The term Virtual Reality or VR gets thrown around a lot these days. One of the problems with such common usage is that the meaning of VR becomes muddled to the point where almost anything and everything is now ‘VR’. Let’s fix that before we get too far into creating our own VR projects.
tl;dr – There are three types of VR applications: Cinematic VR, Interactive VR, and Immersive VR.
First, let’s define Virtual Reality:
Virtual Reality is a realistic 3D environment or image that is presented to the user in such a way that their mind accepts that they are in the artificial environment.
There are a lot of caveats to this definition and a lot of things not included.
First, we did not mention the special equipment required to use VR. This is due to the rapid evolution that is occurring with the equipment. It wasn’t long ago that you had to have a high-end computer system with a great graphics card to be able to run the VR equipment. Add the expense of the VR headset and you had to drop some serious cash to be able to experience VR. With the advent of standalone headsets such as the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest, we can experience VR without the high-end computer requirements.
Second, many definitions for VR include the words “artificial environment.” This would leave out an important category of VR that is grabbing a large audience: Cinematic VR. Thus, we are going to use the more generic definition above to classify a larger arena of VR application types.
TYPES OF VIRTUAL REALITY
Below I have defined the prevailing three types of VR experiences. These are broad definitions of general experiences. Obviously, we could create many more definitions as to what VR is as there tends to be bleed-over between categories. To help further our future discussions, we are going to limit the categories to these three types of experiences.
Cinematic VR was one of the first areas to see quick development in VR deployment. By using cameras such as the Ricoh Theta, developers and filmmakers could quickly generate VR content that could only be credibly viewed on a VR headset. Cinematic VR can be produced and shot in many ways and has become popular on YouTube and Facebook. One of the most common uses of Cinematic VR at this point in time is POV, which places the camera at the location of the viewers head and shows the story or scene from the perspective of one of the actors in the scene. POV frequently limits the field of view to 180 degrees to better simulate the view of someone in a scene.
A second method is to place the camera in the center of the scene and capture the entire room or stage. This creates a full view of the environment but can lead to problems when we wish to direct the viewer’s attention to a specific event or action within the scene.
The primary limitation of Cinematic VR is that it is not interactive beyond being able to look around the scene. The experience is passive like watching a TV or movie.
Interactive VR is a step beyond Cinematic VR. Within Interactive VR, you are able to move or interact with the environment. This could mean being able to jump or teleport to pre-defined locations within the environment or interacting with the environment through the use of controllers.
The largest difference is that the user now has some limited control of their interaction with the environment. Interactive VR provides the user with choices. Those choices could be used for storytelling in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story, interacting with objects within the scene but not being able to change the story, or more interaction, such as carnival games. The primary limitation of Interactive VR is that the scope of the environment and interactivity is limited, the user is unable to fully explore a virtual environment.
WebVR is a sub-category of interactive VR with the potential to be Immersive. WebVR is one of the fasted growing areas of Virtual Reality. Interactive VR is faster to develop than Immersive VR due to the limited environment and is quickly becoming the preferred means for companies to develop VR experiences for consumers. Plus, unlike VR apps that must be delivered via stores such as Steam or Oculus, the content is fully delivered via a VR enabled webpage.
For example, if a realtor wanted to show an apartment or home that is available, they could scan the space (or use a 360-degree camera). The difference between Interactive VR and Cinematic VR is that the user would be able to move to other rooms or interact with the environment to see additional rooms or gather information.
My favorite toolset for WebVR is Babylon.js. Babylon.js is an open-source project with the backing of major corporations. You can see my contribution to WebVR and Babylon.js here. WebVR is also capable of creating immersive VR experiences, but at this time, Interactive VR is more common.
Generally when the topic of VR is mentioned, immersive is what most people think of. Immersive VR involves the development of an environment that allows the user to move and interact with the environment.
Immersive VR is the most expensive to develop of the three types of virtual reality. A game engine is needed to create the interaction between the user and the environment. And, not surprisingly, each of the objects within the environment must be modeled, textured and programmed for how it can be used to interact with the environment.
Sub-categories of VR
There are many areas that could be included as types of VR but actually are available in the three existing types.
Collaborative or Multi-player/user – Some early discussion of VR have placed collaborative or multi-player applications as their own category of VR. While it is understandable, in my opinion this is a mistake. All three types of VR listed above could be inclusive of collaborative or multi-player. It is very possible to create a multi-user Cinematic VR or Interactive VR where multiple people could be viewing the same movie or apartment together in different locations, but sharing comments with one another through the VR equipment’s microphone and speakers.
Not VR… XR!!
There are also the fields of Mixed and Augmented Reality. While these are incredibly important to our future discussions, they are NOT Virtual Reality. Taken together, the different types are referred to as XR instead of merely VR, MR, and AR.
Augmented Reality – is the addition of computer images over a person’s view of the real world. For example, an AR app could include facial recognition to remind you of someone’s name in real-time or directions to your location.
Mixed Reality – is set in a real location with virtual additions. For example, you could define a location on a table that became a full game of chess, Magic, or your home layout for a remodeling project. Adobe Aero is a new toolset for creating Mixed Reality is being developed. You can also develop mixed reality with Unity and Unreal game engines.
Each type of VR has a different set of tools for development.
If you are focused on Cinematic VR, you will be using more traditional film development tools such as Adobe Premiere Pro.
For Interactive VR, you can use WebVR tools such as Babylon.js, or A-Frame to create web pages that are fully VR enabled. Interactive VR apps can be created using other tools such as Unity and Unreal game engines. A popular type of Interactive VR is the creation of VR Rooms for Steam using the Valve Hammer game engine
Immersive VR development uses the same tools as Interactive VR. The difference is that a lot more development is involved in creating an immersive VR environment. Rather than a few carnival games that might be found in an interactive VR app, you could have the entire carnival experience.
What is your opinion? Should there be more categories of VR than just the three?
Dr. Burton is a teacher and professor with over twenty-five years of experience, teaching VR, Game Design, Information Technology, CGI, Computer Science, and MIS.
© 2019 – Brian Burton, Ed.D. My VR Professor.com