What is (not) VR ?

(03/07/10: I know have a proper definition for VR)

(19/04/09: Hey people who come directly to this particular post, tell me where do you come from? =)


Sorry about the lack of updates, I have lots of excuses for that =)

First it seems nothing much exciting or very new is happening these days (or I’m missing it). Then we’ve been working quite hard (as usual of course) to get you a brand new release of 3DVia MP, Virtools big brother. I have revamped the device manager  so that it’s much more powerful and will provide better support for VR devices in the future 😉

We also received a nice big screen for stereoscopic projection and 6 NaturalPoint Optitrack cameras for tracking, but we’re still waiting for the projectors :-/ I’ll make a review of the cameras quite soon.

Virtual Reality ?

Back to the topic : Google is launching “Lively“, another 3d personnal space, and everyone is calling it Virtual Reality (resulting in pollution of my VR GoogleAlerts).

I think I need to clarify what VR is for me and I think for the majority of the VR scientific and industrial community. I’ve been wanting to do that for quite some time, so what better place than here, what better time than now? (c) “Rage against the machine”.

I’m not going to give a full definition of VR, just quickly what makes “my” VR different than the “marketing” VR.

Executive summary: Quicktime VR, Second Life and Google Lively are not VR.

Executive summary of the conclusion: maybe “my” VR should change its name. Check the last paragraph for a suggestion.

I’m allowing myself to call it “my” VR since it’s such a big part of my life 😉 Here are examples of “my” VR.


The term VR was invented when computer dinosaurs still walked the earth and Jaron Lanier created a dataglove to manipulate a 3D World.

As often described by professionals, “my” VR involves  3 important points : realtime rendering, interaction, immersion.

Realtime rendering :  you get the idea, a movie can’t be VR (even though one day maybe…)

Interaction : you must be able to interact with the virtual environment. This rules out Quicktime VR and any kind of panoramic virtual tour as being part of “my” VR. Ok you can move the point of view, but it still doesn’t has the next point.

Immersion : that’s a tough point. Lots of people would argue that you could get immersed in SL or WoW, but that’s degree zero of immersion. If you’ve ever been in a Cave and felt the way I felt, it’s like comparing a kiss to the kamasutra!

I think I’ll add a fourth point because I feel its another important and distinctive feature :

Natural interaction, body interaction : remember what it was when you first touched a keyboard or a mouse (or watch your parents now); that’s not natural. Natural interaction enforces immersion, and with “my” VR, moving an object is as simple as grabbing it and moving it with my hand, as you would for a real object. Zero learning because you’re using what you’ve learned in the real life! Your whole body is acting, and that’s why you’re interacting naturally, why you’re feeling immersed. Your body is not engaged when using SL, Livery or Quicktime VR!

Common features

All the people calling their application Virtual Reality are trying to represent an alternate reality, and I can’t take that away from them. If you take the term in a broad sense, they’re totally entitled to do so since there is no reason it should be restricted to the use of a group. They’re also trying to use the hype that VR generally generates among mortals. Fair enough.

So we’re all doing VR!

Immersive Virtuality ?

It seems we won’t be able to prevent people from using this term, so maybe we should try to evolve and choose a new name for our field.

David Nahon, the Dassault Systèmes VR boss (and my boss) suggests using Immersive Virtuality, which does a good job at explaining the difference with “my” VR and the “marketing” VR. We could at least add Immersive to VR, making it Immersive Virtual Reality and not losing the VR letters..

So, what do you think ?

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  1. Immersive Virtuality works for me! I’m glad you blogged about this, because it’s been getting under my skin as well. I’ll start promoting it in VR-linked conversations. I can’t wait to play in a real VR cave!

  2. My best wishes Sebastien! You have very interesting blog here, I’m just fount it today and read it with pleasure.

    I’m totally support you about QTVR and such kind of stuff – this not even close to what VR means.

    But I don’t agree about Second Life. SL is technology that allow you to interact with VR world itself, to communiate with peoples in more natural way, comparable to different messengers. And it’s stendard client was made for usage non immersive hardware such as simple screen and keyboard / mouse (and 3D Connexion mouses by the way!). But SL is not the SL-client itself.

    What about immersion (to what we all longing about) SL has an open client. Any researcher who working with hardware as stereoscreens, HMD’s or Caves can adjust visualization according to they’re needs.

    There is Vuzix client for Second Life, that made native support for Vuzix VR920 HMD in SL. I use it with pleasure, only adjust the FOV to be more like real (like HMD FOV itself). Immersion is great, you can see all world in stereo (even measure distances with glance), use your head movement to look around yourself in virtual world, and communicate with another peoples via microphone.

    Isn’t this immersive? The same can be made for CAVE systems and for stereoscreens (Like Philips made, I work with such hardware).

    I’m yong VR developer myself, and I numbered the points why I’m not agree.

    Anyway, hope to speak with you in future Sebastien, you are very interesting person, thanks for your blog again.

    Best Regards, Maxim Lysak.

  3. I totally agree with this as well. It used to bother be how easily the term ‘VR’ is thrown around. It was one of my (former) bosses as well to point out that adding ‘immersive’ to the description generally does the trick to differentiate.

    We also used ‘semi-immersive’ for systems without tracking and ‘web-based VR’ for, obviously, web-based simulations and visualizations.

  4. Maybe I should add that the ultimate VR, the one Gibson talks about is of course a mix of Immersive VR and a networked virtual environement a-la Second Life, and one doesn’t go without the other 😉

  5. I like how you separated your definition from gaming and, well, anything in particular. I’ve had an itch for a long time to have a wearable computer capable of altering and enhancing your real world perspective. Everything from infrared assistance to recognition of friends. Pipe dream, yes, but possible in the not too distant future.

    I actually came to your blog looking for updates in HMD tech. In particular, do you know of any HMD’s using a radial dlp array?

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