Virtual Reality introductory image

Your Guide to Virtual Reality

It’s one of the hottest and talked about items in the tech world right now, but what exactly is Virtual Reality (VR) and how can it be used? Here’s your guide to Virtual Reality, let’s delve right in…

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

Virtual Reality (VR) can best be described as an artificial, 3-dimensional, and highly interactive environment that represents either real or non-real scenarios. The use of VR is extensive and widespread, from its leisure use in the gaming industry to its use in an educational setting in schools, colleges, industry, and research.

VR can be classified into 3 distinct systems;

  • Non-immersive
  • Immersive
  • Semi-immersive

Non-Immersive VR

Non-immersive VR, sometimes known as desktop virtual reality, involves the use of a desktop computer or PC to provide users with an experience of virtual reality without them being immersed in the environment or virtual world. It is the least immersive form of virtual reality. The virtual environment is presented on screen, however, the user only interacts with it by using a mouse, keyboard or other similar hardware device. Essentially, with this system, the user is required to imagine their presence in the 3-dimensional environment.


Second Life 3-dimensional virtual reality worldThe 3-dimensional virtual world Second Life (SL) is an example of non-immersive VR, where users can create avatars to represent themselves in an alternate world.



Given the universal nature of PC’s, using desktop-based VR is quite accessible. In addition to this, the system can be quite affordable. These advantages, combined with the ubiquitous nature of high speed broadband, has made this option quite popular.


  • lack of immersiveness (these systems cannot give users a fully immersive experience)
  • lack of realism (if you’ve ever tried immersive VR, it’s very difficult to return to a non-immersive experience!)


Immersive VR

Immersive VR tries to immerse the user in a virtual world, giving them a fully immersed virtual experience. There has been an explosion in the supply and demand for head-mounted display (HMD) units in recent years. These HMD units, display devices worn on the head, allow users to experience VR. There are two main types of HMD unit…

  1. PC-powered HMD unit
  2. Mobile HMD unit

1. PC-powered HMD unit

A connection to a PC is required and the device uses the PC’s power to run the game engine, graphics, etc. The US Military are working extensively with VR to train soldiers in a safe environment. Click here for an interesting look at their work.


Oculus Rift S Virtual Reality display unitThe Oculus Rift S is one of the most popular PC-powered HMD unit on the market. Connection to a PC is required and the device uses the PC’s power to run the game engine, graphics, etc.


HTC Vive Pro Virtual Reality display unitThe HTC Vive Pro is another top seller in the tethered head-mounted display (HMD) unit range.



  • Raw power!
  • Great graphics and game engines (high resolution)
  • Often contain built-in headphones
  • Great range of games and experiences


  • Cost: A pretty high-end PC is required with an advanced graphics card
  • Technical input required with initial setup and ongoing updates
  • User must be in close proximity to the PC at all times as the HMD is wired to the PC

2. Mobile HMD unit

Mobile HMD units are exactly as their name suggest, mobile! The are stand-alone, all-in-one devices that do not require a permanent connection to a PC. They can be brought and used anywhere, making them highly accessible.


Google Cardboard Virtual Reality head-mounted display unitThe simplest and most cost-effective form of VR on the market is without doubt the Google Cardboard VR device. Simple to assemble, cheap and highly accessible, this brings VR to the ordinary, everyday user/gamer.


Oculus Go Virtual Reality head-mounted display unit

The Oculus Go, released in May 2018, is a hugely popular mobile HMD unit. The initial set up is quick, easy and pain-free and connection to the internet is not required to play games. Check out our review of the Oculus Go here.


Samsung Gear Virtual Reality head-mounted display unitSimilar to the Oculus Go, the Samsung Gear VR is a mobile HMD unit. However, the difference here is that you need a smartphone to use it. Like the Google Cardboard the users smartphone is simply slotted into the front of the device to access VR content.



  • Light and portable/mobile (can go anywhere with you)
  • Great value (the Oculus Go currently retails for just €219 direct from Oculus with free delivery)
  • Simple and easy to set up and use
  • Good range of games and experiences


  • The range of experiences on some devices, such as the Google Cardboard, are limited
  • Devices that require you to use your smartphone are dependent on your smartphone’s capacity, screen resolution, power, etc.
  • Weaker graphics than the tethered PC-powered HMD devices
  • The controller with the Oculus Go is limited in its use compared to the more advanced Rift model.


Semi-Immersive VR

An example of a Semi-Immersive Virtual Reality system, Cave Automatic Virtual EnvironmentLastly, semi-immersive VR sits somewhere in-between immersive and non-immersive systems. These systems have become known as Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) or projector-based VR systems. Typically, they use projectors to display virtual environments to the user on the walls surrounding them. An example would be a flight simulator used in the aviation industry whereby the pilot would sit in a physical cockpit and a virtual world would be presented around them by means of a high-end projection system. The pilot would therefore be partially immersed in the virtual world.

(picture taken by Dave Pape of University of Buffalo using the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment).


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