Turns out, experiences versus material goods are what makes us happier, according to research. This explains, at least in part, the appeal of Virtual Reality (VR). So what is VR? It’s an all-consuming experience. But also VR continues to evolve and is becoming more immersive and engaging for the user.
However, not all VR experiences are immersive. There’s a scale ranging from augmented reality to virtual reality to immersive experiences—and they all offer different benefits and user experiences. Here are the key differences to know.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference?
Augmented reality (AR) uses technology to create an interactive experience by adding a computer-generated layer of information on top of a real-world environment. An example of this would be the SkyView app, which utilizes your smartphone to show you which outlined constellations are above you when you point your phone’s camera and screen towards the sky.
AR essentially enhances the world around you—rather than creating a new virtual world (which is what VR does), AR adds to (or subtracts from) information that’s already there.
Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, immerses the user inside a digital simulation. Users can interact with these virtual environments by engaging their senses—this is key to ensuring the user feels like they really are in that virtual environment. Most VR experiences (but not all) will use special hardware, such as a head mount, to do so. An example of VR would be using an Oculus headset (which has now been re-branded as Meta Quest 2) to take a virtual workout class.
AR and VR can be used for similar applications. For example, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) describes AR and VR as tools that can be used for social connection. Google also uses AR and VR to make the physical world “searchable” through tools like Google Earth where you can explore locations like the Hong Kong Stadium or the Colosseum in Rome. Additionally, museums and art foundations are investing in AR and VR to bridge the relationship between art and technology—these kinds of tools would allow you to “visit” museums and art galleries across the world, no matter where you live. Want to see the ‘Mona Lisa’ at the Louvre, but live thousands of miles away? No problem. Just strap on a VR headset and “walk” through the museum to check it out from the comfort of your living room.
So, What Is an Immersive Experience and How Is It Different from AR and VR?
An immersive experience usually combines one or more technologies to “pull” the user into a new or augmented reality. This technology can enhance everyday life by engaging the user’s senses to make their experience that much more satisfying. Put another way, an immersive experience blurs the lines between real life and a virtual ‘world.’
According to the BBN Times, “VR becomes pretty useless to the user when it isn’t an immersive experience.” True immersion for virtual reality involves creating a simulated world that’s almost identical to real life. This can be done by engaging multiple senses at once (think: you’re in a virtual world on a beach. You can see everything in 3D, hear the waves crashing, and smell the saltwater. That’s a lot more realistic than watching a YouTube video of a beachscape, right?).
But immersion isn’t just a 21st-century invention: “immersion is something we experience all of the time—and it’s only getting more engaging. Think of the transition from radio, to TV, then color TV,” says Aaron Wisniewski, CEO of Inhale by OVR Technology.
The goal of immersive VR is to transport a user into a simulation they can interact with. By stimulating their senses through sight, sound, smell, vibrations and more, they might feel as if they’ve stepped into a completely different world.
These days, an immersive experience has several different applications. It can be used for fun (think: a really interactive video game) or to help improve mental health conditions, such as anxiety. Inhale by OVR Technology creates a fully immersive experience by pairing VR with scent technology. This fuels relaxation and encourages positive emotions.
The bottom line: Engaging our senses through sight, taste, sound, smell, and touch is key to making a virtual reality experience more immersive, realistic, enjoyable, and effective for any user.