Updated from Feb. 16 to include information on Intel getting into the augmented reality space.
So you've probably seen some news recently about nearly every major tech company getting into virtual reality. Naturally, you're wondering what all the fuss is about.
Alphabet's (GOOG) (GOOGL) Google is reportedly working on a stand-alone virtual reality headset that wouldn't need a smartphone, PC or game console to work, which would be an industry first. There have been hints Apple (AAPL) is working on something in the space, which if true, could be the company's next big product.
Meanwhile, Facebook's (FB) Oculus Rift appears to be an early hit, with the device back-ordered all the way until July. And HTC Vive/Steam captured more than its fair share of attention at CES in January, and Samsung's $99 Gear VR was one of the top sellers on Amazon this holiday season.
There are also augmented reality platforms, like Microsoft's (MSFT) HoloLens, which is really a mixture of both virtual and augmented realities, or Magic Leap, which Alphabet (the artist formerly known as Google), led a funding round in. More recently, Magic Leap raised $793.5 million in a Series C funding round, led by Alibaba.
(Update: Intel (INTC) is working on an augmented reality headset that will make use of its 3-D camera technology, known as RealSense, according to a March 2 report in The Wall Street Journal. An Intel spokesperson said the company had "nothing to share at this time.")
This video is an example of what Magic Leap's augmented reality can do.
Even though augmented reality and virtual reality sound the same, why should you, the average person on the subway or bus, give two hoots about the differences?
The two technologies are really very different and could mean different things to tech giants like Facebook, Apple or Google, completely changing the way they enter the market and move forward in the future."The experiences between the two will be different," Gartner Research Director Brian Blau said over the phone, stating that in the beginning, virtual reality will be more for video games and tasks that use lots of computer graphics. "On the augmented reality side, it could be something like building a table in your workshop and then seeing information on top of the table that would help you build it more efficiently."
With augmented reality, images or graphics are "open," meaning they actually emerge from a device into the real world. By comparison, virtual reality is often seen as images that are "closed," or inside a device, usually a headset.
The tech behind the two is really where it gets interesting -- for virtual reality, much of what you see has been out there for a while, Blau noted, including things like the glass and the chips. For augmented reality, though, the display and sensors are just not as developed from a tech standpoint as the tech is for VR.