Immersive technology refers to each type of technology that extends reality or creates a new reality. These technologies create a feeling of immersion in an artificial environment, that replaces or changes (augments) the real environment, which in turn causes users to get carried away by the newly created surroundings. A head mounted device or a headset is commonly used to experience this kind of technology.
Several types of immersive technologies exist, such as 360° photo or video, virtual reality (VR), cave VR or immersive room, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). Each of these types can be placed along the reality-virtuality continuum (Milgram et al., 1995), and can show either computer-animated or real-life images.
Computer animation vs film or photo
The content used in these technologies can differ. On the one hand, the content can comprise realistic images, e.g. a photo or film of an existing place. On the other hand, images can also be digitally created. As such, the used medium (type of technology) does not imply only one specific type of images.
360° photos and videos are created by recording all directions of a certain environment at the same time. These images can be viewed via a computer, smartphone, tablet or VR headset. On a computer, the user can explore the (virtual) environment by ‘clicking and dragging’; on a smartphone or tablet, by loving around the device; and with a headset, by moving his/her head. This form of immersive technology is very accesible nowadays and can easily be found, for example, on Youtube and Facebook.
Immersive room or Cave VR
An immersive room consists of 360° projections on the walls (and sometimes also the ceiling and floor) of a room, combined with audio and sometimes even smells. As such, the user is immersed in a fictional environment (e.g., a fairy tale world) or in a very realistic environment (e.g., train station). Some immersive rooms even have interactive walls and floors.
Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality disconnects the user from the real world* and simulates a digital, computer-generated environment or a realistic environment different from the one he/she is in in real life. As such, the user experiences the artificial/fictional environment through different senses, as if he/she were to be present there.
*The user is not fully disconnected from the real world, as he/she can still hear others.
Augmented reality (AR)
Unlike the abovementioned technologies, in AR digital images are presented on top of the real environment. The real environment is the starting point and is enriched with digital, computer-generated elements. Therefore, in AR the user is not fully disconnected from the real world. AR technology is commonly used via smartphones or tables, but also headsets are becoming more and more common.
Mixed reality (MR)
Mixed reality is the next step in AR. Similar to AR, the user sees the real environment (through a headset) with the addition of digital, computer-generated elements. However, in MR these digital elements can be manipulated. In other words, you can interact with these digital elements or they can interact with each other.
eXtended reality (XR)
De concept of extended reality is used to describe the complete spectrum of immersive technologies.