AR vs VR: What's is the Difference?

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: A Detailed Comparison

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are two of the most exciting technologies that have seen huge advancements in recent years. As we enter 2024, both AR and VR are becoming increasingly mainstream and being used in a variety of applications from gaming to business. But what exactly is the difference between the two?

Defining Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital information and objects onto the real world that you see with your own eyes. Unlike VR which immerses you into a completely virtual environment, AR uses your existing environment and adds layers of digital information and objects to it. For example, AR overlays graphics, animations, text, and other enhancements over what you see with your eyes in the real world, creating an “augmented” view of reality.

AR Examples

Some examples of current AR applications include:

  • AR games like Pokemon Go where digital characters appear on your camera view of the real world
  • AR filters on social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram
  • AR instructions overlaid on machinery to guide repairs and maintenance
  • Retail apps that let you visualize digital furniture in your living room to see products in context

AR allows you to view and interact with the real world while also accessing relevant digital information about your environment and what is in it.

Defining Virtual Reality

In contrast to AR which overlays digital elements onto the real environment, virtual reality (VR) completely immerses you into a fully digital, computer generated environment disconnected from the real world. When engaging with VR, you cannot see the actual surroundings around you.

VR Examples

Some current examples of virtual reality applications include:

  • VR video games where you enter into fully digital landscapes and worlds
  • VR films that immerse you within a fictional CGI setting
  • VR education tools that let students enter recreations of historical events and locations
  • VR workplace training to safely simulate dangerous real work contexts

VR cuts off your view of reality and lets you step into engaging digital worlds and scenarios with much more control than augmented reality.

Key Differences

While AR and VR share the goal of enhancing our understanding of information and environments by incorporating digital elements, some key differences set them apart:

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Degree of Immersion

As covered earlier, VR completely immermsers you in a virtual environment while AR provides partial immersion by overlaying graphics onto the real view. This means VR requires dedicated hardware like headsets to block out your view of reality for full effect.

Real vs Virtual Environments

AR layers digital objects and data onto real environments you can physically see and interact with. This allows you to visualize extra dimensions atop reality. VR transports you to fully virtual environments detached from the real, no matter how realistic.

Senses Engaged

VR equipment like haptic gloves and omnidirectional treadmills can provide heightened, realistic digital sensations completely replacing real senses. AR focuses more on visual sense augmentation via mobile devices and glasses.

Use Cases

AR allows real world annotation, directions, data comparison on-site, repairs etc. VR better suits fully engrossing contentconsumption, risk free exploration, and simulations where real context isn’t vital. As equipment evolves however, applications may converge.

Current Hardware Options

Both AR and VR rely on hardware tools to deliver digitally enhanced experiences:

AR Hardware

Most current AR implementations use:

  • Smartphones: AR apps use phone cameras to overlay graphics on the live video feed displayed. GPS provides location data.
  • AR headsets: Dedicated AR glasses like Microsoft HoloLens allow hands free augmented visuals instead of needing to hold up phones and tablets.
  • Smart contact lenses: Prototypes exist of contacts with tiny built-in displays for overlaying AR information at all times. Miniaturization challenges remain before mainstream viability.

VR Hardware

Current leading VR platforms require isolated, fully immersive equipment:

  • Wired VR headsets: Examples include the Oculus Rift and HTC providing crisp graphics and responsive head tracking minus cluttered cables.
  • Standalone wireless VR headsets: These all-in-one units like Oculus Quest don’t need external devices allowing tether free immersion and movement in VR but at somewhat downgrade visual quality.
  • Multi-sensory rigs: Location based VR setups with motion platforms, tracking sensors, controllers and haptic suites enable highly advanced and realistic virtual environment interaction but at very high cost.

As hardware matures rapidly, visual fidelity, processing power, battery capacities and overall mobility of kits continues rising steadily.

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Development Platform Options

For both AR and VR, many accessible software toolkits exist nowadays for creating augmented and virtual experiences without needing extensive coding expertise:

AR Platforms

  • ARKit: Apple’s AR development framework for iOS devices and their sensors supports positional tracking and advanced rendering.
  • ARCore: Google’s AR platform for Android devices enables efficient AR app development for millions of phones.
  • Vuforia: Vuforia’s industry leading tools allow cross platform AR development across mobile, glasses, consoles and beyond with robust feature support.

VR Platforms

  • Unity: Unity’s flexible game engine provides rich C#/C++ access and prebuilt behaviors for crafting immersive, interactive VR worlds on many platforms.
  • Unreal: Unreal Engine’s blueprints visual scripting enables VR scene construction suited even for non coders and supports rich physics systems.
  • CryEngine: Crytek’s powerful CryEngine has state of the art graphics baked in for high visual fidelity in produced VR environments.

These platforms shield developers from lower level APIs and device specifics greatly speeding up AR/VR creation.

Future Trajectories

Both AR and VR are expected to continue maturing significantly in years ahead:

5G Expanding AR Reach

As 5G cellular data rolls out offering vastly higher speeds and lower latency than 4G, mobile AR performance will soar. More complex AR effects will become reliably streamable letting smartphones and glasses tap remote compute for stunning augmentation effects onsite.

VR Graphics Fidelity

Real time rendered VR graphics and immersive authenticity continues approaching photorealism with screen resolutions and embedded physical rendering improving majorly allowing suspension of disbelief. Eye tracking and foveated rendering that streamline where graphic quality focuses dependent on user gaze point will enable this while optimizing performance.

Embodied Experience

With locomotion gaps removed via omnidirectional treadmills, force feedback accessories, body tracking and climate simulation – pods completely natural movement and interaction will be realizable in social/gaming VR spaces making virtual environments feel lived in.

Cross-Reality Convergence

As both AR and VR hardware plus software evolve in sophistication, blending augmented and virtual elements in a single hybrid “cross reality” experience will become more seamless. Switching between real world annotation layers and high fidelity VR spaces could significantly enhance industrial workflows.

Over time, boundaries between virtuality and augmented physical environments will likely blur into an amalgamated digitally enhanced world.


While AR and VR have common goals of leveraging digital information to expand human perception of environments, key differences separate the two:

  • Augmented reality overlays contextual digital data onto real world scenes you still physically see while virtual reality completely immerses you into computer generated worlds disconnected from the physical.
  • AR hardware like smartphones and specialized glasses provide partial digital augmentation with some immersion while VR headsets and multi sensory rigs enable much deeper immersion in fully virtual environments by blocking out reality.
  • Usage scenarios differ too with AR excelling at real world annotation and data comparison whereas VR suits content consumption, risk free training simulations and explorations where real world context isn’t vital.
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As underlying hardware and infrastructure matures allowing both technologies to enhance visuals, movement freedoms, haptics and environmental sound – they may increasingly blend together into blended “cross reality” experiences encompassing the best of real and virtual worlds. While differences remain in 2024, the futures of AR and VR seem intertwined.


What are some key benefits of AR over VR?

Some benefits AR provides over VR include real environment annotation abilities, partial immersion while remaining alert to surroundings, and accessibility from smartphones without dedicated headsets. Complex VR rigs also inhibit user mobility more.

What are some key current advantages of VR over AR?

Some advantages VR currently provides over AR include capacity for full immersion in realistic generated worlds, ability to simulate potentially dangerous scenarios without risks, and support for multi sensory experiences engaging touch/sound. Fidelity of virtual environments also exceeds most real time AR visuals.

Will AR ever be as immersive as VR?

As augmented reality hardware improves with better displays, graphics, faster pose tracking and environmental mapping, AR immersion levels will approach VR levels while still anchoring some real environment overlay. Smaller form factors and mobility may limit complete isolation from reality though.

What industries are best suited to adopt AR or VR?

AR finds uses in fields needing real world annotation like repair guides, operations, quality assurance while marketing, training simulations, therapy and complex 3D visualizations benefit more from VR’s full immersion support. As both advance, cross reality blending will likely expand.

Do you foresee AR and VR technologies converging in future?

Yes, as underlying infrastructure matures, real time rendering enhances, and hardware form factors allow efficient switching between AR and VR modes – seamlessly blended cross reality apps leveraging both heightened digital overlays and fully immersive virtual spaces will likely emerge. Definition boundaries may blur.

MK Usmaan