In this introduction to virtual reality we will be discussing exactly how virtual reality has become a teleporting machine and time machine that you can place on top of your head. Virtual reality, VR for short, has quickly become of the premier vehicles to feel “there” using real interaction. VR technology can fully immerse you in any given landscape, game, or experience. This has already opened up the pathway to more conversation that feels real, more interacting that has depth, and gaming the way it was meant to be. Although this technology has been around for a while now, most people have yet to get their hands on it. That is because just recently the prices have been too steep, the headsets have been too rare, and solid and reliable reviews have been lacking.
Here is your intro to virtual realityJust within the last few years, we have seen VR completely take off, just as much as mixed reality. The customers are thoroughly enjoying the gaming and entertainment value of the headsets, and the developers are loving the freedom in which they have to create full immersive VR applications. So far, no one has recognized a downside to VR development. Of course it can take a toll on your neck or head after sometime, or give you motion sickness when dealing with a cheaper/not advanced headset. But the benefits outweigh the small and minimized downfalls tremendously, making VR systems a powerhouse in retail.
Before we jump into what each installment of virtual reality can do, we will discuss (briefly) the technology inside of each type of headset. Virtual reality isn’t just one big piece of technology and equipment. The headsets generally consist of a few key components. 3D displays, motion tracking hardware inside and outside of the headset, input devices, software frame works, and developer tools and software. VR hardware and software are still improving everyday, but each headset has the same ingredients to make it a functional and working virtual reality machine.
With virtual reality making high wave not only to customers, but to large businesses as well, the VR world will continue to bloom. There are thousands of people pushing the edge of virtual reality. There are millions who believe the worlds future is in many different forms of altered reality. No one knows if that is right or wrong, but if you are into betting, you should be putting your money on the idea that altered realities will be making common appearances in the years to come.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” that quote comes from the great Albert Einstein. When we dive deeper into what he was saying in that quote, you learn a lot. Now the point and purpose of virtual reality is to falsify where you are at any given time. It is easier than you think to trick the human brain, and technology is our biggest aid. We cannot be completely sure that we aren’t living in a simulation right now, but when it comes to virtual reality, it is not hard to know when a headset is on…. For now.
How Does VR Work?
On of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, feature of these devices is the stereoscopic displays. These displays are responsible for the constant 3D display that are so imperative. Another common term for the screen is the head-mounted display. One of the biggest holdups in the virtual technology was the head-mounted display. It was common for it to be too heavy or too pricey to put inside of a consumer headset. No one wanted to be throwing $2,500 into a headset that is primarily used for games, and could be easily replaced by an Xbox or PlayStation.
Oculus (who was acquired by Facebook in a blockbuster deal) was the first to break the consumer market. In 2012, the Oculus Rift was released, and the first customer friendly headset was born. Although it is no where near the technology that Oculus is loading into their headsets now, it was enough to get many people excited about the future of virtual reality. The graphics were low, the refresh rate wasn’t great, and latency was very high, as expected. Just releasing the headset was enough, but let’s look at what the Rift really did.
For the devices to make the waves and splashes it wanted to do, it had to have or do something that no other company had done for the customers yet. It was able to produce a separate image for each eye. They kept it similar enough to go unnoticed, but different enough where you could tell that different eyes were seeing the same thing. This simulates parallax, the visual representation of when the eyes use relative difference to judge the position of an object. (due to yours eyes being slightly apart, this works great.) that is the reason for the two different screens inside of your headset.
Now to create an even better virtual illusion, the headset needs to incorporate barrel distortion. That is when the image is more shaped like the shape of an eye instead any regular rectangular shape. Not only is the image shaped as the barrel in the headset, the glass which the image is on itself is shaped that way as well. This at the time was nearly groundbreaking to be incorporated inside of a virtual reality headset that would be available to the public.
The software inside of the Rift wasn’t anything that was new or unheard of. It had a relatively easy job. Make sure it doesn’t have an image rendering below 60 at any given time (preferably 120), avoid any obvious and hindering lag, and keep the latency manageable. If it was unable to execute on those simple VR tasks, the user would quickly and promptly get motion sick, nausea, and an increased ability to remember to never put that headset on again.
With headsets all over the place now, it makes like this version of the Rift that was released 7 years ago look very outdated. And that is because it is. Not only has the picture, computing capabilities, and the hardware improved, but the overall tracking and experience has improved over the years. Let’s jump into how the tracking, just like rendering speeds, can make or break your virtual encounters.
Depending on your opinion, either the motion tracking or the visual aspect is the most important part of virtual reality content. A good tracking system will be able to move your head in the virtual world at the same speed and rate as you are in the real world, but still through lenses. One thing the Rift (we will continue to use the Rift as the example because it is the oldest and first consumer headset) did that set the bar high was the inertial measurement unit. This hardware and software is equivalent as the technology inside of a modern smartphone.
The human perceptual system is very sensitive to movement. With that being said, developers can use that to their advantage, or it can be used against them. If they are unable to perfect the latency and lag, the game and simulators will feel choppy and not fluid, leaving the customer to leave quite early. When the tracking system and inside visuals match up in realtime, it makes for an immersive experience that is hard to top. This is all irrelevant if the field of view is very poor.
What Do I Need For VR?
Finding a virtual headset is not the problem anymore. Finding the right computer that will match the type of experience you want for the price you want, is a little more challenging. With the Rift and Vive holding the most weight in the consumer market for headsets, many PCs have been made to be compatible with them. In the early stages of VR though, most computers and phones were compatible and were able to perform the most basic virtual reality assignments.
Most assumed that as virtual reality picked up traction, there would be dedicated computers and sets for the hardware. Although that is mostly true with gaming PCs and amazing engines like Unreal Engine, the companies have gone internal with their computers. The Oculus Quest is a great example. The headset is completely independent from any computer, phone, or external hardware. The Quest is a computer and a headset inside of itself. There is no need for a PC, eliminating the need for dedicated stations for virtual gaming.
So far, we have mostly touched on the technology and partly on gaming of the altered realities. There is so much more to it than that. The entertainment value of these headsets are already being utilized, but there is still so much potential inside of the next generation headsets. Obviously there is streaming options inside of the headset, but none of those offer completely immersive movies or shows. There are plenty of apps dedicated to giving you a great “experience”, but there is more to be done.
What Can I Do In VR?
The word experience can be thought of in many different ways. The way most people look at it through the headset is pretty basic. When you strap a headset on, they transfer you to any given location in the world, real or fake. The idea is to take you out of everyday stress and problems, and let you relax on the Hawaiian beaches. Some developers have put realtime into filming these things and it truly shows. Some haven’t, and it is pretty obvious. Even if it is your first time of a virtual reality, you will be quick to tell which experience will be best for you. There is plenty of VR contentt o try out, and the virtual reality technology will impress you the first few times.
Then there are virtual films. In my opinion, this is what holds the most potential in the entertainment industry as of now. There have been a few attempts at a good movie or short film, but none have really panned out. For this idea to work, directors need to find a way to show what is most important to the film without having to direct the viewers eyes or head, making it a regular film. The advantage to this type of film making is all in the consumer. It is simple to make them feel like they are part of the movie and inside of the atmosphere themselves.
With all of that being said, the applications and environment are no where anyone would’ve thought it would be at this point. It is not crazily ahead of its time. It is exploring with ways to make it great, and there are plenty of companies dedicating themselves to it. We will see in the somewhat near future where this section of virtual reality will be.
Many people wonder what the draw is to reality VR. If you are not a huge fan gaming, game engines, or movies, it may seem you are out of luck. Let debunk that ever so slightly. Obviously video games are important to virtual worlds, but thats not it. There are plenty of difference uses for your Rift of Vive, and we are here to help you understand these virtual objects.
Social worlds inside of VR can be just as captivating as any given video game. If you are familiar with The Office, an NBC hit sitcom, you might remember Dwight talking about the gameSecond Life. Virtual reality headsets offer something very similar. In fact, the creator of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, is one of the people leading the charge of this virtual friend-making opportunity.
Education inside of any given headset can be incredibly useful. We have already touched on Walmart and what they are doing to improve training at their store fronts, and thats just the start of it. Augmented reality is the leading type of headset for education. That is because it has the ability to mix realities. Using the headset while still utilizing the world around them and mixing both good ideas for great ideas.
That does not mean virtual reality cant make an impact on education though. There are plenty of training opportunities. Most are specifically made by the people who will be using them. For example, Walmart made their own apps for training. If you are looking to educate through VR, you will most likely be responsible for making the training systems or education systems. That has not been a problem in the past, and I don’t anticipate it being a problem in the future.
If you’ve gotten this far and you haven’t heard or seen anything about virtual reality that excites you, it probably is because you have a lot of work to get done and don’t have time to be messing around inside of another reality that isn’t your own. Fear not, there is room for you inside of a headset as well. There are plenty of companies that are already working on brining the entirety of a desktop experience inside of the headsets. That means if you are working on a computer, you could essentially work all day inside of a headset.
Now of course for anyone to be enticed by this idea the work inside of a headset would have to have some sort of productivity edge on the regular desktop setup. This means you would need to have the power to be running multiple functions at once, the ability to type quickly and efficiently, and many more things. On part of work inside of the headset that is enticing the virtually never ending monitor. To your left, you could be watching some TV while you are working on spreadsheets in front of you as you are reading numbers off to the right. There is so much you could do, and many companies should be taking advantage of it in the near future.
Exploring the real world is very expensive in time and money. Virtual reality is changing the game. Going up the Eiffel Tower has never been so cheap. Walking down broadway has never been so easy. There is so many different experiences for you to go through in virtual reality, and they are all awaiting inside of your next headset.
As we have mentioned before, there are many different ways to interoperate VR into your recreation and work lives. Realestate agencies are finding ways as well. They are using the cutting edge technology by showing properties, potential properties, and ways properties can be utilized. Using prior videos are also important to showing the entirety of properties and making the customer feel like they are there in realtime.
If you have made it this far and you still aren’t sure if virtual reality has a real use for you, fear not. In this day and age, many people are finding new and revolutionary ways to make this jobs easier yet more interactive. VR and AR are already helping that process. It will not be long before it makes its way into your hands and on your head, whether you like it or not.