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What Is the Difference Between AR and VR?

Updated: May 31,2022

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Since their humble origins in the previous century, augmented reality and virtual reality have come a long way. As they evolve, these two technologies are becoming increasingly entwined, and telling the difference between AR and VR is becoming harder than it was before. 

Though often associated with the gaming industry, virtual reality and augmented reality use has expanded to a variety of other fields, which we’ll go over in detail here, along with definitions, key differences, and hardware examples.

What Is AR?

Augmented reality enhances the real-world environment and objects by combining them with computer-generated virtual components. It creates an immersive experience where virtual elements are laid over or inserted onto actual surfaces in the real world, with the help of a variety of devices. It doesn’t change the user’s environment entirely, but rather just adds content to their field of vision.

By using a smartphone, computer screen, or specific augmented reality equipment, users can insert whatever they want into their environment, from video game characters and face filters to 3D images of furniture. The fact that you don’t need to own an AR headset to be able to access augmented reality’s functions makes it more accessible to users since most people own a PC or a mobile phone.

What Is VR?

Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation in which the person’s current surroundings are completely replaced by a virtual environment. The user is immersed in the simulation usually through the use of a VR headset that allows them to interact with others, as well as with the new environment. A well-known example of a virtual reality future can be seen in the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which the characters weren’t aware that they were living in a simulation.

VR requires the use of virtual reality technologies for the user to be able to enjoy the experience fully. Besides VR headsets, which are often bulky, other sensory accessories such as gloves can be used. Although mostly used in gaming and entertainment, virtual reality’s use has spread to other domains, like science and education, with more than 171 million estimated active users.

What Is MR Then?

Another important term to mention when talking about AR and VR is mixed reality. It’s a combination of AR and VR technology that creates a virtual simulation by fusing one’s real environment with a digital one, but here’s the catch: Unlike with AR, users have the possibility of physically interacting with the virtual environment using MR.

There’s also an umbrella term that encompasses all three of these technologies. It’s called extended reality, or XR, in short.

AR vs. VR - Key Differences

AR and VR are both based on the idea of using technology to visually alter your surroundings, but there are several essential differences between them:

  • AR enhances the real-world environment by adding virtual elements to it, while VR entirely replaces the current setting with a digital simulation.
  • The system has complete control over VR users’ experience, while AR users are in control of their actions and experiences in the actual world.
  • AR doesn’t require the use of a special headset and can even be accessed via a regular smartphone, while VR does require a headset device.

Augmented Reality Devices

AR and VR use different kinds of hardware that have different applications and purposes. When it comes to pricing and availability, AR devices are generally more accessible than VR devices, although there are exceptions.

Mobile Handheld Devices

The most common way people use AR is through a variety of smartphone and tablet applications using AR hologram imagery. The popular mobile game Pokemon GO, which allows players to capture, train, and battle virtual Pokemon in the real world, is a good example of these apps. 

AR Glasses or Smart Glasses

With AR headsets, such as Google Glass or Microsoft’s HoloLens, users see a virtual layer of information superimposed on the real world. These AR glasses are not widely used since they’re still out of reach for most people, with some costing up to $3,000.

Heads-Up Displays

A heads-up display is any kind of transparent display that allows people to view data while not having to look away from what they’re currently observing. For example, HUDs can be used in cars. An AR device can project information and images using the car’s windshield as a screen.

AR Lenses

Smart lenses, or AR contact lenses, as their name suggests, are designed to project AR information while worn as regular contact lenses. Many consider this the future of AR. In 2021, for example, Sony patented lenses that have the ability to store data and capture videos and photos.

Virtual Reality Devices

VR devices are becoming increasingly popular, yet many of their applications are still limited to gaming. Their prices may also have an impact on their availability.

VR Headsets 

VR headsets are integral to the VR experience. As a rule, they consist of a head-mounted display and head or eye-tracking cameras and motion sensors and are divided into three main categories: standalone VR headsets, mobile headsets, and PC-based headsets. Some of the most popular on the market are Oculus Quest, the PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive Cosmos. The prices of VR headsets typically range from $300 (if you want something better than Google Cardboard) to $1,000 and more.

VR Controllers

There’s a wide variety of VR controllers available on the market, with HTC Vive and Oculus Touch being among the most popular ones. VR controllers allow users to interact with virtual objects and manipulate their surroundings as they see fit.

Cyber Gloves

Haptic gloves, like those offered by Oculus, allow users to visualize their hands in real time in VR surroundings and games. This enables users to interact with objects by touching or lifting them, as these gloves track your hand and finger movements. 

Omnidirectional Treadmills (ODTs)

With these accessory treadmills, users may walk or run physically in any direction, which allows them to experience an even more immersive VR environment. Some of the best-known treadmills are Virtuix Omni and Katwalk.

AR/VR Implementations

Virtual and augmented reality are becoming more incorporated into our daily lives as time progresses and it’s likely they’ll play an even bigger role in our future. 

AR Use Cases

AR technology is rapidly penetrating various aspects of our lives, even without us realizing it. Let’s check out some of its applications.


AR use is most commonly associated with the gaming industry. Nowadays, many game developers are increasingly implementing AR into their games. One of the most popular AR examples in gaming is definitely Pokemon GO, downloaded more than 1 billion times since it came out in 2016. Using just their smartphone’s camera and location tracking, players were encouraged to go outdoors and search for Pokemon and collectible items, engaging with one another in the physical world.


The use of tablets, smartphones, and similar technology has become commonplace in learning institutions, from preschool to universities. A variety of educational AR apps are used in the classrooms, offering students a more immersive learning experience and environment. Imagine looking at musical notes in real time while playing an instrument, or being able to apply AR while practicing for surgery. The possibilities in this domain are endless.

Retail and Shopping 

While shopping, people like to have access to as much useful information as possible to be more efficient and pick the right product for them. To facilitate this process, many brands have developed their own apps that utilize AR tech. Ikea, for example, offers its users the option to virtually place furniture and items in their homes to ensure that they fit. Clothing companies, such as Dior, are following the same trends, allowing you to virtually try on clothes and accessories before purchasing them. Shopping from the comfort of your couch was never easier.

VR Use Cases

What is virtual reality used for? When compared to AR, its application may be less common. Let’s take a look.

Gaming and Entertainment

Entertainment and gaming are being continually transformed by the advancements in VR technology and its capacity to create immersive experiences. It’s expected that users and viewers will increasingly be able to switch their roles from passive to engaged in gaming and movies. Imagine being able to play games or engage with movies from your own point of view, or even having the option to impact the story’s outcome. It introduces a whole new level of engagement with content, which many people find alluring.


From flight training to combat training, augmented and virtual reality headsets and technology are key simulation tools utilized in military personnel training. New technologies are being invented every day in this field, and VR simulations provide a safe space for training that would otherwise take place in high-risk environments. Soldiers can employ VR to practice a range of scenarios as preparation for threats in real-life situations.

Real Estate

Virtual reality property tours are becoming increasingly popular. Whether someone is looking for a new home or commercial space inside an existing structure or one that is currently being built, they no longer need to be physically present to make a decision. Potential buyers and tenants can view 3D models and simulations in VR, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the environment.

Final Thoughts

So, the main difference between AR and VR is that AR combines the real world with a digital overlay whereas virtual reality completely immerses you in a digital environment. 

AR and VR play different roles in our lives, with the help of a variety of devices. Unfortunately, the high price tags of both AR and VR devices are the main obstacle for many people who want to try out these exciting new technologies.

However, as AR and VR devices become more affordable, they will gradually become more widely adopted. This could lead to some very exciting developments, from new ways to experience entertainment and education, to improved communication and collaboration among people around the world.


What does AR stand for?

AR stands for augmented reality, in which the real-life environment is modified by adding visual, audio, and other sensory elements delivered through various technologies. Nowadays, it’s often used in smartphone applications. 

What does VR stand for?

Virtual reality, or VR, is a simulated experience in which the user’s current environment is entirely replaced by a digital surrounding, through sounds, images, and other sensations. 

Why would you choose AR over VR?

Because it’s more accessible. VR immerses the user in a virtual world, accessing which usually requires a VR headset. AR, on the other hand, modifies the real-world environment by adding virtual elements to it. It doesn’t require a special AR headset - a smartphone with an AR app installed will suffice.

Do you need a headset for augmented reality?

Even though such AR equipment exists (for example, AR smart glasses), users don’t need to have it to be able to immerse themselves in augmented reality. AR can also be used via PCs and smartphones.

Which is better: AR or VR?

The key difference between AR and VR is that AR offers users and companies more freedom and options because it doesn’t require a headset, while VR provides a more immersive experience. Neither option is necessarily better, as it all depends on the kind of experience you’re looking for.

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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.

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