The Digital Realities – AR, VR, MR

In addition to the actual reality you know, there are three new and arguably more interesting versions of it – thanks to the wonders of modern technology. These versions are Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. What are they, how do you visit them and what do you need in order to get the full experience? That’s our topic for today.

digital realities: augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality


Virtual Reality

Have you ever seen someone like this on the subway?

Don’t worry, it’s not extremely likely that you should have. This guy is completely immersed in the virtual reality with his Gear VR headset.

Virtual Reality is about completely virtualizing the user’s surroundings and everything in them. There is no actual relation to the physical space you are in (until you run headfirst into a wall, that is) and any interactions with objects in this world are merely simulated. thus, the real reality is substituted by an artificially created one.

In order to enter, you usually need a head-mounted display (HMD), many of which are already available for the general market. The most popular models are (from left to right): HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, Samsung Gear VR, Daydream View

virtual reality headsets

These devices use different technologies in order to determine the user’s perspective, their position in the physical space or the position of their hands. The HTC Vive, for example, uses a technology called Lighthouse.

Depending on the model, you either need a pretty powerful computer (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift) or simply a reasonably good smartphone (Daydream, Gear VR). While you can indeed take the smartphone-powered ones on the subway with you, you’re sort of stuck at home with the others. Thus, the individual models are also different in terms of the uses and applications they are intended for.

In any case, with virtual reality, it is possible to travel to faraway places (or entirely imagined worlds), without actually having to go anywhere.

Augmented Reality

You know, what Pokémon GO does!” For a while, that was the best analogy in order to explain Augmented Reality to a complete novice. “You know, what CodeFlügel has been doing for years!” is, of course, a much better analogy.

Basically, what AR does is to place digital content in the real world. What you need in order to view this content is a smartphone or tablet with a camera and an app that has the AR content you want to project into your surroundings. In order to make this projection as realistic as possible, different technologies are used.


Here, the smartphone’s or tablet’s gyroscope is used. When the device moves, the perspective from which the digital objects are viewed, changes. The distance of these digital objects to the camera remains the same at all times (example: Pokémon GO)

Visual Tracking

Pictures or Objects are recognized by the device and their position in the physical space is continuously tracked. The digital content linked to them is placed in the real world, relative to the position recognized pictures/objects.

Markerless AR

Characteristics of the real world (surfaces, silhouettes, etc.) are recognized and this information is then used in order to place the digital content. Google Tango (as seen in the above video) and ARKit by Apple are currently the best-practice examples for this.

As you can see, the relation to the real world is pretty important for Augmented Reality (as opposed to VR).

Applications for AR can be found in the entertainment industry as well as in marketing or in the industrial sector. Dragons come flying out from a piece of paper, 3D models of furniture items are placed in a room you want to furnish, machines and other large objects which are hard to transport are digitally displayed at trade shows, virtual dog snouts are placed on teenagers’ faces.

Mixed Reality

The, at least on the consumer market, youngest of those three terms is supposed to describe a mixture (duh) of the two realities described above. The precise definitions vary, though, since the border between AR and MR is somewhat vague and the two tend to overlap. Actually, the term mixed reality as a separate concept took center stage because of the release of  Microsoft‘s Hololens.

microsoft hololens, mixed reality headset

Microsoft only managed to snag the cheap seats on the AR/VR hype-train. Thus, the promotion of Mixed Reality could be viewed as an attempt to create a USP or to position itself as a leader in a “new” area of technology.

You strap the Hololens to your head, just like you would VR goggles. In contrast to the HTC Vive and other VR headsets, you can still see the real world through the transparent display of the Hololens. With this, the digital contents are projected into the wearer’s field of vision and it looks as though the displayed objects are positioned in your physical space as holograms. The real and the virtual world should thus blend together.

In addition to the Hololens, there are now also some other Mixed Reality headsets, which come at a price point ordinary people can actually afford. These are:

Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset
HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset

Catchy. How well these will do on the market remains to be seen. But all in all, you could say that the hardware needed for Mixed Reality is the least technically mature of the bunch.

What it all boils down to

The differences between the realities are, of course, best spotted by trying them all out. If you would like to do that, you can come by the office for a cup of coffee any time – we have them all! (I mean, if you are in town, I won’t suggest flying to Graz especially for this, but I won’t keep you either.)

In a nutshell:

  • VR => substitute reality
  • AR => extend (augment) reality
  • MR => blend realities