Augmented vs. Virtual Reality: Tech Author Michael Abrash Takes a Stab at the Eternal Question

There’s a lot of debate going on right now as to whether augmented reality or virtual reality will become the new technology that “changes the way we live.” Most argue that augmented reality is the wave of the future, as the technology has already taken shape in a variety of forms. Plus, many associate virtual reality with those bulky headsets from the 80’s, used mainly for games that involve saving the earth from a hostile alien takeover.

Tech author and Valve programmer, Michael Abrash took some time to blog over the weekend and came up with the conclusion that augmented and virtual reality are more closely intertwined than many people realize. He even went as far as saying that virtual reality might be better (gasp!) than augmented in some aspects. Abrash is publishing a two-part blog on the topic of augmented reality vs. virtual reality, Part 1 of which focuses more on the latter.

The first point he makes (after a long winded personal story about some job interview) is that the state of virtual reality technology is currently better than augmented reality tech simply because it’s easier to make. Augmented reality must stay constantly up -to-date on the ever changing landscape of the user, all while being able to recognize what this landscape even contains. With virtual reality however, programmers have complete control over the virtual world…because it’s virtual. It’s been built by a programmer. They can make sure every detail of the virtual experience is perfect, whereas an entire augmented experience could be de-railed by a glare, rain, a car that you didn’t see…the real world is wild!

Next he went on to make a simple yet insightful point: virtual reality is better for virtual experiences. It’s a point that sounds obvious, but he explained it by using the computer as an example. The very act of using a computer is a virtual experience. You’re reading words on a screen that only exist in a virtual realm, a realm that’s limited to your computer screen. This screen can be improved, modified, enlarged—it’s completely dedicated to your virtual experience. Could you surf the Internet like Iron Man’s Tony Stark by seeing the pages pop-up out of thin air? Of course—but Abrash says a virtual screen will always be better for the virtual world.

In the end, Abrash says the augmented world and the virtual world are closely related, and one certainly isn’t better than the other. He plans on writing a second part to his blog, which will focus more on augmented reality.