Augmented and Virtual reality: two different concepts

Defining augmented reality is simple. It’s an interface between virtual data and the real world. The term “augmented reality” is the opposite of virtual reality. Here’s an explanation of the two concepts.

Virtual reality (VR) immerses the user in a virtual world. Imagine exploring far away countries, artificial worlds or seeing yourself in the shoes of someone or something else from the seat of your chair. The technology is often tied to gaming because of required equipment.

If you were born in the ‘80s, you might remember Virtual Boy by Nintendo, which was released in 1995 (and discontinued by 1996). It was the first head-mounted display and the first virtual reality gaming system.


Now, companies like Oculus, owned by Facebook, and Sony, which oversees the virtual reality headset called Project Morpheus, are the most innovative actors in the business. While the price remains high, the scope of the application is more and more restricted to gaming. If you want to test virtual reality in a simpler and more affordable way, you can buy  Google Cardboard for about 20€. Google Cardboard allows you to place your smartphone inside the carboard mount to use VR applications or watch 360 videos.

Examples of VR technology: Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus, Google Cardboard.

 Augmented Reality (AR) is a view of a physical, real-world environment, whose elements are supplemented with information or images generated by an accessory. The concept has existed for decades but was limited by the progress of new technology. You can find elements of augmented reality in Dragon Ball Z or Minority Report.


To use augmented reality, you need an accessory, to film a scene or scan a marker, and a screen where you can see the scene enriched with visual data in real time. The most common way of using the sensory input is through your phone. There are plenty of applications to use.

AR is essentially a two-part process. First, the application scans a trigger, then it executes an action. The trigger can be:

  • Barcode or QR code: information is stored in the marker
  • Marker-based: the application is able to establish a link between this trigger and an action (information is not stored in the marker)
  • Markerless: you could film whatever you want and the application will be able to recognize what you want to scan and execute an action. In this case, the application also needs to be able to establish a link between the trigger and the action. You can also use geolocation information as a trigger.

An action can be 3-D animation, a video, a push notification, or whatever else that can be shown on your mobile device

Example of a notification: Brussels Airport application as a passenger lands in Brussels
Example of a notification: Brussels Airport application as a passenger lands in Brussels

Example of a notification: Brussels Airport application as a passenger lands in Brussels

Currently, augmented reality is used in several fields including communication, marketing, commerce, and training, as well as many others.

Domains of application use are vast. The only limit is your imagination.

In certain countries, smartphone use has reached 80 percent of the global population. Mobile technology has even moved past fixed internet access in 2014. While technological limitations and needed material slowed down augmented reality in the past, it’s now finally part of the game.


While the stakes are high and the landscape is being reshaped in many markets, some of the biggest actors—Google and Facebook—are already on the ground. Google has Google Glass and Project Tango, Facebook-owned Oculus has acquired Surreal Vision. In May 2015, Apple bought Metaio, which was an offshoot program launched by Volkswagen in 2003 and one of the pioneers in augmented reality. Metaio is building some of the most impressive AG applications, including this for IKEA:

Try augmented reality yourself:

  • Use android or iOs mobile device and download Aurasma
  • Create an account and follow the channel « TBSCG’s public auras »
  • Scan the image below to see our TBSCG Show Real 2014 video