted realities are defined on these two axes:

Augmented Reality / Augmented Virtuality / Virtual Reality

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is created by augmenting computer-mediated virtual objects into the consensus reality. IRL is still your "main reality", with some virtual elements added to it. Google Glass is one of the best examples to AR, but there are many. In fact, Augmented Reality is so widespread in our lives, we don't even necessarily realise it's everywhere.

The first down marker on this picture is Augmented Reality:

This Microvision car HUD is Augmented Reality, too:

Augmented Reality has been used a few times by brands. This is a behind-the-scenes photo of one of our projects, when we created 3D virtual models of LEGO buildings for T-Mobile:

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality, by its easiest definition, is a highly computer-mediated experience that puts the user to an imaginary environment (or a real environment that exists at another place or in a different time). It's usually an interactive experience, and it mainly alters realities of vision and hearing. This is often achieved by a head mounted display, operating either in connection with a smartphone or connected to a computer.

Virtual Reality hardware has improved a lot in the last few years (especially in the last two), and it's going mainstream in these very months. In fact, there are more than one completely affordable ways you can start your VR journey today.

We believe VR is one of the next big platforms in marketing - this is a big part of our coverage here at RealityShift.

What is Augmented Virtuality?

Augmented Virtuality is augmenting elements of the consensus reality into a virtual environment. It requires powerful hardware and software, which can capture and process multi-sensory input (usually motion) from the real world, and channel it back to virtuality. AV is the most "sci-fi" of the shifted realities, and mainstream applications probably won't be available for another two or three years.

This is how an advanced Augmented Virtuality application looks like today, and you can tell there's quite a bit of room for growth:

Do you have anything to add? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.