Virtual Reality Technology Terminology

Below is a curated list of terms relating to virtual reality technology.

  • augmented reality (AR)

    in augmented reality (AR) the visible natural world is overlaid with a layer of digital content

    The differences between VR, AR, and MR are best summed up by quote attributed to Clay Bavor:

    VR is the power to take you anywhere, MR and AR is the power to bring anything to you

    The Reality Scale

    The Reality Scale

  • CAVE

    a CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment) is a virtual reality environment made up of between three and six walls that form a room-sized cube

    Projectors display a virtual world onto the interior walls of the CAVE and are then controlled by the movement of an experiencer from within the CAVE.

  • data glove

    an interactive device – often resembling a glove worn on the hand – which connects to a computer system and facilitates fine-motion control within virtual reality

  • eye tracking

    the ability for a head mounted display (HMD) to read the position of the experiencer’s eyes versus their head

    Eye tracking is particularly useful for informing VR analytics, where the developer wants to better understand what content the experiencer is focused on in a specific scene or view.

  • haptics

    haptic technology simulates the sense of touch through the sensation of pressure (usually on the hands via a glove)

    This helps to support agency by enabling the experiencer to control virtual objects or sense physical forces within the virtual environment. Haptics are a significant component in peripherals.

  • head mounted display (HMD)

    a set of goggles or a helmet with tiny monitors in front of each eye to generate images seen by the wearer as three-dimensional

  • head tracking

    the ability for an head mounted display (HMD) to monitor the position and orientation of the experiencer’s head through tracking

  • latency

    the time delay or lag between activating a process (change in input from the experiencer) and its accomplishment (the visual effect)

    High-latency can lead to a detached experience and can also contribute to motion sickness / dizziness.

  • locomotion

    refers to the process of moving from one place to another

    This is most commonly used to refer to movement within the virtual environment e.g. how an avatar navigates the virtual world, but can also refer to movement outside of the virtual environment e.g. how the experiencer navigates the real-world while in a virtual experience.

    Locomotion mechanics in virtual reality can be broken down into three primary categories:
    1. Perambulation
    2. Teleportation
    3. Transportation

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  • mixed reality (MR)

    mixed reality (MR) is similar to augmented reality (AR) except virtual objects are integrated into the natural world

    For example, a virtual ball beneath your desk would be blocked from view unless you bent down to look at it.

    The differences between VR, AR, and MR are best summed up by quote attributed to Clay Bavor:

    VR is the power to take you anywhere, MR and AR is the power to bring anything to you

    Computer game designer Graeme Devine, now Chief Creative Officer at Magic Leap, describes mixed reality as:

    Mixed reality is the mixture of the real world and virtual worlds so that one understands the other. This creates experiences that cannot possibly happen anywhere else.1

    1. Devine, G. Website Article by Kris Graft [accessed September 21, 2016] Magic Leap’s ‘chief game wizard’ has big ideas for the mixed reality future

  • peripheral

    a device that helps enhance a virtual reality experience by enabling greater immersion within the virtual world

    The most common VR peripherals are gloves or controllers e.g. the Oculus Touch that look to mirror the experiencer’s innate movements and help to facilitate better active presence.

    Other VR peripherals include those looking to simulate real-life objects or apparatus e.g. bikes (VirZoom), weapons (PS VR Aim, The VR-15 from VRsenal), shoes (Taclim). Peripherals can also be classed as devices that help enhance the environment e.g. candles.


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  • positional audio

    audio that is triggered based on the position of the headset

    For example, in a crowded scene the experiencer would be given the ability to choose which conversation they listen to based on where they are looking.

    New Wave by Directors Samir Mallal and Aron Hjartarson demonstrates the positional audio approach.

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  • virtual reality (VR)

    virtual reality (VR) places the experiencer in another location entirely. Whether that location has been generated by a computer or captured by video, it entirely occludes the experiencer’s natural surroundings.

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  • WebVR

    WebVR is an emerging technology that aims to present virtual reality content in traditional web browsing interfaces

    The experience is delivered through a JavaScript API that provides support for virtual reality devices. A work in progress specification – written by pioneering developers from Google and Mozilla – can be found on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) github.

    A demo of WebVR can be found on the A-Frame website.

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