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AR vs. VR – The Difference Between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Augmented reality vs Virtual Reality - AR vs VR

Just about everyone these days knows what VR is, but people still get confused when someone refers to Augmented Reality or AR.

So what exactly is the difference between the two?

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is used to create an alternate experience that is completely removed from the real world. Think about it. You put on a VR headset and you are completely cut off from your view of the real world. Instead, you see a computer-generated world in perfect 3D. You can look around. If you have touch controllers, you can even touch things.

Virtual Reality Game

The HTC Vive allows you to set a pre-determined movement area that you can move around in without bumping into things. This is because when you are in VR, you are so removed from the real world that you could very easily step on a pet or trip over a child, or a piece of furniture, for that matter.

Virtual Reality Gaming

This just underlines how Virtual Reality completely removes you from the real world.

VR in 4D

We haven’t even begun to discuss 4D, which is an enhanced form of Virtual Reality that includes effects like mist or wind or rain, these being generated by machines to mirror experienced reality in the virtual world. For example, you would see rain falling in Virtual Reality, an a machine would actually spray you with water so that you actually felt the rain.

Child explores space in VR

You see that Virtual Reality tries to create an immersive set of experiences that actually work to convince you that you are in another world, or in another reality. So that’s what Virtual Reality is.

So what is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality is a very interesting concept in which computer graphics are used to alter your experience of the REAL world. At first glance this may not be as exciting as Virtual Reality, but if you stop to think about it, it has a lot of appealing applications.

For example, in Augmented Reality, you would no longer look at a physical monitor.

Instead, you would wear an AR headset that would give you a view of your room, and the monitor and whatever was displayed on it would be generated by computer graphics. To all effects, you would see the display hanging in the air in front of you. You could even turn it transparent to see the room around you through the displays.

Augmented Reality

This is a very futuristic sort of interface, and the kind of thing that we are likely to see increasingly as AR develops, and as the technologies that support both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality develop.

Augmented Reality

Other applications could be 3D modelling.

At the moment, to create 3D models you need to use complex software like 3D Studio Max or Maya to create 3D models. But if you had Augmented Reality, you would actually see ‘virtual’ modelling clay floating in front of you, and you could actually mould this with your hands to create the model you want. You could mould it, or carve it with a number of sculpting tools, all of which would be digitally created in Augmented Reality. You could set the texture of the clay, or even how easy it would be to mould or sculpt.

And that’s still only one more application of Augmented Reality.

You could display a Google map right across the floor of a large room, and actually walk around it pointing out different features to a friend or a business client.

If you were working on a complex project, you could generate as many monitors as you wish around the room in Augmented Reality, and these would all cost no more than the cost of your single AR headset.

The applications in terms of design interfaces are staggering. Engineering models or Computer Animations could be created entirely in Augmented Reality.

Design teams could work together in a shared Augmented Reality…

So these are some of the potential applications of Augmented Reality.

So, is Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality the superior experience?

Actually, the two are quite different experiences.

It is possible that at some point in the future, a headset will exist that can offer both Virtual Reality as well as Augmented Reality. But this would have to be a complex device, and it would require a great deal of miniaturization, as well as great many technical problems solved.

To be honest, I doubt such a device is even on the drawing boards as of yet.

For now, AR and VR are two different experiences, and they serve two completely different purposes. At the moment, there’s is no overlapping between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Virtual reality is an experience of a subtly generated different reality, while Augmented Reality is more focused upon applications, interfaces and helping you to process information.

In the future, Augmented Reality could offer many benefits in the real world.

A surgeon could call up data on his Augmented Reality headset even as he operates. Similarly, a car mechanic could draw readings from a car’s sensors even as he worked on the car.

Augmented reality vs Virtual Reality - AR vs VR

Perhaps ten years into the future, business cards may be able to display three dimensional animations, or even a small video if a person looking at them were wearing a Augmented Reality headset or goggles.

A tourist walking around a new city could have all sorts of information displayed to them using their Augmented Reality headset, including maps and directions. At some point, as processing power increases, this could even include a language protocol providing the tourist with the appropriate local phrase to use when someone addresses him or her.

How much of this is possible today?

As far as Virtual Reality is concerned, it is on the high road to becoming an ‘actual reality’.

Of course, this still depends upon how many people ultimately buy the overpriced high-end headsets. But cheaper headsets like Google Cardboard have put Virtual Reality within the reach of everyone, and it is unlikely that VR is going to disappear anytime soon.

Whether the high-end headsets ever become common in every home is a matter of debate and we’ll just have to wait and see how that works out. I doubt it will happen unless mass production greatly reduces the cost of the headsets, and I doubt that will happen unless more people start buying the headsets.

So it’s a sort of vicious circle.

convince your wife to buy a vr headset

As for AR, it is still in the extremely experimental and prototype stage.

There are still some great apps available today. If you’re excited and want to venture into this bold new frontier, we suggest you get the Google Glass Headset today! There are lots of other AR headsets as well. The Epson Moverio is recommended as well.

Augmented Reality Game

Companies like Apple are conducting extensive research into AR, so both apps and hardware should improve exponentially.

But AR is still largely in the future.

Sure, there are apps around right now, and good ones, but there’s a lot of space for growth. Augmented reality has a lot of potential, perhaps even far more than VR does, and it can truly be useful in every aspect of our everyday lives.

It goes without saying that when it does arrive in every home, it will completely change the way we interface with our reality.

Augmented Reality Desktop

How to Stream PC Games to Cardboard?

Stream VR games to google cardboard

If you have a reasonable gaming computer that could handle VR, but if you can’t afford a VR headset like the Oculus Rift or the Vive at the moment, you might be interested in streaming VR games to a cheap headset like Google cardboard.

Is this doable?

Well, not with all games, obviously, but there are apps that can allow you a reasonably fulfilling experience.

What you’ll need…

You can do this if you actually have a PC that can handle VR. Also, the cheap VR headsets that you buy should have a good strap for the head, or you’ll have problems. You’ll also need a fairly modern model of Android, and a Leap Motion tracker.

A cardboard star-fighter good enough for you?

Start by arranging streaming

Getting your PC to stream games to your Android requires you to install RiftCat. Here’s where you can get the installer. Once you’ve installed RiftCat on your PC, the next step is to pair it with the VRidge app on your phone, so you’ll need to install that on your phone next.

Once you have RiftCat on your PC, and VRidge on your phone, then things really start to happen.

Log into RiftCat, and then set up a VRidge connection to your phone (there’s a tab for this).

Connecting the Phone and PC

This is done through local WiFi, though USB connections are also possible, and can be more reliable. Now your phone and computer should recognize each other through the network.

RiftCat-Vridge connection

RiftCat games

We suggest that you test-run your setup on the database of RiftCat games, all of which have been well-tested to run through VRidge.

Here’s a step-by-step video in case you’re confused about any stage of the setup…

Playing SteamVR Games

Remember that the RiftCat-VRidge connection must be active before you launch SteamVR. Once you launch SteamVR, there is a button in VRidge that allows you to “Play SteamVR Games”.

Now just start the game of your choice in SteamVR.

Set your ‘room settings’

We’ll be going into how you can activate some simple tracking, but for now, once the game begins, you must remember to set your virtual world settings to the minimum of standing room only.

Passive streaming

The games will now stream into the headset in an essentially passive experience controlled by a handheld controller.

Movement and Tracking

If you want something more interactive than this, then you will have to buy either a Leap Motion controller, or a small gyro mouse.

For Leap Motion to work with the VR headset, you’re going to attach the tracker to your headset and connect it to the computer. Do bear in mind that there will be a cable reaching from your headset to your computer, and you  need to make sure this cable is long enough, and that you won’t trip over it with the headset on.

Colonizing known space… at a fraction of the price!

After this, just install the Orion Beta application.

It has a nice tutorial that will take you through the remaining steps of the process. It goes without saying, of course, that you will have to mount the controller on your headset.

A gyro mouse is also a nice way to institute tracking

It’s very efficient and there’s no lag detectable. It is also, unlike the Leap Motion controller, wireless.

You’ll have to mount it on your headset, but once you do, you have a lovely wireless tracking headset that can allow you to use a fairly wide range of VR experiences.

And that’s all that it takes to stream VR games to cardboard, or any cheap mobile-based headset. Bear in mind that the system isn’t perfect – some games will run, and others won’t. I wouldn’t suggest that you buy a game to use on this system, unless it has a shareware version you can try for free to make sure it works – but there are lots of those! Try out a game, and if it works, go ahead and buy it.

And if you’ve added tracking, you can have quite an immersive experience… at a fraction of the price of a high-end headset.

What’s the Purpose of The Camera on the HTC Vive?

HTC Vive Headset Camera VR

One of the signs that VR is still a developing technology is the fact that people are, for all practical purposes, blind when they put on a VR headset. If you stop to think about it, you’ll wonder how companies that make VR headsets could be so, well, blind.

After all, how convenient is it to be completely without vision while playing a game, even in your own living room?

I see you! No, not really!

A lack of fore-sight

Those words can be taken in two ways.

But seriously, the fact that companies that make VR headsets did not foresee the problems ‘virtually blind’ users would have, or develop a means to counter this with the first generation of headsets, shows that VR is still a technology in its very infancy. I think that the tracking technology ‘leaped ahead’ – that is to say, the headsets were actually designed for ‘passive gaming’, when suddenly some pesky programmer or hardware guy came along and said – ‘Hey, why not add tracking – then players would actually be able to move around in a game.’

The idea was too good not to implement, but it had to be implemented on the already-designed VR headsets, which effectively left the first generation of VR players ‘blind to reality’ so long as they wore the headsets!

After involuntary protests from stepped-on animals, and small children…

Yes, now that enough people have tripped over cats and stepped on children, HTC Vive has developed a camera that can allow you a glimpse of the world when you activate it, or at certain preset instances, such as when you come to the boundaries of the pre-set play area.

VR and cat
Don’t you DARE VR right over me!

However, even now, the forward facing camera does not offer you a true-to-life glimpse of the real world.

Instead, you get to see a strange greenish version of reality, as viewed by ‘the terminator’ or ‘the borg’.

Camera View HTC Vive
VR Borg – Yes, really… on the HTC Vive!

A better camera system would be great for Augmented Reality

Ideally, what I think should be the system in place on any VR headset is two cameras, the average distance apart of the human eyes, which provide direct feeds to each of the screens inside the headset if necessary, actually creating, for all practical purposes, a binocular three-dimensional view of the real world.

This isn’t much use today – but it would be a massive advantage to developing augmented-reality systems that would completely change the way we interface with PCs.

However, let’s not predict the future… it isn’t here yet!

Yes, Augmented Reality will be a reality some day…but not today!

For now, a forward facing camera is an option that is certainly, despite the distorted view it provides, a great option to let you know when a child enters the room, or when your pet is somewhere around. It also allows you to execute simple tasks that you may want to do while still not completely exiting virtual reality.

HTC Vive in Virtual reality
Is this man blind to reality?

It’s very easy to set up – all you have to do is start SteamVR, and in the settings, select the option for the camera. When you click on it, there will be a checkbox that allows you to enable the camera.

There are lots of fairly self obvious settings, which you’ll have to go through. One nice option is getting the system to automatically activate the camera when you reach the limits of your play area. Other than that, you will be able to activate the camera whenever you please, simply by “double clicking” the system buttons. After you’ve done all this, you need to exit and restart SteamVR once again, and your forward facing camera should be operational. As I said, it’s easy and simple to set up, which I applaud, but at the end of everything, you’ll end up with the creepy, rather distorted visual experience of your real environment that you can see in the videos below…

Another example…

Is the system satisfactory?

Not entirely.

Will this allow for augmented reality at a later stage?

Unlikely. If it does, it will be an augmented reality solely accessible by terminators and borg.

Does it work, for the purpose for which it is designed?

Yes. Kids and cats now have a relatively ‘protected’ status, and are no longer on the endangered list.