Which Reality Do You Mean? A Look At VR, AR, MR, and SR

In the world of computing there a few flavors of reality. Can you tell your VR from your AR? Let’s look at some of the most popular realities available today.

To start, we have Reality. This is the world as it actually exists. No headsets or equipment required. It’s free and open-source.

Virtual Reality (VR) often uses a headset or wall projections to completely immerse you in an imaginary, computer-generated environment. If you turn your head, your view of the environment will change. You can move about the virtual world and interact with things you see, including other users.

Some VR systems provide tactile feedback. You can “feel” the bumpiness of a road, or the edges of an object.

VR has been around for quite a while, and uses are varied. There are games, of course, but also art installations, medical uses, educational opportunities, and mental health applications. You might pop on a headset and swim with whales, or climb a mountain. You’ll feel as though you are there.

You can find videos online showing reactions of people wearing VR headsets. Some fall down or bump into walls. Others scream from surprise. VR can cause some very real reactions. This can be fun and funny, but it can also be put to good use.

VR has been used, for example, to help people get over their fear of heights by giving users the experience of looking down from a tall location. It’s been used to treat PTSD.

That said, wearing goggles can present a bit of a problem for some people (warning: some adult language):


Augmented Reality (AR) combines computer generated images with the real world. You might be looking at the Municipal Center through your smartphone or headset (or glasses or contacts), but also see a layer of information on top of that view that tells you about the building, when it was built, where offices are, and so on.

AR overlays content onto a view of the real world, but isn’t anchored to it.

An AR layer might add to or subtract from something in view, and has many uses. TV sports fans are used to seeing lines drawn on football fields to indicate first downs that move with each play. That’s AR. Same with that puck-tracking visual the NHL experimented with.

AR might help tourists find their way or translate foreign signs, identify birds and flowers, or give other updates while watching waves crash on a beach.

Advertisers are interested in AR. If you’d like to see AR advertising in action, watch this:

Mixed Reality (MR) is similar to AR, but the real-world and digital overlay layers are able to react to one another. The overlay content is anchored to and interacts with the real world. A surgeon might overlay a real-time ultrasound image over a view of a patient while operating.

The key difference between MR and AR is that with MR, the real and artificial worlds interact with one another.

There’s one more reality for today – Simulated Reality.

Simulated Reality is altogether something different from overlays and headsets. This is the idea that we are now living in a simulation so real that we cannot tell that it is a simulation.

That begs the question, are the people running this simulation also in a simulation?

Have some cocoa, look out the window, and ponder. Which reality would I like today?

All joking aside, these forms of reality will be with us for a while. These technologies will be combined with others such as AI and robotics, and others still that we can’t even imagine.

You can gain some level of control by knowing how it works, but also by learning to develop and create these alternative realities. It’s up to humans to figure out worthwhile and productive uses.

The good news is there are free and cheap tools available to start experimenting. Google can help you turn your smart phone into a headset using some cardboard. You can download free software, such as Unity or Cospaces, to develop VR worlds.

As with most new technologies, learn to control them or they very well may control you.

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