Five years ago, immersive digital experiences (IDEs) like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) were only beginning to shift from futuristic what-ifs to something resembling viable consumer tech — the Oculus Rift was on Kickstarter, Microsoft had just patented technology that would be part of its efforts to create the Hololens, and the only mention of mixed reality (MR) was in the form of an aesthetically questionable headset from Canon, the camera company. Augmented virtuality (AV) wasn't even on the radar.

Since then, there have been scores of head-mounted displays (HMDs) brought to market, thousands of software products launched by means of various apps and platforms, and major financial movements in the space. In tandem with this evolution, the differences between IDE categories are becoming more pronounced and important.

We break these technologies into two broad categories based on the type of experience they provide:

  • Virtual reality: A VR experience creates an entire environment composed entirely of virtual objects. A viewer of VR is visually (and sometimes audibly) transported entirely out of their true physical location.
  • Mixed reality: MR combines a viewer's real-life surroundings and digital properties in one experience. MR is the parent category of two other key segments: AR and AV.
    • Augmented reality: AR blends a viewer’s true environment with virtual objects that are stationary. The user retains a view of their true surroundings, which are superimposed with digital information or objects.
    • Augmented virtuality: AV refers to when real-world objects are injected into virtual worlds.

reality virtuality continuum with companiesBI Intelligence

Virtual Reality

VR is mainly accessed via HMDs that rely on internal computers for processing, are tethered to nearby PCs to power the graphics, or use a compatible smartphone to create the VR visuals. VR creates an environment that is entirely different from the viewer's true surroundings.

There's a wide spectrum of immersion within this category — on one end is 360-degree video, or content experienced within a VR headset or on a flat monitor from all angles. By BI Intelligence's definition 360-degree video is considered the lowest-immersion version of VR because it doesn't enable viewers to interact with [...]