VR vs. AR vs. MR and then 360°! — What’s the difference?

Paulette E. Pantoja
6 min readMay 19, 2017
Differences between VR, AR, MR and 360° Video by Paulette Pantoja

A lot of people use the term “virtual reality” for different types of “Immersive Experiences”. This includes augmented and mixed reality as well as 360° video. Although they each offer alternate or altered reality experiences, they are quite different and too frequently are the technologies confused with one another.

  1. Virtual Reality
  2. Augmented Reality
  3. Mixed Reality
  4. 360° Video

1. Virtual Reality

In its simplest form, Virtual Reality (VR) transposes the user to an alternate world. The real world which the user is in, does not exist. This is done through live video or computer generated graphics and uses closed head-mounted displays (HMD’s) that completely blind the user from seeing anything in the real-world. The Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Google Daydream, Gear VR are examples of HMD’s.
* The differences in HMD’s will be explained in an upcoming article from BluFocus.

Non-Interactive VR:

With non-interactive VR applications and content, the user is a spectator in another world. They sit back and can look anywhere as if they were there. But they cannot interact (other than point and click). They are still fully immersed though and with added components such as immersive audio, the user is fully engulfed into a different reality thus altering the user’s senses, etc.

Types of Non-Interactive VR:

Experience — These are experiences which allow the user to feel actively involved and engaged but still in an entirely passive role.

Examples of Experience VR: Oculus Dreamdeck, G2A Land, Face Your Fears, Everest VR

Storytelling and Story Enabling — Examples are movies, short stories and narrative pieces. This is another important subject regarding the art of storytelling vs. story enabling with VR. Both deal with a certain plot the author has introduced, but while storytelling gives no control to the user, story enabling allows the user to interact with the story; thus giving them choices and some amounts of freedom to engage.

It is argued that this type of “VR Cinema” is yet to be discovered because current storytellers are unable to see beyond conventional cinematic processes which dictate every part of how the story is told. Creators of cinema content for the virtual realm are yet to be born.

This is the very definition of storytelling: a narrative is told to you through visuals and audio, and you must passively accept it. While you may enjoy the ride, you have no say in the direction. When done correctly, well-designed VR experiences are not about telling stories to a passive viewer, but about enabling the user to be able to engage with and perceive their own unique story”. — Dan Cotting “Storytelling in a Virtual World

Example of Storytelling and Story Enabling: The Rose and I, StoryStudio “Henry”, ABE VR, Gary the Gull

Interactive VR

This type of experience gives the user interactive abilities while in their alternate world. Users can fully immerse themselves in their alternate realities by moving forward or backwards, sideways, up and down. This immersion expands the user’s senses and they can also interact with objects by holding, throwing, pushing and pulling.

Most of this is not real-world but instead computer generated using high powered game engine PC’s that allow for real time rendering.

Examples of Interactive VR: The Climb, Robo Recall, Mindshow, Tilt Brush

2. Augmented Reality

This adds to our reality. It supplements the real world with digital objects. It does not take us elsewhere but instead enhances our present. It literally “augments” our reality instead of blocking out the world.

With AR, computer generated graphics overlay the current reality and provide enhancing data that can be used regularly in day-to-day life. Examples of AR have been seen in movies for quite some time such as The Terminator, Minority Report and others.

The digital object overlays can be text data, 3D objects or video such as with Google Glass notifications or on the head-up displays (HUD) in cars which provide valuable information to a driver.

As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple said, “AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently”.

Examples of Augmented Reality: Pokemon Go, HoloLens, Samsung’s Monitorless AR glasses

from CohLab Digital Marketing

3. Mixed Reality

MR is a mixture of VR and AR where virtual objects interact with real world objects. An example would be if you placed a virtual object (a cup for example) onto a real-world object (a table). The cup would remain in that same position as you walk or change locations. Basically, the virtual object attaches itself to the real-world object and it becomes part the real-world. Take a look at the Magic Beans demo or Bridge Engine Demo for awesome examples.

Examples of Mixed Reality: Microsoft HoloLens, ODG headsets, Google Glass, Magic Beans Demo

From Magic Beans Demo

4. 360° Content

360° content can be easily created using the plethora of 360° camera’s on the market today. Typically, this is a 2 step process where multiple cameras or lenses capture an image from a different angle and are then stitched together to create a single image that can be projected into a 360° environment. There are many challenges in filming and stitching 360° video that will be discussed in a later article.

360° content utilizes “live” video, or even pre-rendered computer generated graphics. It can be of concerts, car rides, drone videos, and so much more.

Is 360° content VR?

The main argument is that if the user views 360° content within a VR headset, like the Oculus Rift, is it not technically VR because the user is then immersed into an alternate world with no visibility of the “real world”?

No. This isn’t VR.

Why? Well, because true VR utilizes sensors to track your head movements giving you the illusion that you are in this alternate world. When your head moves, the view of the world moves as well, affecting both your subconscious and conscious mind. It also tracks your position in space and requires highly powered computers with head-mounted displays such as the Rift, Vive or PS VR to give precise displays of individual frames that accurately match the head’s position.

With 360° content, you are not fully immersed. You can look up, down and around but you can’t move forward. And frame rates are no where near in comparison therefore not tricking your brain into really believing you are in another world.

360° content at its most basic can be viewed without a headset on applications such as YouTube, Facebook posts or through websites requiring mouse movements to navigate.

Examples of 360° Content: Africa Olifant, Vrse’s “Take Flight”, Facebook 360

About BluFocus Inc.

BluFocus Inc. provides testing (QA/QC) and certification of VR, AR, MR and 360° content and applications using manual, automated and propriety testing processes and software (such as the BluFocus 360° EyeTracker).

About Paulette Pantoja

Paulette Pantoja is currently CEO of BluFocus Inc., a quality assurance and certification facility for entertainment content, products, technologies and hardware/software. She is also President of BluEvo LLC., a digital media service and solution company which focuses on all facets of the digital supply chain including digital content licensing and distribution and OTT platform development.

Over the years, Paulette has focused on delivering quality service and solutions through her proprietary workflows and patented applications. These systems improve business through greater efficiency for content creators, content distributors, and consumer electronics manufacturers.

Paulette holds a patent for two entertainment technology systems called ORS and QATS.