We have touched a little on the what virtual reality is in our “how is virtual reality used?” post. But we wanted to take this a little further here, and ask ourselves “How does virtual reality work?
It is not merely a computer animation but a fascinating amalgamation of technology, design and… our senses. Keep reading to find out more.
What Is Virtual Reality
Defined, virtual reality is “almost-life” or “near-reality”. As technology progresses, virtual reality gets closer and closer to being as real as possible, without actually being real.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of real life, a simulation that can be interacted with in some ways. Virtual reality has progressed from a box like machines which surround our heads, or bulky headsets, even though headsets are still used. Virtual reality is becoming more of a “virtual environment”.
How Does Virtual Reality Work
A virtual experience includes three-dimensional images which appear life-sized to the user. A virtual reality application or device tracks the users head and eye movements and adjusts the on-screen display to respond to the change of perspective.
Virtual reality is not just about the visual experience; it’s augmented by sounds and device movement.
Devices can be controllers, gloves, and other tools that we physically interact with or touch. If it’s entirely immersive, delivered in a virtual “booth” then smell, touch and further movement may be incorporated.
Devices or systems which give a user a “force”, like a push back or physical feeling, and touch interaction, are called haptic systems.
In a virtual environment “immersion” is the feeling of being inside that world and the depth of which the feeling is felt. Add the interaction with that environment, and we experience “telepresence”.
For now, most of us can experience virtual reality via our PC, smartphone or gaming console, and a virtual reality headset like the Google Daydream, or Oculus Rift devices. Virtual reality booths and fully immersive “rooms” or machines are incredibly expensive, but we may get an opportunity to try them at an event or attraction.
If you are lucky enough to work in an industry which employs virtual reality for training you may have a more immersive experience than most. Examples of the established use of virtual reality machines are flight simulating and training devices used by aspiring pilots.
How does virtual reality work? Experiences are delivered to our senses via a computer and a screen, or screens, from our device or booth. A tool, or machine like a booth, or haptic system, may give our senses additional experiences, such as touch or movement. Speakers or earphones built into the headset, or set into a machine, will provide sound.
For virtual reality to work, we have to believe in the experience. Virtual reality applications are getting closer and closer to a real-world background all the time.
We have to feel like we are in the virtual world, mentally and physically. Our emotions and our bodies need to react; we feel fear, awe, exhilaration, happiness and so on. We also need to think that we can, or are moving in the game or application, that it doesn’t just end if we turn our heads. In a virtual world, we can move, explore, touch and interact.
Virtual Reality Technology
The technology needed for a virtual experience depends on the audience, purpose and of course the price point. If you are developing an interactive training simulator for a workplace, you will be looking for far more advanced technology.
For everyday use here’s a quick overview of the technology and equipment you need:
Virtual reality for smartphones
Using Google Cardboard or Google Daydream, we can use our smartphones for a virtual reality experience anywhere. We say that, choose somewhere safe as in your virtual world you will be almost entirely unaware of the real world around you! Certain smartphones will just drop into a Cardboard, Daydream or equivalent headset. There are some brands and imitations on the market. Your smartphone provides the screen, and the headset enhances the virtual visual and sound experience.
Standalone virtual reality headsets
Google Daydream and Facebook via their VR brand Oculus Rift are both working on standalone virtual reality headsets. These devices don’t need wires, PC’s or smartphones to deliver a virtual experience. They will take you straight into your virtual world of applications, and should be released in 2018.
A powerful PC, laptop or console
You may struggle to use a virtual reality headset or device with an older laptop. Newer, faster laptops or those with virtual reality in mind, running Windows, will work with your headset.
The ideal is a super optimised laptop or a damn good PC. The better your PC, the better the experience.
As a minimum, you will need an excellent graphics and video card, a fast processor, at least 8GB of RAM, HDMI 1.3 video output, two or three USB ports (check if you are buying a headset-Oculus Rift recommend four free USB ports), and to be running Windows 7, ideally Windows 10.
You can also choose a gaming console which has a compatible virtual reality headset – the PlayStation 4 for example. Again, only newer consoles will be suitable for virtual reality entertainment.
A virtual reality headset
The most popular VR headsets on the market for your PC or console are the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, and HTC Vive. The four brands, alongside Google with Cardboard and Daydream, have a monopoly on the market right now, but that is set to change as other brands look to bring their devices to the mainstream consumer.
Virtual Reality vs Virtual Entertainment
Terminology in the virtual reality sector is fast changing. It’s argued that the first virtual reality devices emerged decades ago, but the experience they provided is entirely different to the virtual experience of today.
As virtual reality becomes more intertwined with our daily lives, we start to think in terms of virtual environment. We can also define virtual enjoyment, which includes any virtual experience provided for pure entertainment – gaming, movies, videos and social skills for example – leaving more serious elements of virtual reality including training, education, and healthcare applications.
Understanding how virtual reality works is crucial to being able to acknowledge this powerful technology honestly. It provides each of our senses with information to immerse us in a virtual experience, a near real experience – which our minds and bodies almost completely perceive as real.