What Is Virtual Reality? (+3 Types of VR Experiences)

Bridget Poetker
Bridget Poetker  |  September 6, 2019

Escape into your own world with virtual reality technology.

The idea of interacting with a digital world isn’t new, as movies like Tron (1982) and Spy Kids 3-D (2003) have brought conceptual technology to life on the big screen. But in today’s world, those same consumers can now interact with their own digital space.

tron virtual reality

From gaming and social networking to education and marketing, there are many applications for this type of emerging tech. You’ve probably already participated in a virtual reality experience and didn’t even know it. 

What is virtual reality?

Unlike augmented reality, virtual reality is a fully digital experience that can either simulate or differ completely from the real world. The term virtual reality refers to a computer-generated, three-dimensional environment. In order to experience and interact with virtual reality, you’ll need the proper equipment, like a pair of VR glasses or a headset.

Everything that makes up our perception of reality is due to our senses. So, in theory, everyone’s reality is unique to them. Taking that a step further, it would make sense that if you provided your sense with other simulated or computer-generated information, your perception of reality would change – creating a new, virtual one.

VR software 

Because VR tech creates a completely 3-D environment, you can imagine the amount of software involved. VR software works together with VR hardware to immerse the user into the virtual world. Developers also have to create interactive components within the environments that look and even feel like the real deal.  

Virtual reality software can be used to build experiences for consumers to virtually test products, learn something new, or build something themselves. Believe it or not, there are even VR social platforms! Learn more about the types of software required to create these types of user experiences, like VR content management systems, SDKs, and more.

Find the best Virtual Reality software on the market. Discover Now, Free →

VR hardware

VR hardware is used in conjunction with the software to provide the illusion of being in a 3-D environment.  Common hardware includes VR glasses, gloves, and other accessories to simulate other senses like touch.

Types of virtual reality

There are three main types of virtual reality used today to transform the world around us, including non-immersive, semi-immersive, and fully-immersive simulations. 

To get a better understanding of how the technology is used, let’s break down the different types of VR and see examples of each.

types of VR

Fully-immersive simulations

Chances are when you think of VR, you’re picturing a fully-immersive experience – complete with head-mounted displays, headphones, gloves, and maybe a treadmill or some kind of suspension apparatus. 

This type of VR is commonly used for gaming and other entertainment purposes in VR arcades or even in your home (empty, non-fragile room advised.) 


fully immersive virtual reality

Fully-immersive simulations give users the most realistic experience possible, complete with sight and sound. The VR headsets provide high-resolution content with a wide field of view. Whether you’re flying or fighting the bad guys, you’ll feel like you’re really there.

Semi-immersive simulations

Semi-immersive experiences provide users with a partially virtual environment to interact with. This type of VR is mainly used for educational and training purposes and the experience is made possible with graphical computing and large projector systems.

semi-immersive virtual reality

In this example, the instruments in front of the pilot are real and the windows are screens displaying virtual content. 

It’s important to keep in mind that semi-immersive VR simulations still give users the perception of being in a different reality. This type of virtual reality is not always possible to experience wherever. Instead, physical environments are created to supplement the virtual reality. 

TIP: Some semi-immersive reality experiences are actually considered mixed reality, where digital objects interact with physical objects.

Non-immersive simulations

Non-immersive simulations are often forgotten as an actual type of VR, honestly because it’s very common in our everyday lives.

The average video game is technically considered a non-immersive virtual reality experience. Think about it, you’re sitting in a physical space, interacting with a virtual one. 

non-immersive virtual reality

These types of experiences have become  more advanced in recent years with video games like Wii Sports, where the system actually detects your motion and translates it on screen. 

Back to reality

People consume more content across more mediums today than ever before. As brands begin to leverage emerging technology like virtual reality, these experiences will start to take hold in our daily lives.

The possibilities for VR are endless, learn more about emerging trends in this area of tech.

Learn more: AR/VR Trends →

Bridget Poetker
Author

Bridget Poetker

Bridget Poetker is a senior content marketing specialist at G2, focusing on app development and design. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I-L-L! In her free time, you'll find Bridget in the bleachers at Wrigley Field or posted up at the nearest rooftop patio. During the 8 months of Chicago winter, she hibernates.