We’ve long been anticipating virtual reality (VR) to change the world as we know it. And it has … sort of. VR promises to create immersive experiences with multiple applications in gaming, medicine, and even training for small businesses. But VR isn’t alone in offering an enhanced reality; augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) join VR in creating extended reality experiences.

What is extended reality?

Extended reality (XR) is a blanket term for VR, AR, MR, and any other realities we might experience in the future. These enhanced realities are changing the way we think of entertainment, manufacture goods and services, and even train healthcare professionals.

Eventually, EX might just become part of R – our reality will be so connected to the digital worlds that we need for business and entertainment that our experience of it will be seamless and immersive.

Augmented reality, or AR, is part of extended reality.

Virtual reality (VR)

Of all extended reality technology, VR is probably the best known. VR uses realistic visuals, haptic feedback, and other sensations to help suspend your disbelief and make you feel as if you’re really in a simulated world. VR heavily relies on wearables to create the simulation.

Thanks to its creation and use of very lifelike experiences, one of the most popular applications for VR is in gaming. But VR’s use extends far beyond entertainment. It can be used to help train doctors in surgery or even treat post-traumatic stress.

Augmented reality (AR)

Instead of the fully immersive experience you get with VR, AR works to enhance life as you see it. You’ve likely already come across AR in your Snapchat filters or in popular games like Pokémon Go. AR is also the reason you can virtually try out pieces of furniture in your home from a phone or tablet to see if they’ll match your design scheme.

Basically, AR combines digital information with the real world, often in real-time, to enhance our experience. You may need to wear AR-enabled goggles or headsets, but often, your smartphone can easily handle AR applications.

AR really shines in retail applications because it allows consumers to try before they buy. It’s also helpful in the fields of education and training.

Mixed reality (MR)

MR takes the best of VR and AR and combines them into a totally unique experience. VR creates its own unique world while AR creates images that lay over the real world, but that you can’t interact with. Essentially, MR allows the user to interact with both the digital simulation and the true reality. MR combines input from the user, a computer, and the environment to create this unique experience.

Like VR, MR requires a headset. There are currently two types of wearables on the market that can be used for  MR experiences: holographic and immersive devices. Holographic devices enhance your local environment, building off your surroundings and allowing you to interact with the digital enhancements more than you could with AR. With immersive devices, MR can span all the way from VR to AR or at any level between.

MR is a shining star when it comes to manufacturing, helping to improve productivity and training processes. Like VR, MR is also helpful in medical training and education.

VR and other extended reality often relies heavily on wearables, like headsets.

Extended reality in the future

Since XR has major applications for both businesses and consumers, it’s expected to grow in the coming years. But like any other emerging technology, it does face several challenges. In a society that is increasingly concerned with privacy, XR devices need to protect the vast amount of personal data they process on a regular basis.

Since we’re talking about data processing, XR will need a high-bandwidth and low latency internet connection to work well. To work smoothly and offer a good user experience, XR has to be able to send and receive information fast. Since many XR devices are IoT devices and use WiFi for at least some of their processes, they likely need a powerful fiber internet connection to run efficiently.

How do you use XR? Let us know in the comments what you love about virtual reality, augmented reality, or mixed reality.