The VR Glossary: what is VR, AR, MR, XR?

By Harry Engels December 8, 2017

There’s no shortage of acronyms for the technology which allows us to experience new realities or alter the environment around us. Although they all sit on the same technology spectrum, establishing unique terms for each one is important for guiding user expectations.

Having said that, keeping up with the lingo can be tough (and more than a little intimidating) for some. Each new industry development seems to breed a new tech experience requiring a new definition. Take your eye off the ball for long enough and you’ll be left scratching your head.

To help bring you up to speed, here’s the latest glossary of VR-related tech acronyms, fresh from the experts at Visualise.

VR – Virtual Reality

Virtual reality refers to technology which engages the senses (namely sight and sound) to immerse the user in an artificial environment which suspends belief. This can take various forms and encompasses anything from using a desktop computer to explore a 3D image to complete immersion using a headset and haptic gloves.

VR first made a public appearance in 2004 via a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the Oculus Rift headset. Fast forward to 2017 and virtual reality tech has taken off, with some believing that it’s well on its way to mass adoption. Aside from the huge impact of VR in gaming, it’s also being used in the home, to educate in schools and in the travel sector, to name just a few.

Virtual Reality is beginning to be applied in education to help inspire young minds

AR – Augmented Reality

Augmented reality refers to technology which lays computer generated imagery on top of real environments. It can be used on a smartphone camera and doesn’t require a specialist headset, although the (re)launch of Google Glass could easily see this change.

Until the explosive release of smartphone game, Pokémon Go and various scannable print media, AR started life as a tentative medium which was predominantly used by the likes of NASA and the military. You can now find AR technology in everyday apps like Snapchat, which allows users to overlay fun effects onto videos and photos. It’s also being used to facilitate online shopping and interior design.

Pokemon Go AR game

MR – Mixed Reality

Mixed reality refers to the real-time fusion of virtual environments with real reality (RR) ones. This differs from AR in that it aims to entice the user to interact with the augmented objects as though they were real. It combines both the real-world aspects of AR with the virtual aspects of VR.

Because it combines both AR and VR, mixed reality is one of the lesser known terms in this glossary. It was first used by the U.S Airforce in 1992, but has come into prevalence with the introduction of Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Microsoft's HoloLens was one of the first products to help introduce MR

XR – Extended Reality

Extended reality is the newest kid on the ‘VR acronym’ block. It’s currently being used to refer to hardware which brings AR, VR and MR together in one experience. It’s also being used as a blanket term for all the emerging technologies we’ve covered here. You can look to Google Tango as an early example of it in action.

The lines are so often blurred when developing technology for the experiential space, so it is likely that the term ‘XR’ will be more commonly used as new platforms, software and hardware blend and borrow from one another. It looks like XR is the tech space of the future!

Google Tango is one of the first examples of XR, with 'Dinosaurs Among Us' being one of its most popular apps

If you’d like to discuss the possibilities that virtual reality experiences and films can provide for your business or organisation, get in touch with Visualise today.

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