What's the Difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?

Written By: Cat McClintock
  • 12/13/2018

There’s been a lot of talk lately about virtual reality, which is (roughly) a computer technology that creates an interactive 3D digital experience. You probably have heard something about augmented reality too, which is also (roughly) a computer technology that creates a 3D interactive digital experience.

Confusing? The truth is, people ask us to explain the difference between the two all the time. In fact, it comes up every time we demo our augmented reality application.

The difference between augmented and virtual reality

A virtual reality experience is fully immersive; that is, it creates a whole world. While an augmented reality experience keeps everything in the real world, and simply adds to it.


A virtual reality experience creates the background and all the objects in a digital world.


An augmented reality experience adds digital objects to the real world.

Our AR specialist provides more detail in this short video:

[Embed Westbrook video]

Why product developers should care about augmented and virtual reality 

Augmented and virtual reality are being used everywhere.  Think gaming (Pokemon Go), training (how else are you going to learn to fly that fighter jet?), and even repair manuals (imagine working on an engine with all the parts digitally labeled as you take it apart).

But for people who develop products, like engineers and industrial designers, these technologies are also disrupting the design review. In a good way.

A few years ago, product developers told us they participate in between 17 and 57 design reviews every month. That’s nearly one to three design reviews every day! Of course, not all reviews are lengthy meetings, but even the short ones add up. Especially if you’re the one who has to prepare and distribute designs for the meeting.

Now, with augmented reality, you can simply create a link, or an encoded image, from your CAD model and email it to the team. They can see and explore the model, in context, all without needing all your CAD files, or even a seat of CAD software. In fact, they don’t even need to know how to turn a CAD system on.

Best of all, the augmented reality experience can withhold design intent and other company IP. You can even control who sees the experience and who doesn’t.

So, while AR and VR look pretty cool, they’re actually useful for product developers. In short, they can save you time and errors at work.

The future of augmented and virtual reality

Not surprisingly, the future seems bright for these digital technologies. Industry analysts at International Data Corporation (IDC) say that industry it on track to sell 8.9 million VR headsets in 2018; and we can expect demand to reach 65.9 million units by 2022. That’s more than 700% growth in 4 years!

Of course, with augmented reality, you don’t even need the headset—an app on your mobile phone is enough. That’s why TechCrunch expects augmented reality to eclipse virtual reality this year. Headsets are expensive, and most of us already have a mobile device.

What’s this mean to you? It seems augmented reality is in your near future, if it hasn’t already arrived.

What’s Your AR Strategy?

From product design strategies and well beyond, AR has already begun to change the face of how players in industries everywhere create value. And now it’s more secure than ever.

Learn more about the choices companies like yours are making to keep their competitive edge as AR becomes an increasingly central part of their product strategy. Download “A Manager’s Guide to Augmented Reality,” published recently in the Harvard Business Review and start your digital transformation today.

Download the HBR article

  • CAD
  • Retail and Consumer Products
  • Connected Devices
  • Digital Transformation

About the Author

Cat McClintock

Cat McClintock edits the Creo and Mathcad blogs for PTC.  She has been a writer and editor for 15+ years,  working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she edited science journals for an academic publisher and aligned optical assemblies for a medical device manufacturer. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics. She loves talking to PTC customers and learning about the interesting work they're doing and the innovative ways they use the software.