With the development of so-called immersive technologies, there are ever increasing possibilities to create detailed virtual worlds in which the user can become immersed. Immersion here refers to the effect where the user perceives the virtual environment as very close to reality. This term is also often used in connection with virtual reality (VR).
VR in particular enables a very high degree of immersion. Even if it is only a computer-generated environment, the visual experience makes it seem to our brain and senses as if the virtual world is real. For example, people who are afraid of flying react similarly to a computer-generated flight in a flight simulator as they would to a real flight in an aeroplane, even though they are always on the ground during the simulation.
VR is useful in many areas. With suitable software applications, VR can be used to deliver training courses. Business conferences can be enhanced with a high degree of immersion. VR can also be used in medical applications, for example when preparing for complex surgical procedures.
But what does immersion mean for virtual reality and how are the two related?
What is immersion?
The term immersion describes immersion in an environment. This experience transports people into a fictional world and is similar to the experience of diving in that in the ocean, as when reading a book, playing a computer game or watching a film, one is surrounded by another media reality. This can be occur both mentally and physically:
Most people are familiar with mental immersion from personal experience. This occurs when a person is deeply focussed on a task. For example, when they read an exciting book or watch a fascinating film. Mental immersion describes a state in which the user feels deeply engaged, highly involved and ready to embrace fiction.
This refers to immersion involving a 360 degree view of visual media, such as virtual reality. Here, the experience of an environment is not only mentally but also physical, and is therefore referred to as physical immersion. A high degree of physical immersion occurs when input and output devices are used to engage many of the user’s senses. For example, VR headsets enable a high degree of physical immersion because the user’s actual movements are replicated in the virtual environment in real-time. The user, regardless of where they are looking, only perceives the virtual world. Tactile feedback gloves, treadmills and other input and output devices further increase the degree of physical immersion, which in turn increases the degree of mental immersion.
Immersion and presence
In connection with immersion, the term “presence” is often used to describe the user’s subjective feeling of really being in the virtual world. Depending on the level of detail and realism of the virtual environment, the viewer perceives it as more or less real. This subjective feeling of presence can be achieved through a person’s mental immersion in the environment and enhanced by a high degree of physical immersion.
Different manifestations of the feeling of presence
The feeling of presence can be caused by various factors:
- Plausibility illusion
- Place illusion
Plausibility illusion describes the case where events in a simulated environment are perceived by a person as realistically as possible, as if they had actually taken place. However, the person knows that the events only take place in a virtual environment. This phenomenon is influenced by the content of the simulated world. Confidence in a virtual environment seems to be more important than sensory realism. If we meet a simulated person here who can only communicate with very simple and illogical sentences, this breaks the illusion. This disruption is then called a “break in presence” and can occur during plausibility or place illusion. The environment then does not react as the user expects.
Place illusion describes the user’s feeling of being in another place, even though they know that they are actually only there virtually and not in reality. It is mainly supported by physically immersive output devices. In particular, the level of detail generated by the 3D rendering technology plays a major role here. Place illusion can be created by VR walk-throughs for example, which give the user the feeling of really being in the actual location.
Involvement refers to attention or interest in the simulated environment. As with plausibility illusion, involvement is primarily determined by the content of the virtual world. For example, a place illusion may give the user the feeling of being in a real place, but they will still only be partially involved, resulting in only a relatively low sense of presence. On the other hand, due to interesting and engaging content, the user may be highly involved and thus mentally immersed, although the absence of place illusion may cause a lack of sense of presence.
While mental immersion and presence are considered psychological phenomena, physical immersion can be understood as a technical or physical phenomenon because the senses are physically stimulated via the use of technologies.
What does immersion mean in English?
Immersion comes from the Latin “immersio” and means something like “immersion”, “entering” or “embedding”. Immersion is nowadays mostly used in connection with the virtual world and immersion in it.
What is immersive media?
When it comes to interactive installations for virtual reality or augmented reality, we usually talk about immersive media. Strictly speaking though, classical forms of production such as a gripping stage play or a film, an exciting book or a mysterious sound installation also enable the user to be fully immersed in the staged world, i.e. to experience immersion.
Immersive media does not belong to any classical media genre, but can be a combination of different media and forms of interaction staged in space. Often threshold technologies are used for which there are no established production processes. In this field, one often has to develop individual methods.
An immersive room production must meet the highest expectations and a wide range of viewing habits. This is because the installation of media rooms in exhibitions, museums, and public places, or even for advertising installations and business events, usually creates a sensation for the public and receives the most attention.
It is no surprise that a lot of experimentation takes place during such a production. After all, a complex installation not only has to function perfectly from a technical viewpoint, but the visitor’s experience also has to be impressive and consistent – without any restrictions on his or her own intuitive actions.
What do AR and VR mean for immersion?
Augmented reality, or AR for short, adds digital content to the real world and offers great opportunities for companies to inspire their customers and business partners. When it comes to the latest trends, augmented reality is therefore a must.
Good examples are things like “I’d like to try the product before I buy it”, and “I want to experience this new technology as if I were involved in the process.” Thus, a retailer can impress their customers when they are looking for a certain product and thus have a positive influence on buying behaviour.
Simply put, augmented reality (AR) means an extended form of reality. In this case, we supplement reality with digital elements using technology. Similar to virtual reality (VR), AR is classified as one of the immersive environments. The transition between the technologies is smooth and can best be described by the “reality-virtuality continuum”.
One part of the continuum comprises reality, i.e. everything we perceive with our senses. When we add virtual elements to reality, we are in the realm of augmented reality or AR. When, thanks to the support of VR, we look at scenes with real places, objects or people, we speak of extended virtuality or augmented virtuality. A completely computer-generated environment, on the other hand, is called virtual reality.
Milgram’s Continuum – Mixed Reality (MR)
Boundaries between reality and virtual reality blur
Immersion in augmented reality
The power of immersive marketing is that users can be fully immersed in the content of an application using AR or VR technologies, creating a real sense of presence.
Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality has the great advantage of not having to rely on expensive VR glasses. This technology can be used with various output devices – such as Mobile AR. On a smartphone or tablet, the AR software augments a live camera image with virtual elements that are visible on the display.
Augmented reality stimulates the creativity of the users and engages participants in events:
- Instead of just passively consuming content, AR provides a highly engaging opportunity for interaction with digital elements.
- Brands can easily connect with their customers, bring products directly into the consumer environment, entertain them and build relationships
- Mobile augmented reality marketing can easily be combined with other marketing disciplines, such as social media marketing
In addition to mobile AR, AR glasses are now available, but they still seem rather futuristic for everyday life at the moment. Another possibility for augmented reality is for projection solutions, which are already successfully used in marketing.
Two exciting immersive AR apps to try
i4 AUGMENTED REVIEW
There are already some good AR apps on the market today that offer an immersive experience. The i4 AUGMENTED REVIEW AR viewer for example, enables products to be easily positioned in the real world in the form of 3D models. In this way, products can be digitally presented and viewed in their intended real-world locations. And the beauty of it is that no VR glasses are required, it simply works with a smartphone or tablet. The basic version of the viewer is free of charge and can be upgraded to the PRO version to include further functionality, such as the display of larger models and the inclusion of product information.
i4 AUGMENTED CATALOG
With the help of the i4 AUGMENTED CATALOG app and its associated cloud service, 3D models can be used to augment catalogue photos and illustrations. This enables customers to view a product seen in a paper catalogue, or even on a website, as a 3D model in immersive augmented reality in their own premises, using just a smartphone or tablet.
Immersion in Virtual Reality
The term Virtual Reality or VR for short is a generic term and describes content that can be displayed with digital devices such as HMDs (Head Mounted Displays) or smartphones (Mobile VR). Virtual and augmented reality glasses are among the most common HMDs. With these, a completely new virtual world can be created that completely blanks out the real world. This can be a film shot with a 360-degree camera or an interactive 3D model. Virtual reality can also be, for example, a virtual conference where the user is completely immersed in what is happening and in another place.
The VR environment that reacts to the user is called “interactive virtual reality”. This is mainly found in video games, but also in mobile applications. Almost every make of VR glasses has its own type of VR controller which enables the user to interact with the environment. The use of the controller must be as intuitive as possible in order to achieve a high degree of immersion. Many VR glasses now also recognise the user’s finger, hand and arm movements, allowing them to interact with virtual reality at the touch of a button or with individual gestures.
The shielded virtual reality
The best immersive experience is achieved through a shielded virtual reality, and this is made possible with VR glasses that are available today. The user is completely immersed in the virtual world and is shielded from reality. Our bodies and brains tend to trust what we see. In everyday life, we are too often fooled by what we see. Our brain can quickly adapt to VR and thus accept the “artificial” world as real.
Because of the resulting acceptance and presence, the use of VR glasses can even lead to side effect that is very similar to sea-sickness, even though the user is not physically in motion. This commonly happens with applications that do not harmonise real movements with those appearing in VR. These sensory conflicts arise when information from different sensory inputs is contradictory or does not match the user’s expectations. While our brain believes our body is moving in VR, the body sends signals that it is actually standing or sitting motionless. It is these conflicting signals that can quickly trigger this phenomenon. But this phenomenon, similar to pilots being subjected to high acceleration forces, can also be compensated for by regular use of VR technologies, which reduces such side effects.
What is immersion?
The term “immersion” refers to the immersion or entering into a virtual world that does not exist in reality and has so far mostly been used in the world of computer games. With the help of virtual reality, the user is immersed in a virtual artificial world. There he can interact with the virtual reality and forgets the real world around him at that moment. In the meantime, virtual reality is also being used in industry. Users immerse themselves in the virtual world of simulated plants, machines and factories, perceive information and translate it into actions. The virtual world must be designed as close to reality as possible, because the more the user has the feeling of actually being in a virtual reality, the better the immersion works.
Improving immersion in VR through technical means
There are certain tricks to enhance user immersion. Here are two good examples:
- Spatial sound has long since been used within the gaming industry. With spatial sound, the sounds in a game are matched to the events happening in the game. Spatial sound can also be used very effectively in virtual reality. It is not only suitable for games, but also for any storytelling that directs the user’s gaze specifically for advertising purposes, for example. The sound of a presenter’s voice can direct the user to individual elements of the environment if it can actually be heard from a certain direction.
- Interactivity in VR. Immersion can be significantly increased by getting the user to interact with the content. The effect is further enhanced when the user can move completely freely in an environment.
A fully immersive virtual world will be able to reproduce all our feelings, thoughts and more in a completely artificial environment. Not a single detail should be overlooked here. Any interruption or even the slightest conflicting signal to the user’s body would pull them out of the fully immersive world.
Two immersive VR apps to try
For the most immersive experience, virtual reality apps are highly recommended. One such app is i4 VIRTUAL REVIEW. This is a VR viewer that enables 3D models, e.g. from a CAD system, to be loaded into a virtual environment. Then, using VR glasses, the user can dive into this environment and experience their models full-size in virtual reality.
VR can also be used for online meetings in an immersive virtual environment. With i4 MEETING you can create your own virtual worlds, containing your own models, and hold meetings in them with people from all over the world. All participants can independently move around the virtual world and can see and talk to each other as avatars.
Immersion will remain an exciting opportunity for the foreseeable future
Immersion, i.e. being immersed in other worlds, is essentially a unique experience and creates extraordinary emotions for users. Whether using AR or VR, both technologies can be used to present immersive content to the user. In addition to numerous applications within the gaming sector, AR and VR applications now exist that can be used productively in industry.
For companies both large and small, and regardless of their industry, there are many possibilities for using VR commercially. Detailed information is available from virtual reality companies such as CAD Schroer GmbH. Its experts can draw on a wealth of AR/VR knowledge to propose solutions to meet company-specific requirements.
Immersive experience projects can often be implemented in a very short timescale. Every company has the chance to sharpen its competitive edge through immersive technologies, as advances in this field continue to be driven forward.
Immersion remains a challenge of the present and, with its many new possibilities, brings with it the anticipation of an exciting future.