Virtual reality and augmented reality. VR and AR.

Oye. What does it all mean?

There is absolutely no denying that virtual reality is one of the main hot trends in Silicon Valley right now, but those of you who are interested in the latest developments in that area might also be hearing about a related immersive technology dubbed augmented reality.

Apple is rumoured to be dabbling in both spaces, for instance, and could be prepping a headset that is either VR or AR (short for virtual reality and augmented reality, respectively). Even Google might go beyond its budget DIY cardboard headset kit - which released last year - by developing a headset that'll rival Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and Microsoft's HoloLens.

If you're new to the subject and have no idea what any of these terms mean or what those devices can do (or maybe you just want a bit more clarification), Pocket-lint has summarised the differences between VR and AR.

VR vs AR: What is virtual reality?

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Virtual reality lets you experience something, such as a battle in a war zone, but you can do so without leaving the comfort of your own home. The technology is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D-environment that you can immerse yourself in, navigate around, and seemingly interact with via special hardware, like a chunky headset with handheld sensors.

In order for virtual reality to work there needs to be two things: hardware and software. The hardware powers the VR experience by giving you a display to look at, for instance, while the experience itself is nothing but software, such as a video game that puts you in the middle of the action. With this combo, you strap on a VR headset, load a VR app, and jump into a VR world.

But a VR experience is limiting in that your focus is entirely on the world. You can't look around your world, but you can't look away from it. You're trapped in it until you remove the headset or shut off the app. So, while you're dodging aliens on mars, don't expect to check the phone in your pocket unless you want to get out of the moment altogether.

Virtual reality is entirely virtual and never lets you simultaneously step into the real world. Pocket-lint has an entire separate piece dedicated to explaining virtual reality, what it is, and how it works - so check that out for more details:

VR vs AR: What are some VR examples?

Although it seems like just yesterday that virtual reality hysteria was reignited, it's actually been a few years now, which is plenty of time for more than a dozen companies to introduce their own VR headsets at different price points.

At the forefront of the latest virtual reality trend, you have the Oculus Rift by Facebook-owned Oculus VR, which requires a PC to work, while other companies, including Google, have taken the affordable route and introduced headsets that are mere shells for your smartphone. That's right. Your smartphone is capable of powering and displaying a VR experience in conjunction with a headset.

The general idea among all these companies however is that everyone should be able to have access to virtual reality - whether you're rich or, well, not rich. So, without further adieu, here's some of VR headsets available:

  1. Oculus Rift: Oculus Rift is the first VR headset to resurrect the virtual reality hype. It is unique because it plugs into the DVI and USB ports on a computer and tracks your head's movements in order to serve up a 3D experience to its stereo screens. The latest developer version of the features a 360-degree perspectives, 1080p visuals, low-persistence OLED display, improved head-tracking, lower weight, built-in audio, etc. The Rift even has its own VR content marketplace called Oculus Share. A version made for everyone rather than just developers will be available from April for $599 or £499. Orders are limited to one headset per person.
  2. Samsung Gear VR: Samsung has delved into virtual reality with a consumer-friendly headset called Gear VR. It's an Oculus Rift-powered device that uses select Samsung devices as both a processor and display. The Note 4, for instance, slides into the Gear VR's Micro USB dock and essentially serves up a virtual-reality experience on its 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display, delivering a 60Hz refresh rate and a 96-degree field of view. Gear VR costs $199/£190 and already has its own Milk VR marketplace filled with VR content.

If you'd like to see what types of VR experiences you can get with the Rift, check out this piece. Also, Pocket-lint has an entire separate piece dedicated to explaining the different types of virtual reality headsets available to buy right now (or soon) - so check that out for more details:

VR vs AR: What is augmented reality?

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Augmented reality lets you experience a computer-generated simulation of either a 3D or 2D environment, and all this is superimposed onto your actual view of the real world, creating a composite view. AR can add contextual layers of information in real time as well, so you can see suggested restaurants nearby, for instance, while walking down the street as 3D aliens run past you.

Like VR, AR needs both hardware and software to work. There has to be something that powers and displays the augmented reality, while the augmented reality itself is software or a game or an app designed by a developer. But the main thing to realise about AR is that it enables you to interact with the real world while simultaneously experiencing something totally augmented.

You've seen AR experiences depicted in Hollywood movies like Her, Avatar, Minority Report, Iron Man, and Wall-E. And now, thanks to advances in modern technology, some companies, such as Microsoft, are making hardware that will allow little ole us to have augmented reality experiences too. Microsoft is even working on a HoloLens AR headset/glasses thing due to launch in 2016.

Unlike virtual reality systems such as Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus, HoloLens isn't everything you see. Yes, you might see the surface of Mars in life-size 3D all around you – including under your feet. But if there's someone standing next to you, you can look at them through the holographically-printed lenses that give the system its name and actually see them.

Pocket-lint has separate pieces dedicated to explaining the history of augmented reality and how it works- so check those below for more details:

VR vs AR: What are some AR examples?

  1. Microsoft Hololens: HoloLens is basically a holographic computer built into a headset that lets you see, hear, and interact with an environment (living room, outdoors, etc). Microsoft built the headset without the need to be wirelessly connected to a PC. It uses high-definition lenses and spatial sound technology to create the immersive, interactive holographic experience. Microsoft also packed the HoloLens with sensors and high-end CPU and GPU. It is not yet available for consumers, but the development kit costs $3,000.

Google Glass could also be considered an AR headset. It's an optical head-mounted display that is worn like a pair of eyeglasses. Google first unveiled the device in April 2012, but it later shelved the project and is now rumoured to be booting it back up.

Pocket-lint has an entire separate pieces dedicated to explaining the the history of Google Glass as well as what Google Glass 2 might be - so check those below for more details:

Want to know more?

Check out Pocket-lint's virtual reality and augmented reality hubs.