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Mixed reality

Augmented reality ABC: The Complete Guide to AR

Augmented reality (AR) means experiencing the real reality while certain virtual elements are projected on top of it. But what is the current sophistication level of the technology, its use cases, possibilities and limitations? How exactly does it differ from Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (XR)? Read this article to learn more.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented Reality (AR) means overlaying virtual elements on top of the real-world view. AR glasses do not block out the real world from the user as VR headsets do. Most of today’s augmented reality devices use optical see-through-based glasses that create holographic images to float in front of your eyes in a narrow, augmented window. Optical see-through AR glasses lack visual detail and realism compared to video-pass-through-based mixed reality, but on the other hand, AR goggles are portable and lightweight. Some AR headsets are also wireless, allowing users to wear and use them outside in the field.

Limitations of Augmented Reality technology

AR glasses cannot portray “hard” or opaque virtual content – the virtual objects always appear ghost-like and stand out from the real world. The problem with AR headset technology is that optical see-through devices can only display light, not black or dark content. AR goggles must also make big compromises on the field of view, resolution, or both.

Pros of AR

  • Portable, usually wireless

  • Low cost

  • Enables interacting with the world around you

  • Can be used outside in the field

  • Great for portraying simple content such as information overlay

Cons of AR

  • Holographic, unrealistic augmentations

  • Narrow field of view makes working with large objects difficult

  • No immersion

  • Limited enterprise applications

AR Use Cases

Augmented Reality is best suited for displaying simple information. Consumers have already explored and embraced AR via smartphone applications, which do not require a separate AR headset. There, the field of view is even more limited by the size of the mobile phone, and the experience is much less immersive as you are restricted to a flat 2D screen. However, mobile AR solutions are already widely adopted especially in games or entertainment (e.g., Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters).

A typical business use case of augmented reality is assisted maintenance, where a repair or assembly worker can be visually shown what to do (e.g. which handle to turn or bolt to fasten) while potentially being connected to a remote expert. However, for more demanding enterprise use cases and training scenarios that do not require working outside in the field, mixed reality might be a better solution due to the increased immersion and better visual quality.

AR vs. VR

What are the differences between virtual and augmented reality?

While AR adds virtual elements on top of the real world, virtual reality entirely replaces the reality you see around you with computer-generated 3D content. With VR headsets, you’re completely immersed in the virtual simulation and freed from the boundaries of the real world. This allows you to freely customize and create as many different experiences and scenarios as needed.

VR headsets tethered to a PC typically have more powerful graphics. Alternatively, VR headsets can be untethered, which lowers the visual quality but allows the user to move around freely. The virtual experience that you see can be anything between a close copy of the real reality or a computer-generated scene that is 3D modeled and built with a gaming engine.

Pros of VR

  • Complete flexibility in building the digital experience

  • A large selection of headsets from consumer to professional use available

  • True immersion

  • Endless virtual scenarios and experiences can be created

Cons of VR

  • Isolated experience

  • Detachment from the physical surroundings

AR vs. MR

Industry terms explained

Extended Reality

Extended reality is an umbrella term that refers to all experiences combining reality and augmented or virtual contents. The term encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.

For Varjo, XR refers to our headsets’ ability to deliver anything between real reality and virtual reality to the user, thanks to the flexibility of the video pass-through technology.

Video Pass-Through or Video See-Through

Video pass-through means using cameras to digitize the world in real-time and showing the mix of virtual and real contents to the user. Low-latency, high-resolution pass-through allows a seamless merging of the real and the virtual.

Pass-through AR

An alternative term sometimes used for mixed reality.

What are the differences between virtual and mixed reality?

Mixed reality (MR or XR) combines the best aspects of both VR and AR. It is all about merging virtual content with the real world in an interactive, immersive way. In Mixed Reality, virtual objects appear as a natural part of the real world, occluding behind real objects. Real objects can also influence the shadows and lights of virtual contents – and vice versa. This natural interaction between real and virtual opens up a whole new realm of solutions that would not be possible with virtual or augmented reality.

How mixed reality technology differs from augmented reality

Mixed Reality gives the ability to see yourself and interact with your colleagues while looking at a virtual object or environment. For Mixed Reality to be valuable for professionals, it needs to be convincing – blending real and virtual content to the point that it’s impossible to tell where reality ends and the virtual world begins. This is why mixed reality is best accomplished with video pass-through technology instead of optical see-through solutions.

With video pass-through mixed reality, virtual objects can be black or opaque, and appear as solid as anything in the real world – unlike objects in augmented reality. Colors can be perfectly rendered, and you can also add, omit and adjust colors, shadows, and lights both in the virtual world and the real world.

AR vs. XR Headsets

All of this means that mixed reality headsets are typically more expensive than AR goggles and that you need fairly powerful computer hardware to run them. However, recent advancements in mixed reality technology have made this achievable with high-end consumer and professional PCs. Any business now has the capacity to adopt mixed reality solutions – and the business impact can be astounding. For example, Kia has been able to speed up their design review process with mixed reality by a staggering 99%, going from several days to one hour to conduct a review.


Pros of XR

  • An immersive environment that matches the reality around you

  • Best fit for any simulations that need to reflect real scenarios

  • Provides complete flexibility of the virtual world with the reliability of the real world

  • Unlimited computing power

Cons of XR

  • Somewhat larger and heavier devices

  • Tethered: need a dedicated environment for usage

  • Typically more expensive than VR or AR headsets

Typical AR headset vs. Mixed Reality headset

Visual comparison of the typical field of view and how virtual objects appear in augmented reality headsets vs. Varjo mixed reality.

By using video pass-through instead of optical see-through, Varjo's mixed reality device completely and convincingly merges real and virtual, making it the only device to achieve photorealism in mixed reality.
Competitor AR headset
Varjo XR-3 mixed reality

Want to learn more about mixed reality?

Interested in using immersive technologies in your business but not sure how? Don’t worry, we have plenty of resources to help you further.

If you are interested in virtual and mixed reality headsets, why not book a meeting with Varjo’s team of experts?

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