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The number of advanced VR/AR headsets and smart glasses in the business and consumer markets is increasing at an incredible pace.
By 2030, experts predict the market for extended reality technologies will surpass $197.3 billion. What’s more, many analysts see incredible opportunities for the growth of wearable devices in virtually every industry and business landscape.
However, as hardware in the virtual, augmented, and mixed reality landscapes continues to evolve, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to distinguish headsets from smart glasses and even spatial computing systems. So, what is the difference between VR/AR headsets and smart glasses?
What are VR/AR Headsets? The Basics
We first need to go back to the basics to define the difference between VR/AR headsets and smart glasses. First, let’s determine what a “VR/AR headset” actually is. Otherwise known as a “mixed reality” or “extended reality” headset, VR/AR headsets combine augmented and virtual reality.
Often, these tools allow users to control their level of “immersion” in a situation. For instance, the Apple Vision Pro headset will feature a mixed reality dial on the top of the device.
This allows users to determine whether they want to dive fully into virtual reality or see the world around them with full-color passthrough. VR/AR headsets are essentially one step up from a standalone “virtual reality” or “augmented reality” device.
They come with many of the same VR and AR headset features, such as high-quality screens, sensors for tracking gestures and eye movements, and intelligent software. However, they also allow users to explore the full extended reality spectrum.
The Benefits of VR/AR Headsets
VR/AR or “mixed reality” headsets have a lot of distinct benefits over basic VR headsets like the original Meta Quest. Many innovators in the world of virtual reality have begun embedding “AR” and “MR” components into their devices.
The Meta Quest 3, for instance, will feature high-fidelity color passthrough alongside options for an entirely virtual experience. Mixing AR and VR allows developers to bring new benefits to their wearable devices, such as:
- Improved safety: One of the biggest risks of using full wireless VR headsets in the modern world is an inability to see and be wary of your surroundings. The option to switch between VR and AR modes will help users to avoid obstacles and stay safe.
- Better user experiences: Options to control your level of immersion in an extended reality experience can help to minimize issues like VR sickness and fatigue. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed in VR, you can gradually transition back into the real world.
- Greater diversity: VR/AR headsets allow users to experiment with various virtual and augmented reality apps and tools using a single device. This eliminates the need to purchase extra hardware for different use cases.
What are Smart Glasses? The Most Ergonomic Wearable
So, how are VR/AR headsets and smart glasses different? On the surface, they seem pretty similar. Both solutions are “wearable” devices that enhance your vision with digital content. However, there is a slight difference between a VR/AR headset and a set of smart glasses.
First, smart glasses typically focus on bringing digital content and data into the real world. A typical set of smart glasses won’t immerse you fully into a virtual environment. Instead, they superimpose information on the world you see around you.
Companies like Nreal, Lenovo, and Vuzix have created smart glasses to enhance and empower everyday users and customers. These tools are ideal for training team members, offering remote assistance to professionals, or simply delivering hands-free guidance to workers.
Smart glasses are often slimmer and more compact than VR/AR headsets. This means they’re much more ergonomic and comfortable for long periods. However, it also usually means they have less processing power and fewer abilities to render complex environments.
The Benefits of Smart Glasses
In most cases, smart glasses don’t have the same processing power as VR/AR headsets. They also don’t offer the same level of immersion a complete virtual reality solution can provide. But both VR/AR headsets and smart glasses have their distinct benefits.
Smart glasses, for instance, can be excellent for immersive collaboration. Some even include cameras allowing users to show contacts what they see in real time. Smart glasses also have a few other unique advantages to offer, such as:
- Greater comfort: Designed to be as lightweight and comfortable as a standard set of eyeglasses, smart glasses are far more ergonomic. They can often be much easier to wear for long periods than a VR/AR headset.
- Affordability: Depending on their built-in functionality, smart glasses can often be cheaper to purchase and use than VR/AR headsets. They also require less computing power, bandwidth, or energy.
- Convenience: Smart glasses allow users to rapidly access helpful information, collaborative tools, and apps in seconds. They don’t require you to enter a new virtual environment to unlock new productivity levels.
The Difference Between VR/AR Headsets and Smart Glasses
Both VR/AR headsets and smart glasses can allow users to explore the benefits of the mixed-reality landscape. However, while they have overlapping features and capabilities, the solutions have some core differences.
The biggest differences between VR/AR headsets and smart glasses include:
1. Design and comfort
Although vendors are constantly working to make VR/AR headsets more comfortable and lightweight, they’re still much bulkier than smart glasses. VR/AR headsets are more cumbersome, heavier, and sometimes tethered to another device.
Smart glasses, on the other hand, are designed to look and feel like eyeglasses. They’re highly mobile and lightweight. They also provide enough area to ensure you can see regularly around the digital content on the screens. They may be a better option for all-day use.
2. Use cases and opportunities
VR/AR headsets and smart glasses can serve a wide range of use cases in the modern world. However, they generally focus on different areas. Smart glasses provide users with information, support, and guidance in real-time.
In the age of the industrial metaverse, they can help engineers fix problems, build products, and collaborate with staff wherever they are. VR/AR headsets, on the other hand, can offer even more functionality. As well as being ideal for training and education, collaboration, and communication, they’re fantastic for entertainment.
VR/AR headsets can immerse users in entirely virtual worlds, help them traverse the metaverse, and provide access to rich, unique simulations.
3. Level of immersion
Perhaps the biggest difference between AR/VR headsets and smart glasses is how much you can control your level of immersion with each wearable. While smart glasses can deliver highly engaging MR and AR experiences, they never take you entirely out of the real world.
With smart glasses, information overlaps the environment around you, essentially “enhancing” what you already see. With a VR/AR headset, on the other hand, you can decide how deeply you want to be immersed in a scenario.
You can retain a view of your real-world environment or dive fully into a virtual reality space. Some devices even offer highly granular levels of control.
4. Affordability and accessibility
Although the market for smart glasses is growing, fewer of these tools are currently available in the enterprise landscape. AR/VR headsets, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly common. Vendors from Meta to Apple are producing their own solutions.
However, while VR/AR headsets might be more accessible to enterprises, they’re also more expensive. Powerful hardware doesn’t come cheap. Smart glasses are often much more affordable and may be cheaper to run, depending on your power requirements.
Which Option Is Right for You?
Ultimately, VR/AR headsets and smart glasses have distinct benefits to consider. They also come with their own disadvantages too. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every brand. Both of these tools have their place in the expanding XR market.
VR/AR headsets are likely the ideal solution if you’re looking for multi-level immersion. They allow you to navigate an augmented real world or virtual world whenever you like. Plus, they’re often more powerful and feature-rich than smart glasses.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a lightweight and comfortable experience in XR, smart glasses might be the right solution. They’re ideal for retaining your presence in the “real world” and are much easier to wear for long periods. Plus, they can be more affordable than AR/VR headsets, too, depending on your needs.
What’s the difference between AR and VR?
AR, or augmented reality, superimposes information onto the real world using cameras or lenses. Virtual reality, on the other hand, allows users to dive into an entirely new virtual world. VR requires a comprehensive headset, while AR can be accessed through a phone or smart glasses.
What’s the definition of VR/AR headsets and smart glasses?
VR/AR headsets are mixed reality or extended reality headsets that combine functionality for both virtual and augmented reality experiences. Smart glasses are AR or MR wearables that allow users to see digital content superimposed over their surroundings.
Are smart glasses and AR glasses the same?
Smart glasses and AR glasses aren’t always the same. Some smart glasses provide access to information using connections to a device like a smartphone or computer rather than relying heavily on augmented reality capabilities.