What Is Non-Immersive Virtual Reality? – Definition & Examples7 min read

What Is Non-Immersive Virtual Reality? – Definition & Examples7 min read

27/03/2019 1 By Vasyl Tsyktor

Non-immersive virtual reality (VR) is the term few people know the meaning for. At the same time, this is what you are most likely to be familiar with. In fact, you face this technology almost every day when you switch on your TV, computer, or video game console like Playstation, Nintendo Switch, or Xbox. How does it work? CyberPulse will sort things out.


Non-immersive VR is a type of the virtual reality technology that provides users with a computer-generated environment without a feeling of being immersed in the virtual world. The main characteristic of a non-immersive VR system is that users can keep control over physical surrounding while being aware of what’s going on around them: sounds, visuals, and haptics.

Non-immersive virtual reality systems rely on a computer or video game console, display, and input devices like keyboards, mice, and controllers. Unlike semi-immersive VR based on hard simulators also known as cockpits, gaming non-immersive VR systems also can use racing wheels, pedals, and speed shifters to provide users with an enhanced gaming experience. Using various input devices, users can interact with digital content on a display.

Fully immersive VR vs non-immersive VR

Playing Skyrim VR

Skyrim VR – fully immersive virtual reality

The main difference between immersive and non-immersive virtual reality is in the 3D content delivery method. Fully immersive virtual reality is a realistic simulation technology that enables users to interact with a 3D virtual environment with special haptic devices. Unlike non-immersive VR based on typical displays, fully immersive VR provides computer-generated surroundings via head-mounted displays (HMDs) that isolate users from the real world. Thus, they become unaware of physical objects and sounds.

VR headsets have two displays that generate digital content on each user’s eye separately. It ensures a binocular image perceived as a real-world environment. HMDs have built-in head tracking systems that can determine the orientation of the user’s head to ensure the interactivity of a virtual world. These systems provide a sense of presence within VR environments and allow users to feel engaged in it like in a physical environment.

Non-immersive virtual reality is the least immersive and interactive type of immersive technologies. Instead of VR headsets, it uses a single display to provide computer-generated content. In order to ensure an additional level of immersion, some video games provide a first-person view for players to associate themselves with their game avatar.

One of the significant differences between fully immersive and non-immersive VR technologies lays in digital content perception. Unlike fully immersive virtual reality, non-immersive VR transmits the same image for both user’s eyes. Therefore, users perceive this image only in two dimensions: height and width while fully immersive VR technology provides a digital image perceived in three dimensions that include height, width, and depth.


Like augmented and mixed reality technologies, virtual reality has a wide range of possible applications in various industries. The list of non-immersive VR examples is obviously shorter, but it still brings valuable benefits to sectors like gaming, healthcare, and design.


Playing Forza Horizon 3 on Xbox

A video game is one of the most representative examples of non-immersive virtual reality. Players experience a virtual environment, which can either be unreal or duplicate a real-world city, country, or a specific location, through a TV or computer display. Within a video game, users can interact with virtual objects or other playable characters using a keyboard and mouse. Some online video games like The Elder Scrolls Online enable users to interact with other players’ avatars within a computer-generated environment.


VR technologies are currently much more than just gaming and entertainment. Within the last decade, they have become an innovative instrument used in medical research studies. Immersive techniques have turned out to be effective techniques capable to replace or at least decrease the need for taking medicines in order to reduce physical pain or improve patient’s psychological health without any interventions.

A study conducted by scientists from medical universities located in Canada and Iran showed that the use of non-immersive virtual reality can significantly reduce pain on a molecular level. The researchers used the functional magnetic resonance imaging system to track how patients perceive pain caused by high temperature while experiencing non-immersive VR. Their results revealed that virtual reality reduced the subjective pain perception as well as decreased the activity of involved brain regions.

Furthermore, the final report showed that watching a movie or playing a video game in a typical way deals with the subjective pain reduction in a more efficient way compared to the use of computer-generated environments transmitted via a head-mounted display. Therefore, non-immersive virtual reality turned out to be even more effective than fully immersive VR when it comes to pain reduction.

Watching a movie

During the above-mentioned experiment, researchers asked both male and female patients to watch a movie in 2D and 3D. Their results showed that male patients experienced a lower level of pain and unpleasantness when watching a 3D video while women felt less pain due to watching a 2D video. Moreover, the second group needed a significantly lower dose of sedative medication required to kill their acute pain while enjoying a movie than before.

Playing a game

ReHubgame interface

ReHubgame playing process

Rehabilitation is an intensive and time-consuming task that requires a lot of efforts from both patients and medical specialists. The destination of any rehabilitation is a successful recovery after a disease or injury. However, a full health recovery can be impossible because of the negative impact of the patient’s trauma. In this case, therapists strive to ensure patients to be able to live a full and minimize the effect of the injury or disease in the long-term perspective.

The rehabilitation process also requires repetitive and goal-oriented measures to improve cortical reorganization and motor function of patients with either acute or chronic pain. So British scientists from Cambridge University created a non-immersive VR rehabilitation system based on the Unity engine. They developed a video game that helps patients recover faster and in a more enjoyable way compared to traditional physical exercises.

When playing ReHabgame, patients virtually reach and catch fruits appeared in the computer-generated environment. Then they release these fruits above the 3D basket in order to gain points. This game uses Microsoft Kinect, a motion sensing input device that tracks user movements. Therefore, players have to move their arms in a specific way to perform the necessary manipulations in the game.

The use of Kinect controllers allows patients to undergo rehabilitation at home without the need for visiting a therapist at the clinic. Furthermore, using a video game as a means of a recovery measure increases patient’s motivation to keep performing physical exercises thus retaining their adherence. By presenting points for correct manipulations, the game encourages players to improve their results thus speeding up the rehabilitation process.

The non-immersive virtual reality system also allows therapists to monitor patient progress in the game. Medical specialists can check the number of points gained by players. As a result, a therapist can adjust the overall rehabilitation program and provide individual recommendations to make it more efficient for each particular patient. This game-based therapy ensures a suitable physical and mental engagement using visual feedback during each rehabilitation session.


Designers used to manually draw their prototypes using a pencil and paper. Many automotive designers still use these old-school methods to inspire themselves and quickly visualize their idea. At the next stage of the development process, non-immersive VR comes into action. This technology is now widely used in design and prototyping.

By creating a 3D image of any item, designers can better visualize what they want to build thus providing other experts like engineers with detailed visual information of what they need to assemble. Both designers and engineers use special software to develop prototypes. Autodesk software is one of the most popular prototyping tools. For example, architects can use ArchiCAD to design buildings while automotive designers from Nissan and Aston Martin use such tools as Alias, VRED, and Maya.

Final thoughts

Despite being the least immersive type of virtual reality, non-immersive VR brings significant benefits to various industries like healthcare and design. In medicine, this technology reveals to be an effective alternative of conventional pain reduction therapy while designers can use it for visualizing purposes. However, non-immersive VR has gained its popularity through gaming where players can experience virtual environments as well as interact with them using various input devices.