What is the difference between VR, AR, MR and XR?

google glass

We apparently have different realities; which does what?

After virtual reality and augmented reality, you also hear more about mixed reality and extended reality in recent years. What is this all about?


Virtual reality (VR) refers, as the name suggests, to the presentation of whole virtual reality. In short, you look through VR glasses around you in a fully rendered environment that has nothing to do with the physical reality around you. At the end of the 80s and early 90s, this seemed to be very difficult, but partly because the hardware was not yet suitable for it (the delay made users sick) and it gets expensive, VR did not get off the ground at the time.

Now that the GPU can do more in cheap devices than a super deluxe VR helmet in the 90s, things are very different. Then 18-year-old inventor Palmer Luckey built a rough prototype of a new VR glasses in 2011, among other things, using a modern GPU and gyroscope that passed on sensor information. Programmer and video game legend John Carmack from iD Software was interested in that hardware and the Oculus Rift is now the example for a whole new generation of VR glasses also the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

Augmented Reality (AR) refers to projecting information on physical reality. Layar was a good example. A few years ago you might use Layar on your smartphone. The camera provided the window on your screen for viewing the image around you, and Layar projected information over it. Layar is no longer in that form, but the idea was good – albeit on the early side.

For example, there was a Layar for ATMs, so you could find ATM 500 Meters away using your camera; one for viewing the room so that you could point the smartphone at the sky to see where which system was (if you still want that functionality, I recommend the Star Walk app) and one from Funda so that if you looked in the street around you saw how much that building away would cost you in rent.

Also AR technology in Google Glass, which placed information in your field of vision. Or the Pokémon Go app, which placed Pokémon in the real world to catch.


You would say that Microsoft’s HoloLens is also AR. In fact, holographic computer as a form of augmented reality. But the company sees it differently. Microsoft describes the technology as Mixed Reality, where virtual objects are projected into the physical world.

The difference between AR and MR is, according to Microsoft, that AR is mainly about information and MR is about a piece of virtual reality in your augmented reality, where you interact with the VR elements. The main motivation is possible on the one hand to clearly separate these implementations of Windows 10 from virtual reality and on the other hand to prevent the association with augmented reality, which in the past has led to disappointments. According to this definition, we must also call Pokémon Go MR and not AR, since you play with the virtual objects.

In recent announcements, Qualcomm mentions XR capabilities of its latest chipsets. From the publications to date, it seems that XR refers to various multimedia applications, including the projection of 2D elements to the full rendering of 3D environments, reports technology site Wired. That would mean that XR is an umbrella term for VR, AR, and MR.

This week at consumer electronics fair CES in Las Vegas, XR sets from various companies will be demonstrated, talked about XR platforms like Helium XR and more. It is striking that Vuze and Healium previously positioned themselves as VR applications.

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