Virtual reality (VR)—you’ve probably heard about it and have seen videos of it on YouTube, but what is VR? It’s one of the finest examples of human-computer interaction, and while the most popular are VR games played in consoles and mobile VR, it also holds a lot of promise in practical applications. To fully appreciate the virtual reality experience, read on to learn more about the tech below.
What Is VR? | Introduce Yourself to One of the World’s Most Important Techs
In This Article:
- What Is VR?
- VR Versus AR
- Virtual Reality Headsets and Components
- Levels of VR Immersion
- The VR Market
- The Future of VR
What Is VR?
What is VR? It’s short for virtual reality. VR provides a realistic, interactable 3D environment.
At the moment, the VR experience isn’t even close to the level of a holodeck. In case you’re not a Star Trek fan, a holodeck is a virtual reality room, and characters use it for both entertainment and training. When they enter the space, they undergo an immersive experience, and they can interact with other people and creatures.
Hopefully, a holodeck-esque environment is the future of VR, but at the moment, people use a headset or a head-mounted display and a controller to create the sense they are in a virtual environment.
For instance, Samsung Gear VR consists of a headset that allows you to engage in VR games or VR apps. You can also create a room and get together with friends who also have the same VR devices. Whether your friends are right next to you or on the other side of the world, you can feel as if you’re all sitting at a table together.
VR Versus AR
The next important question to ask after “What is VR?” is “How does it differ from AR?”
Although similar, virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) are not the same. AR overlays virtual elements into the real world. Consider it a mixed reality.
The hit game Pokemon Go is an example of AR. The game engages with real life by using maps and requiring you to walk to real places to find a Pokemon. When you find one, you look through your phone’s camera, and the creature appears to be standing in front of you.
In contrast, VR content is made up. It provides an alternative virtual environment rather than modifying the real surroundings.
Currently, VR systems allow you to see, hear, and even handle objects. As the technology progresses, you will experience more, such as being able to smell and feel the items in your surroundings.
Virtual Reality Headsets and Components
Headsets take people into virtual reality worlds. Right now they don’t provide a fully immersive 360-degree view, but they tend to be in the 100- to 120-degree range.
The human vision range is 120 degrees, and the majority of that is the peripheral vision, which means you really feel as if you’re in the virtual environment with these types of VR hardware.
There are wraparound headsets that work with computers or game consoles. The PlayStation VR headset, for example, falls into this category. There are also standalone headsets.
These have all the technology you need built right into the headset, so you can take it anywhere without worrying about your cords.
The Google Daydream is a standalone VR headset. You can play a virtual game of dodgeball, walk through a futuristic Los Angeles while playing Blade Runner Revelations, or explore other virtual environments.
Finally, there are VR headsets such as Google Cardboard and Blitzwolf VR Glasses that have a space where you put in your phone. This option isn’t as advanced as the other alternatives, but the basic models are only $7 to $15. Combined with a smartphone and the right app, this gives you the sense of virtual reality.
Beyond the headsets, the following components are part of virtual reality systems:
- Content Feeds—This refers to the game or app that creates the virtual reality world.
- Display—The display is where you see the feed. As explained above, with Google Cardboard, your display is simply an LED smartphone screen. With an Oculus Rift, there is one display for each eyeball, which creates a more realistic effect.
- Lenses—Some VR headsets have built-in lenses over the display, which help you to focus on the screen.
- Field of View—This isn’t exactly a part of the VR system. Instead, the field of view describes how much you can see with your VR technology. Currently, most VR headsets offer a field of view ranging from 100 to 180 degrees.
- Frame Rate—This refers to the number of frames per second displayed on the screen. The higher the number, the more realistic the view.
- Audio—You need sound to create a more immersive virtual environment. Some headsets come with built-in-speakers while others feature ports for headphones. You may also connect headphones or speakers to the computer or gaming console directly.
- Controls—Some headsets come with buttons on the side. In other cases, you can engage with the virtual world using a handheld controller similar to the type used by gaming consoles. There are also realistic controls that work with some systems, including guns and swords for VR video games, as well as specialized controllers for flight simulators.
- Tracking Sensors—They track how you’re moving, and they notify the rest of the system to adjust your view. Some systems are moving away from tracking sensors. Instead, they get information on your movements directly from the controller or the headset.
Levels of VR Immersion
VR offers different levels of immersion. With non-immersive VR, reality sneaks in around the corners. That happens with Google Cardboard, for example, thanks to the limitations of the smartphone’s display.
Semi-immersion involves a mixture of reality and digital element. Sometimes advanced AR falls into this category. For instance, the Microsoft HoloLens overlays computer screens, fun holograms, and shapes into your real environment. Fully immersive VR is in the future. It will take you completely into another world.
The VR Market
“What is VR to people these days?” The answer is a lot. Many believe the VR will be the next computing platform, and Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) speculates this will happen in the next 5 to 10 years.
As of 2016, the VR market is worth about $1.9 billion, but Digo-Capital believes it will be $22.4 billion by 2020. When you take into account both VR and AR, the market is likely to be worth a stunning $121 billion by the following year.
The Future of VR
VR isn’t just for gaming. It has a lot of practical applications as well. In fact, it’s already in use in many environments, and as time marches on, it’s likely to get more realistic and even more valuable in the following situations as well:
- Education—Technology also plays a significant role in making education more fun and engaging. In the future, medical students and researchers will be able to use VR to dissect cadavers. Dental students are already using this technology to practice putting in dental implants. They can also tour historic sites and go on field trips through VR. Google Expeditions is already making some of that possible.
- Training—Eventually, soldiers will be able to train for combat through VR simulations. In the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, VISIBLE (Virtual Simulation Baseline Experience) is helping people train for jobs in nuclear power plants. This software lets them explore parts of the plant people can’t safely enter.
- PTSD Treatment—With the right VR, you can put people with PTSD into triggering situations so they can practice controlling their responses. Researchers are working on ways to develop simulations of traumatic events to bring patients back into the environments where they first developed their PTSD.
- Criminal Justice—Lars Ebert, who works for the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Zurich, Switzerland, has created software that works with the Oculus Rift. It can give juries an in-depth 3D look at crime scenes.
See how VR helps these prisoners experience the real world in this video from Vice News:
What is VR? It’s a technology meant to do amazing things from entertainment to medicine. As it evolves, it’s going to be even more engaging and sensory oriented. If you want to learn more about VR and other types of technology, explore the rest of our site. At Noobie, we want to be your technology education destination.
What is VR to you? Tell us your thoughts about the technology in the comments below.