Virtual Reality is the technology that allows users to be immersed in a computer-generated image or environment, and interact with it in a way that simulates multiple senses of sight, sound and touch (there have even been some experiments with smell). VR is all about making the experience as realistic and engaging as possible. While we’re still not at Matrix-like levels of immersion, the latest headsets and games can feel amazingly real.
Virtual reality is a relatively new technology, but its roots go back decades. One of the first examples was a machine called Sensorama, which played 3D movies and generated scents and vibrations to fully engage the user. The current generation of VR has a long way to go before reaching the level of immersiveness that the original machine was capable of, but it is advancing rapidly and showing great promise for business applications in a wide range of industries.
The hardware that powers VR is usually a high-end graphics card with a powerful processor to handle the computational load and provide enough latency to create an immersive and realistic experience. The processor is also responsible for the positional tracking that enables the user to move around in their virtual world, and the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) provides the high-quality graphics needed to make it appear life-like.
VR headsets feature displays that are split to show each eye a different view, creating a stereoscopic 3D effect. They also have input tracking so that the headset can respond to head movements by adjusting the images shown on the display to match. Most VR headsets also have hand controllers with sensors to track the movement of your fingers and hands.
There are two main components that determine the quality of a VR experience, according to Jonathan Steuer, Ph.D.: Breadth of information and depth of information. This refers to the amount of data that the VR system is able to convey, including the number of senses stimulated and the complexity of the virtual world.
A VR headset needs to have a wide field of view (FOV) and high frame rate to be effective, and a fast processor with plenty of memory to ensure there’s sufficient bandwidth for the streamed content. A lag between the head movements and the corresponding change in the images displayed on the headset is not conducive to a comfortable VR experience and can lead to motion sickness.
VR has become a massive part of entertainment, providing a more immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re inside the story or game. But the potential for this technology goes well beyond that. It can be used in industries such as real estate, where it can allow home buyers to tour houses in 3D, or in the healthcare industry, where it can be used for training purposes. Ultimately, VR is all about bringing a new dimension to how we engage with the digital world and will eventually transform how we work, play, live and learn.