A digital entity – a virtual museum draws on the features of a museum with the intent of supplementing, improving, or amplifying the experience of a museum with the added features of personalization, synergy between the exhibits and the audience and the abundance of content. Virtual museum may be the digital support or version of an already existing physical museum or be an independent entity and still maintain its status as a museum in both the scenarios as per the definition provided by the International Council of Museums. ICOM has a stated mission for physical museums which effectively stands even for the virtual museums which is a commitment to public access, to the immense knowledge and information source that these collections are and a systematic organization of the showcase and to preserve the collection as a whole and the constituent exhibits for the longest possible time.
Quite similar to the physical museums, virtual museums can also be designed to focus on particular objects like art, natural history etc. or can even be about a brand new exhibition. In addition to providing a stage for digital artistic content like net art, virtual art and digital art, a virtual art museum has the ability and versatility to showcase the traditional exhibits and works of art to the world of web and increase their reach without physically moving them. Though virtual museums are talked about simultaneously with its sister cultural institutions like library and archives, all these are totally independent of each other. Other common names the virtual museums are awarded are online museum, hypermuseum, digital museum, cybermuseums or web museums.
In these virtual museums a variety of interactive environments may be created. One of the most common ways to do this is by recreating the 3D space that is representative of the museum using a 3D architectural metaphor. This effectively gives a sense of space using a variety of spatial references. Using state of the art 3D modelling techniques, VRML, X3D and imaging techniques like infrared reflectography, X-Ray imaging, 3D laser scanning & IBMR techniques a simulation of the entire experience of being in a museum is provided in an exploratory manner. Another way to create a three dimensional spatial environment is QTVR, which is a pre-rendered, fixed environment. This particular technology has restrictions in terms of free movement in 3D space, however the image quality may in fact be much superior when compared to real time rendered simulations.
Using a high speed broadband connection, museums like National Museum of Australia and the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization employed mobile telepresence technologies to try out a virtual museum tour system in the year 2013. This is especially of great benefit to educational institutes in the remote areas of the country as this technology allows them to communicate with a facilitator at the museum through a robot that is fitted with an omnidirectional camera. The remote users, each of them have control over their own views of the museum galleries to freely explore the museum virtually almost as realistically and as freely as they would have on a physical visit.