VR, AR, MR and what does immersion actually mean?

Nikolai Bockholt / May 2017

Terms such as "Virtual Reality", "Augmented Reality", "Mixed Reality" and "Immersive Content" are becoming increasingly common. But when you talk to advertisers and agents, it often becomes apparent that a true understanding of these terms is lacking, and their similarities and differences are sometimes not as clear as they should be.

Immersion: Diving into virtual worlds

"Immersion" is a commonly used word, but it is rarely explained. This term originates from the area of moving pictures/film. The word "immersion" is used to refer to the act of completely immersing oneself in, or diving into, another (artificial) world. This concept is in contrast to the metaphor of a "window", where one observes what is happening "from the outside". In the context of virtual reality, "immersion" is the condition in which the user loses awareness of the fact that they are actually in an artificial world. He or she experiences the virtual world with all of their senses and is able to, in contrast to cinematic "immersion", interact with the virtual environment.

The Generic Term: "Virtual Reality" or "VR"

Virtual reality (VR) is a generic term for content that can be played by digital devices, such as HMDs (head-mounted displays) or smartphones (mobile VR). This could be a linear film recorded with the help of a 360-degree camera, or an interactive 3D simulation, such as those used for gaming, which allow the user to immerse themselves in what’s happening.

Bringing "Virtual Reality" to life with 360-degree videos on YouTube

It's easy to find lots of "virtual reality" content on YouTube. Google’s "VR Channel", in particular includes a curated collection of a huge range of impressive 360-degree videos. The 360-degree recordings allow the user to explore the virtual world just by moving the mouse on a desktop PC. Mobile access to these videos is also possible: the best device for this is a smartphone with a VR viewer, such as "Cardboard"; or Google’s current "Daydream" version. The image is divided vertically so that each eye sees a slightly offset image, which the human brain translates as a 3D effect. This makes it possible to look at the video content from all sides and experience it as another world. The smartphone’s position sensors (accelerometer, gyro and compass) ensure that any movement made by the user is transmitted to the "virtual camera."

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It is possible to create an effect similar to 3D on a smartphone even without a VR viewer. To do this, the user can move the image using "touch" by moving their fingertips over the display, similar to using a mouse.

"Interactive VR" allows you to participate instead of just watching

An environment that reacts to the user in virtual reality is called "Interactive VR". This is used primarily in video games, but also in mobile applications. Depending on the device, interactions can be carried out by looking at the interaction point. If the user has a controller, they are also able to use functions like "touch", "hold", "click", "swipe", etc. In this way, elements can be selected, moved, exchanged or deleted without having to use a contextually aware menu.

"Augmented Reality" – its application in the real world

With "Augmented Reality" (AR), virtual content can be used in the real world. This is made possible with the help of digital aids, which can be used to provide information: such as the fastest route to a specific product in the supermarket, how-to content for assembling a new set of shelves, or an operating guide for the Sat Nav in your car. In the entertainment industry, "AR" is commonly used in gaming: dinosaurs on your coffee table suddenly come to life, virtual toy cars drive through your living room, which you have just newly furnished with virtual furniture selected from a catalogue. To a large extent, the possible applications of "AR" are dependent on the device. The first AR applications ran as native apps on smartphones and merely enhanced the camera image with an information level. In 2016, the game "Pokémon Go" by Niantic became hugely popular with players of all ages from all over the world – "Augmented Reality" par excellence.

Google’s Project Tango has made impressive progress in the field of "AR." A combination of hardware and software, it is intended for use on smartphones. The smartphones are equipped with additional sensors (infrared sender, infrared camera, GPS, compass, gyro, camera) that make it possible to capture and process the exact position within a room, as well as the composition of the surrounding environment.

"Mixed Reality"

The term "Mixed Reality" (MR) is used for videos where VR content is combined and overlapped with real-time film sequences. In order to do this, the person in the VR is recorded with the help of green-screen technology. The position of the real camera is then connected with the position of the virtual camera. External parties are then able to see what the person in the virtual world is currently experiencing.

What Are the Most Important Points to Consider When Creating VR Content?

360-degree content should captivate the user right from the start – the more exciting and real the content is, the longer the user will watch it, and the more often they’ll return. This is particularly important for brands and advertisers that want to include VR in their marketing repertoire and profit from it.

To create truly relevant 360-degree video content for the user, it’s important to pay attention to specific moments in the customer’s journey – so-called "moments that matter" – right from the very beginning.

Good examples of such moments might be “I’d like to test that product before I buy it”, “I want to experience it as though I were actually there” or even “I want to experience entertainment like I’ve never experienced it before". This is a good way to reach users and customers at exactly the right moment, which can have a positive impact on the advertising effect and result in capturing the customers’ attention, increasing brand awareness, closing a sale or making a profit.

Also, there are certain principles that should be taken into consideration when creating content:

  • The User Sees Everything
    In the area of 360-degree films, professional production is particularly complex. Since the user can look around freely in the virtual environment, it is particularly important that equipment and other aids are not visible in front of the camera if they are not part of the scene. To hide these in the post-production phase is complicated and expensive.
  • Take Your Time
    It takes time to tell an "immersive" story. The user wants to, should and must orient themselves within the environment. They want to understand where they are, where they’ve come from and what’s happening in order for the situation to evoke the necessary empathy. That’s why detail is such an important part of the storytelling process; it allows the user to become completely immersed in what’s happening and gives them the feeling of truly being part of the story.
  • Gentle Scene Changes Increase the VR Experience Seamless transitions from one scene to the next are paramount to telling a story smoothly and without any disruptions. That’s why it’s important to avoid abrupt cuts to ensure that the user has the best possible "immersion" experience. This can be particularly disruptive and detrimental to the positive experience when using a viewer like Cardboard. Soft fading gives the viewer time to prepare for the scene change and reorient themselves in the new environment.
  • Sound, Movement and Animation Effects Help to Tell the Story360-degree technology presents film directors with new challenges. If something happens that’s an important part of the story, but the viewer doesn’t see it, it’s possible that some information is missing which the viewer needs in order to fully understand the story. Spatial audio – a 3D sound that the viewer can experience in the virtual space – can help in such cases. Furthermore, the visual design of the scene, as well as movement and animation can help to ensure that the viewers’ attention is focused on what's happening.


360-degree videos, "Virtual Reality," and "Augmented Reality" are new technologies that can be put to great use by brands and advertisers in a wide variety of ways to capture consumers’ attention. "Immersion" – the act of immersing oneself in other worlds – provides the user with an extraordinary experience filled with emotional intensity, thus reinforcing both customer relationships and brand recognition making the experience more effective when compared to conventional methods. This can lead to the best possible end result for both the customer and the brand if such strategies are used at the right moment and employ high-quality content.

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