Immersive Art: Glossary

Woman in VR Museum

Immersive Art: Glossary

Immersive Art: Glossary 1024 683 Frank McDermott

In order to understand a topic well, it is important to be familiar with the basic terminology. Caravan has broken out some key terms and concepts into this glossary. Comment at the end if you have any requests for additional terms to be added to this list.

VR Illustration

Virtual Reality/VR

Virtual Reality is an immersive simulation of a digital environment completely contained within the hardware and software in use by one or multiple participants. The hardware typically consists of a headset that rests over the eyes and ears to provide 360o visual and auditory information, with hand-held controllers and other haptic controls to allow a participant to manipulate and explore the environment. The in-headset visuals can be viewed by spectators on a second screen.

AR Illustration

Augmented Reality/AR

Augmented Reality is the practice of overlaying digital information, usually visual, over live video information of the real, physical world. This is done through a screened interface like a phone or tablet. The digital overlay can be triggered by a number of means – location, visual markers, time stamp and more – and is often used to add contextual information to what a user is viewing through their device or, in some cases, embellish or add to the visual experience. In Augmented Reality, the digital overlay cannot interact with, or be affected by changes within the physical environment (unless those changes disrupt a device’s ability to detect a marker). For example, if you attempted to ‘push’ an overlay image in the space it appears to occupy, your hand would just pass through it, rather than moving in response.

Mixed Reality Illustration

Mixed Reality/MR

Mixed Reality is quite similar to Augmented Reality, with the defining difference being that digitally rendered information in Mixed Reality can interact with and be affected by changes within the physical environment. For instance, the use of haptic gloves that give physical feedback may allow a user to ‘hold’ and manipulate virtual objects, affecting the user’s senses while also changing details about a virtual object.

Extended Reality Illustration

Extended Reality/XR

Extended reality is an umbrella term for VR, AR and XR, as the three practices are commonly spoken about in tandem. XR is a useful contraction for when the central differences between its constituent technologies aren’t crucial to the topic of discussion.

For the purposes of our paper, we will frequently use XR as a concise way to reference a range of technologies and practices whenever appropriate.


High-Definition graphics in a virtual world that are typically meant to be observed statically and not interacted with. The processing power used to render cinematic graphics is largely consumed by visual fidelity, at the expense of being able to interact with or alter the environment. Cinematic VR is conducive to virtual representations of real-world artifacts, as is the case in the Kremer Museum.


Interactive graphics in a virtual world that can be manipulated by a user’s actions. The processing power used to render interactive graphics is largely consumed by the programmatic logic that dictates how the object reacts to user interactions, leaving less power to render visuals at highest possible resolutions. Interactive graphics are usually employed for games or boutique experiences.


An object or pattern in the physical world that can trigger a reaction that renders new graphics in Augmented or Mixed Reality experiences. A simple example is a QR code, which, when viewed through the camera lens and screen of a phone, can launch a link in a browser. For AR/MR, a marker usually triggers new graphics or information in the visual display.

Distributed Ownership

A market concept of ownership by either a limited or unlimited number of shareholders, to whom dividends are paid upon accrual of value through interest or sales. In relation to art, it refers to a sales model where artworks serve as investment vehicles. In relation to digital art, it refers to both an ownership system for digital information as well as a patronage system of investment in new artists, as popularized by firms like Kaleidoscope VR.


The ability to create identical facsimiles of an original object or information source as it relates to the feasibility/time investment required to do so. Digital experiences are highly replicable, which has disrupted conceptions of pricing for XR art.


Blockchain is a public, distributed list of digital records that are resistant to modification, which underpins many modern technologies and systems like cryptocurrencies. Blockchain is frequently discussed in the art market as a potential technological improvement to current and historical approaches to provenance and fraud detection.

Version Control

A system of archiving all changes made to a codebase, typically with descriptions of what was changed and why. In many cases, a key use is a ‘roll back’, where an older version of a codebase is reinstated. For digital art, version control is a way for collectors to see how an artwork that has been updated since its collection has changed – potentially to be reinstated per their own preference.

Open Source

Software where some or all of the codebase is publicly available and, optionally, available for public modification of the core software system itself. This is a popular methodology for rapid iteration of new software that borrows from previously tested best practices.

Headset/Head-Mounted Display/HMD

The core piece of equipment required for a true VR experience – a headset usually consists of one or several screens placed directly in front of the eyes in a visor, as well as audio outputs over the ears. There are many popular headsets in the emerging VR space, including the Oculus family, HTC Vive, PSVR, Valve Index and lower-tech offerings like Google Cardboard and Daydream.