You want more reality than the basic one around you? Technology is here to help. But it’s not simply a case of jumping into a new reality. You will quickly find a set of similar terms that can lead to confusion over what they offer and how they will function. A search on for augmented reality will give different results that one for virtual reality—they are similar but not the same! What is the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?

Virtual Reality

In virtual reality, you are immersed into a completely digital world that is disconnected from the actual physical world around you. In a way it’s like the holodeck from Star Trek, though nothing you can interact with in today’s virtual reality has any physical presence. Most VR systems use a headset that displays the graphics directly in front of you, along with at least one controller. The controllers can potentially give physical or ‘haptic’ feedback. Your challenge with VR is not accidentally tripping over your coffee table as you dodge a digital zombie. Since the VR rig completely obscures your field of vision, you won’t see that trip hazard lurking near the play area. And VR can cause nausea for some folks, although that situation has been improving (with a suitably equipped PC) thanks to advances like improved frame rates.

Oculus Rift: An example of a Virtual Reality system

The Oculus Rift is arguably the most dominant VR system in the marketplace right now. You’ll need a gaming PC with considerable power to get the most out of the Oculus Rift. Also, keep in mind that the price tag for this PC peripheral is around the cost of a new Xbox One X.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is the less immersive of the two approaches. The digital information is presented on top of the real world, instead of replacing it. AR depends on the cameras in the device being used to relay the real-world surroundings to the program, which then maps the digital items on top of it. Remember last year when every human being was playing Pokémon Go? That was augmented reality.

There are a couple of advantages to AR. First, it is cheaper to implement. No dedicated headset means less cost. Second, you can still see your feet and the pet attempting to weave in between them as you play your game. However, the downside to AR is the lack of processing power and sophistication. In most situations, you’ll be depending on your mobile device to run the app, so do not expect digital miracles.

The curious case of Microsoft’s HoloLens

Mixed Reality HoloLensIn 2015, Microsoft promised a new artificial reality system that would be a massive technological leap forward for consumers. The demonstrations of their new tech, the HoloLens, were amazing. It was a mix of VR and AR, controlled by voice, motion and controllers. It was wireless and powerful enough to fundamentally change how you interact with an enhanced digital world. And then it disappeared. Well, mostly disappeared. There is still some development happening for the HoloLens, but it’s not aimed at consumers like you and me. It’s now aimed at enterprise and educational development.

Mixed Reality Acer HeadsetInstead, Microsoft has launched a less powerful version to consumers. Headsets like the  Acer Windows Mixed Reality VR Headset offer a technological solution called ‘mixed reality’. It uses both AR and VR, depending on the situation. It can’t do the wondrous things promised by the HoloLens, but it’s real and it’s (relatively) more affordable than the HoloLens’ estimated $2000+ cost.

Interested in taking the leap into VR? Best Buy has everything you need for an immersive virtual reality experience, including VR-capable PCs, and all the VR hardware needed.


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Chris Loblaw
Chris is a novelist, avid gamer, tech enthusiast, and proud dad of a 13-year-old video game master.