A virtual reality tour is a guided exploration of a place or area that takes place in a virtual world. Original virtual tours were created using videos and pictures, but virtual reality tours can also be rendered using computer generated images (CGI). As it is a tour, there is only a limited amount of interaction possible and most are accompanied with text and/or audio narration. Tours can be fully immersive, partially immersive, or viewed at a distance.
There are three main mediums for a virtual reality tour: on the desktop, with a multi-display system, or with a fully immersive system. The desktop method is the cheapest and can be done on any computer with an appropriate graphics and display system. The only equipment such a system requires is a computer, a monitor, and a mouse. The multi-display system uses several screens to surround the viewer making it semi-immersive.
A fully immersive system shuts out sensory input from the outside world. This is achieved by using a head mounted display (HMD) and wired gloves. Since their inception in the 1990s, such devices have become lighter with better screen resolutions because of liquid crystal displays (LCDs).
The first virtual reality tour took place at Dudley Castle in Britain in 1994. It took visitors back to how the castle looked in the 1500s. Virtual tours of places have been created using graphic design programs so viewers can stay at home and visit places like the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. There are also city and country tours that combine videos, photographs, and rendered images.
Virtual reality tours have also been created to allow users to examine the internal workings of places and structures they could not normally get into. This includes historical creations such as the Titanic, as well as factories and machines. Virtual reality tours have also been created to allow users to understand the world's history from the dinosaurs to the Romans and beyond. They may also be used to help students understand the vastness of space and the internal workings of the human body.
Promotional campaigns can also integrate a virtual reality tour. These can be used for either existing structures or so an architect can demonstrate how his or her creation will look. Such tours are low on interactivity and high on advertisement. They are used by real estate companies to promote new housing areas and business parks. Pamphlets and promotional videos often accompany such virtual reality tours.
The Internet has seen a proliferation of virtual reality-based games and social environments. While many used to be computer or console-based, others are now based in cloud computing systems allowing for greater amounts of data and larger worlds. Virtual worlds range from three-dimensional (3D) chatrooms or chat worlds to fantasy games. In order to entice prospective users and to help new users learn the layout, many virtual world websites have created a virtual reality tour, which shows users around the game or virtual world and explains how it works.