What is AR, XR, MR and VR? Stripping back the World of Digital Reality and the Metaverse. Augmented, Mixed, Virtual and eXtended defined.

People in the Tech Industry shouldn’t be able to make up the names or acronyms for things they invent – it should be a law.
It is hard enough to describe a set of visual technologies without having them labelled in such a poor and ambiguous manner.

However, we are where we are so let’s try and keep things as simple as possible for everyone.
They are all descriptions of technology that directly relates to a users view and actions and comes under a group of technologies called Human Computer Interactions (HCI) which includes keyboards and mice.

XR” (eXtended Reality) is an umbrella statement for all of the “Reality” technologies.
XR is any easy way to describe any of the uses of digital realities without anyone needing to be specific or pedantic. Essentially, anything which relates digital content to the users position or context (where, how or what they are looking at) is “XR”.

XR comes is different flavours and each one is subtly different.

AR” (Augmented Reality) is the notion that we are adding some digital content to the users current environment or person which is, hopefully, enhancing the visual information for the user.
What is crucial with AR is that the digital device always has some understanding of the environment it is in – geographic location, face, people, surface, hands, objects or images.
AR can be viewed using mobile devices and AR headsets. With Oculus Quest Pro headsets, the users sees the real environment via the cameras and, therefore, is looking at the World with AR technologies.
AR is great for looking at digital objects as we tend to be focused on an area within an existing environment.

VR” (Virtual Reality) is different in that we are explicitly ignoring the users environment and placing the user into digital space which is completely different to the one the use is positioned in “in real life” – hence the endless Youtube videos of people nosediving in their living room!
VR is perfect for immersing people into new or imaginary places and giving a full spatial sense of the location with the ability to interact with the surroundings.

So – AR for objects in your environment, VR for you in environments – easy.

MR” (Mixed Reality) is a subtle blend which can be a little difficult to explain, but here goes.
The basics are that the device understands the basic shape and scale of the environment you are in and adds digital content to the structure of that environment. That might be a relatively small amount of digital content or it could entire walls, floors and ceiling are covered to the extent that you cannot see the original room anymore. Either way, your environment is still crucial – we are not creating a spatially new environment but we are changing the substantive look of your environment.

MR is the “grey” area between AR and VR.

As the digital realities World becomes more social, the idea of digital spaces is created (one in which Meta have focussed on labelling them “Metaverses”) but these are really just locations which allow you to share movement and interaction with others in real time.

All types of “Digital Realities” are visualisation technologies – being able to present things to the user in a spatially understandable way – and this helps us to comprehend them quicker and in a more “human” way than the printed page or videos. It is particularly useful for complex objects (anatomy, machinery, complex processes etc.).
More importantly, however, the use of XR for social and collaborative communication is the area of most interest. We are used to sharing physical spaces and being able to better understand situations and perspectives – the use of Digital Spaces for these activities is immense as they are quicker, have lower carbon use and allow for scenarios which often can’t be replicated in real life. Our IntellioXR system is a collaborative digital training environment for healthcare and associated industries for example.

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