VR and AR technologies are often clumped together with only a few knowing exactly how both work. We reveal what virtual and augmented reality is, how they work and provide an example of both.

Essentially, virtual reality is computer simulated artificial sensory experiences. VR places someone in a replicated environment providing artificial audio and visual experiences.

vr headset istock sasha suzi

However, augmented reality is a supplemented, computer-generated sensory experience. AR places 'augmented' elements into the real world adding to a person’s sensory experience, not overhauling it like virtual reality. It is essentially a visual overlay in the physical world.

How does VR work?

Simply, VR is an interactive 3D image connected to a computer that users can manipulate to feel like they are in a different ‘world’.

Mark Pesce and Tony Parisi developed Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), an open internet standard programming language used for creating these three-dimensional experiences.

These VRML experiences create an interactive sequence of audio, animations, videos and URLs that can be fetched by a web browser to simulate virtual environments. Experiences will change depending on the user’s movements.

VRML is a text file format that can be viewed via a web browser plug-in or downloaded on both Windows and Mac platforms. 

How does AR work?

AR overlays computer-generated information, images and videos on to the user in a real-time environment.

AR uses ‘markers’ (a physical thing, normally a barcode, that triggers AR animations) and augmented reality software to deliver animation or digital information to these AR ‘markers’.

To experience AR, users must either download an app or browser extension with a functioning webcam to transport information from the marker to the computer.

For AR smartphone apps, GPS is required to make sure the animations are delivered to the correct spot on the phone’s screen.

Microsoft Hololens - an example of AR

Microsoft announced its Hololens AR headset last year. The headset provides a visor and is a cordless stand-alone device. 


HTC Vive Pre - an example of VR

 The HTC Vive Pre is tipped to be the next big player in VR headset technology. 

Take our virtual reality quiz to put your knowledge to the test!