What is Virtual Reality?

What is Virtual Reality?

Since the early 2010’s, you may have heard about virtual reality in the news. Strange people with strange devices strapped onto their faces. But also strapped on their faces? A big smile. What is virtual reality? How does virtual reality work? How much is a virtual reality headset? Why is there so much hype around this big weird box that goes over your eyes? Today, we’re here to answer any questions you may have about the strange new world of virtual reality. We’ll dive into those questions, divluge what virtual reality looks like, and explain how to use virtual reality to get the most out of your home entertainment package.

To put it simply, virtual reality refers to an interactive experience generated using computer graphics that immerses you in never-before-seen worlds. It can take you away to the beaches of Zihuantanejo, bring you into an X-Wing on the assault on the Death Star, or in the middle of a zombie apocalypse where you have to use your guts, instincts, and an oversized assault rifle to survive. All you need to do is strap a headset on, slip in your phone, and let the limitless selection of available apps do the rest. Now that you get the gist of what virtual reality is, we can dive into how it works.

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

A Samsung phone encased in a virtual reality headset; image – Source: Flickr

Virtual reality has undergone some major technological advances in the past ten years. Back in the day, virtual reality meant those little goggles with the disks holding seven different color images that you could click-through one after another. Whoever created those would be shocked at what is available today.

In modern times, virtual reality is easily integrated into smartphone technology. The expensive VR machines of days past are no longer required for you to get lost in new worlds. All new smartphones can run virtual reality, and almost anyone (sorry to all those out there with flip phones) can explore the joys of that go along with it. Now, how does virtual reality work? How does something as simple as a phone give us the power to explore the unknown - to boldly go where no man has gone before?

Here’s a crash course on how virtual reality works. It’s quite simple, really. Virtual reality works by splitting your phone (or other device) into two parts, one for each eye. The phone is then encased a virtual reality headset with special lenses to make the visual experience as real as possible. The headsets lock the phone in place, and with the dials included on the headset, users can fine-tune the focus, much like a pair of binoculars. With everything else in your background blacked out by the goggles, as well as the fact that your eyes are fully-focused on the VR app in front of you, you can now feel like you’re off in some distant land (depending on the quality of the graphics in the app you are using).

The way that VR works in terms of realism comes down to tracking. One of the biggest things that makes virtual reality feel like, well, reality, is how it helps enhance the experience with eye tracking and head tracking. Accelerometers in the device will give a precise measurement of the direction in which your head is facing, so what you see in virtual reality appears real. The eye tracking feature is continuously being improved as well and ensures that what your eyes actually focus on is always crystal clear when you’re deep into a complex game or app.

Speaking of which, the app is one of the most important parts of a good VR experience and is crucial to how virtual reality works. Yes, a very good VR headset will always outperform a cheap, poorly-built one, but even the best VR headset will provide a poor experience if your app looks like it was coded by a million monkeys banging away on keyboards. If there’s a lag between a click or a shaky image, you’ll feel more out of place than if you accidentally dressed up as a stormtrooper at a Star Trek convention.

What Does Virtual Reality Look Like?

A depiction of what virtual reality looks like; image – Source: Defense.gov

Now that we know how virtual reality works, we can move on to the next question: What does virtual reality look like? The answer really depends on several factors related to the quality and recency of each technology piece used, such as the headset, device, and app. The app has a lot of bearing on how realistic virtual reality looks. Your experience could be a breathtaking view on the top of Mount Everest, or some crudely-drawn “Knuckles” character in a room full of young kids yelling at each other.

At worst, it depends on the artist. Poorly-drawn (intentionally or not) backgrounds can offer a fun world in which people can interact with each other. On the other hand, you could envelop yourself in a beautifully-drawn, Bob Ross-inspired world with happy little trees painstakingly carved out in blood, sweat, and “Phthalo Green”.

Virtual reality can take on many forms and serve a variety of purposes. For example, virtual reality can be used for a glorified ad for a realty company, where they show off the inside of a home, providing a virtual tour to the user. Similarly, virtual reality apps can offer the chance to experience the Northern Lights without having to freeze your tail off. A “beaches of Costa Rica” app, which is available that is meant for relaxation. Not only is it very relaxing, some users had actually fallen asleep during the experience! Talk about realistic!

How to Use Virtual Reality

A man using a virtual reality headset and controllers for gaming – Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most important question you probably have is on how to use virtual reality. Fear not, it’s easier than you may think. Everyone will experience virtual reality differently, but the applications go beyond just watching a video or playing a game. Here are some ways you can use virtual reality.

The most significant usage of virtual reality is to experience new worlds. As mentioned in the last section, being taken away to Costa Rica and experiencing the beach without the beating sun, the unaffordable plane ticket, or sand getting in places where it shouldn’t, is possible with virtual reality. Experiencing the Northern Lights without having to walk further than The Proclaimers or Vanessa Carlton ever dared can also be achieved.

Another common use for virtual reality is gaming. This is a far cry from the Space Invaders or Pac Man from days past. As with flying cars and all those conveniences we all dreamed of from watching the Jetsons as kids, VR gaming was just a pipe dream. The thought of shooting at enemy soldiers, flying through hyperspace or experiencing the Indy 500 first-hand was a fantasy. More recently, different styles of VR games have popped up, from simple puzzles where you look around, to flying around a track at 200 mph. As technology develops, more and more sophisticated games will continue to be developed, and how you use virtual reality in the world of gaming may make great strides and developments.

Some of these apps require using peripheral devices. You might have seen VR gloves, guns, or special multipurpose controllers that make your VR experience even more exciting.

What is the Difference Between VR and AR?

Virtual reality being displayed on a variety of mobile devices – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Many people have an idea of what VR is, but a lot of people are wondering what AR is. AR stands for Augmented Reality. Augmented reality is similar to virtual reality, but not identical. So, what is the difference between VR and AR? The distinction comes from the level of reality you face. Virtual reality allows you to immerse yourself in a new world. Augmented reality lets you remain in your current world but adds to (or augments) your experience. Think of those virtual holographic computers that you’d see in any sci-fi movie. You wave your hands and read the screen which can’t actually be touched. But now, with augmented reality, this takes it to a new level.

Some basic applications of augmented reality would be young kids and social media influencers superimposing those “dog filters” on themselves on Snapchat. You’ve probably seen a young woman, or a famous influencer, post a photo (or two, or two hundred) of themselves on social media with some sort of filter. It may be a dog, a wreath of flowers, or whatever else makes them feel cuter. Other applications include museums and exhibitions where you can download special apps to give you new experiences or information in ways you’ve never seen before. But AR is also taking off in terms of games. If you’re already wasting a good chunk of your life playing video games, why not do it in a more immersive way?

Remember Pokémon Go? That was the biggest fad since Pokémon in the late 1990’s. Kids and adults alike were playing everywhere, catching exotic creatures that happened to pop up at the bus stop in front of them. Here, you could point your camera anywhere, and one of Pokémon’s 800+ creatures
would pop out right in front of you. Similar apps include a first-person shooter game where you attach your phone to a toy gun and serve a nice platter of lead to zombies right in your living room.

The two examples provided represent what can be accomplished on a smartphone alone. However, you can also experience augmented reality using a VR headset. Most of the time, augmented reality works best with devices designed specifically for AR, but some headsets also work with your conventional VR headset.

How Much is a Virtual Reality Headset

A large group of gamers at a convention simultaneously experiencing augmented reality; image – Source: Flickr

How much is a virtual reality headset? Well, it depends. It pains us to say that, but it’s true. You can buy a basic VR headset like the Google Cardboard for roughly $20. A higher-end headset like the HTC Vive Pro will be pushing $800. In most cases, you get what you pay for. However, there are other headsets that are in between the two extremes that may be of interest to the average everyday consumer. Say you can’t afford to take $800 out of your mortgage payment but aren’t really wanting to waste $20 on the cheapest of the cheap. There are multiple options in the middle. Google Daydreams can cost around $60. Other, lesser-known headsets like the Raptor VR can be had for under $70, and their build quality is can be nearly as good as, if not better than some of the most expensive ones.

Although it is important that you get a good (and affordable) virtual reality headset, the most important thing is that no matter what, you enjoy it. We are living in a fast-growing world and keeping up with technology can be hard. But rest assured, keeping up with technology is one of the most rewarding things you can do if you are interested in virtual reality. Keep your brain sharp and keep yourself entertained with the most modern form of virtual reality.

Follow Us On Instagram

    Your Cart Close
    paypal loading