Current industry-standard terms
These are industry terms used frequently and has good standing at industry events, on wikipedia, and amongst technophiles.
- XR: Extended Reality, Cross Reality, or *Reality (wildcard), this is a catch-all umbrella for every tech listed below. Instead of saying AR/VR, you could say XR instead. Often used in software libraries that support a wide range of devices.
- MR: Mixed Reality. This is when real-world objects and virtual objects are not only displayed next to each other, but - critically - can interact. HoloLens is a good example of hardware capable of this technology, but - of course - the software needs to match. It's possible to make an AR experience on an MR device. Note that MR is confusingly used in other ways as well - see below.
- AR: Augmented Reality. This is similar to MR, where you are mixing virtual and real-world objects, but the two worlds do not interact. Think Pokemon Go, or other mobile-phone AR experiences.
- VR: Virtual Reality. This is when you draw pixels on a screen and can't see the outside world through the display. Think Vive. Note that if the technology of an AR/MR headset allows you to turn pixels completely opaque, they could effectively become VR experiences.
The MR Confusion
Mixed Reality has been used in various contexts throughout the years and is causing a lot of confusion in the industry, and even moreso amongst the public.
- Mixed Reality was first used to describe a merging of virtual and real-world objects in the 80s (perhaps earlier), particularly amongst academics and military designers (think: heads-up-displays for fighter pilots).
- Paul Milgram was the first to describe a realities-continuum (in 1994) and used the label Mixed Reality as a bucket to encompass everything -- what we now call "XR."
- As VR became an albatross around academias neck in the 90s and 00s, the term Mixed Reality was largely forgotten. Very few people in the industry knew the term by the time the 2016 VR surge began.
- Our Fantastic Contraption team thought we were clever "coining a new term" when we brought Mixed Reality video content to the world, such as our Fantastic Contraption MR trailer. One could argue that in the trailer, the real and the virtual are interacting so it does still count as the modern definition of MR, but the term used in this context is more confusing than helpful.
- The XR industry began using the original merging-of-worlds definition of MR in technical papers and reporting.
- Microsoft decided to use the Paul Milgram 1994 definition and started using the term to describe their entire line of XR products, as a synonym for XR. Normally this would be fine (many products rebrand things to stand out in the marketplace), but this is a particularly puzzling move. Microsoft's flagship HoloLens is one of the only MR products on the market, and is still amazing and unchallenged years after the initial launch. By using MR as a catch-all marketing term, they diluted the halo around the hololens with their "MR HMDs", which are just VR headsets with no AR or MR capabilities.
- This lead to Microsoft needing to redefine the whole space; XR became MR, MR became Holographic, VR became Immersive, and AR is left undefined. See their article on the subject here.
- If Microsoft is successful in switching general thinking (among consumers and industry professionals) about the term MR, as an industry we'll need to redefine everything as well - I'm not so sure Microsoft would let everyone use their "holographic" or "immersive" labels.
Most of the public is only aware of VR (technophiles think Vive, general public thinks Cardboard), and AR (fun camera apps on their phones). When messaging your experience, particularly around AR and MR, be certain to distinguish yourself clearly.
This is one of a handful of VR advice pages I've written. Check out the index for more.