What is virtual reality (VR) and what are the possibilities?
In this article we dive deeper into the question: what is virtual reality, or virtual reality You will read about what virtual reality is, how it works and what the possibilities are. In addition, you will read more about the hardware and what the advantages and disadvantages of VR are.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is a computer technology that replicates a realistic situation in a simulated environment. To experience this situation, one must put on special virtual reality glasses or head-mounted display (HMD). Unlike traditional interfaces such as a computer screen, virtual reality places the user in the middle of an immersive environment.
The vr glasses contain a screen and close the view of the outside world to the user. The screen is divided in two between the user’s eyes. This creates a stereoscopic 3D effect, which mimics the feeling of depth. By stimulating as many senses as possible, such as seeing, hearing or smelling, the user’s reality is transformed into an artificial world.
How does virtual reality work?
Virtual reality gives you the feeling that you are mentally and physically in another (virtual) world. To determine how you move and track activity in a virtual environment, VR glasses use gyroscopic sensors, accelerators and magnetometers.
When you turn your head, the world rotates with you. In these sections, we explain the different ways of moving in a virtual reality. In addition, we explain the ways of looking around and controlling the VR glasses and discuss various virtual reality controllers
Moving in virtual reality
Moving in the virtual world can be done in many different ways. Before we can go deeper about virtual reality, we need to distinguish two degrees of freedom. Virtual reality glasses are often 3DoF or 6DoF (Degrees of Freedom). With 3 DoF it is possible to follow rotational movements, i.e. up or down and left or right.
3 DoF (three degrees of freedom)
However, users cannot move with 3DoF vr glasses by walking in the real world, walking is not registered by the headset. It is possible to move with a 3DoF headset. This is done via a joystick on a controller or by clicking on the ground where you want to walk.
6DoF (six degrees of freedom)
With 6DoF, you can both look around and walk around in VR by performing these movements in the real world. So when you move around in the real world, these are translated into the virtual world, like the Oculus Rift. 6DoF can be achieved in several ways.
Early versions of 6DoF vr glasses use positional tracking sensors. These sensors are placed in a room to track the movement of the headset. Modern VR headsets use an inside-out tracking technique. These are two low resolution tracking cameras to observe the environment.
Looking around in virtual reality
Looking around in virtual reality is done primarily by turning the head. In some cases, users can also use the joystick on a VR controller to look around in VR. Unfortunately, not every controller has joysticks for looking around.
Controlling Virtual Reality
Controlling a VR headset can be done in several ways. This can be done with included controllers or with buttons on a headset.
Virtual reality controllers
Almost all headsets today come with controllers. These are often equipped with multiple buttons and/or a joystick. This is similar to a controller such as those used by Xbox or Playstation.
Controllers of 6DoF headsets often include a tracking ring, much like the Oculus Quest 2 controllers. This ring is designed to track the user’s hand movements.
3DoF controllers are a lot simpler and do not include a tracking ring because 3DoF headsets do not support tracking. An example of a 3DoF controller is that of the Pico G2 4K. This headset comes with one controller that is very simple and very similar to a Nintendo Wii controller in terms of controls. The controller contains three buttons on the top, one on the bottom and volume buttons on the side of the controller.
Hand tracking for virtual reality
The technology surrounding virtual reality is becoming more sophisticated. For example, several headsets now support hand tracking, eliminating the need for controllers.
The Varjo XR-3 contains integrated hand tracking cameras. These sensors register data about the position, orientation and speed of your hands. The hand tracking software converts this data into a real-time virtual version of the hands. The software allows you to use your hands naturally.
For other headsets that do not have built-in hand tracking cameras, it is still possible to use hand tracking. Companies like Manus design gloves like the optitrack gloves that synchronize movements in virtual reality.
History of virtual reality
Virtual reality as we know it today dates back to 1956 with a machine called Sensorama. Around the 1980s, VR developments gained momentum, popularity increased, and there was a lot of VR hype. VR hype unfortunately disappeared after a few decades. In 2014, the Oculus Rift was launched along with VR headsets for smartphones. After that, more and more VR headsets, such as the Oculus Quest and the HTC Vive entered the market. The VR market remains an interesting and growing one.
What do you need for virtual reality?
To experience the virtual world for yourself, the user needs some products. If the user wants to make the experience even more realistic, there is the option to purchase even more products. Here we explain what products are needed and what options are available when purchasing a VR headset.
VR glasses are indispensable if you want to experience virtual reality. The virtual reality market is very saturated and glasses come in different price ranges and types.
The cheapest vr glasses you can buy for a few euros, this is a cardboard holder for your smartphone, but the possibilities are limited.
Stand still or move (3dof or 6dof)
If you are a consumer who wants to buy virtual reality glasses in which you want to spend a lot of time, you still have many choices. You have to make the decision whether you want to use 3DoF or 6DoF glasses. So you have to decide if you want a seated VR experience or if you want to walk around in the virtual world yourself.
PC, standalone or smartphone
In addition, as a consumer you have to weigh up whether you want a standalone headset or one that is supported by a PC. Standalone headsets like the Pico Neo 3 Pro show that they are very strong and good for personal use.
Hand trackers for a virtual reality setup are not necessary, this is an optional addition. It makes the whole experience a lot more realistic because you’re not pushing buttons on controllers, but actually using your own hands in the experience. Newer VR headsets often have built-in inside-out tracking that allows for hand tracking. It is also possible to use third-party gloves like Manus to integrate hand tracking.
In addition to hand trackers, you can also add facet trackers to your virtual reality experience, this is not necessary, but it does make the whole experience more realistic. HTC recently released the Vive Face Tracker. The Facial Tracker is an accessory for the Vive headset that hangs under the face-facing glasses. The tracker tracks the wearer’s mouth movements and expressions and projects it into the virtual world.
Advantages of virtual reality
In addition to playing video games, virtual reality has other benefits. For example, companies use virtual reality to train new techniques and treat mental health problems. Here we discuss all the benefits of virtual reality, from entertainment to product development.
Virtual reality is used by many different industries, such as the military, schools or healthcare facilities. Training with virtual reality can be done almost anywhere and industries save (travel) costs. Virtual reality offers an enhanced learning experience compared to books and videos. Virtual reality has higher engagement and more positive emotions compared to video and classroom training.
Testing products in virtual reality is easy and inexpensive. The product only needs to be drawn in 3D software and then tested in the virtual environment as quickly as possible. Errors are discovered faster and product development in virtual reality shortens the development and testing phase of a product.
Education with virtual reality
In addition to virtual reality training for healthcare personnel, virtual reality is also used to treat mental health problems such as anxiety disorders. As with virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), a fearful situation is simulated. Under the guidance of a therapist, you get the anxiety under control.
When someone thinks of virtual reality, entertainment is the first thing they associate it with. In addition to video games, you can visit, for example, theme parks in VR. There is also the possibility of watching a movie in a virtual theater or attending a concert of your favorite artist.
Through virtual reality, there are several applications where you can meet up with friends. Apps like VR Chat and Social VR are virtual places to get together with others. Everyone can choose or build their own avatar and through voice chat you can hear each other talk.
Risks and disadvantages of virtual reality
Although VR is mostly described as useful, there are risks and drawbacks to using this technology.
When you move differently in the virtual world than you do in reality, symptoms of nausea and disorientation can occur. An example would be falling in the virtual world, but standing still on the ground in reality.
Headaches can occur when a person uses their headset for too long. Headaches can also occur when the distance between the eyes and the screen is too small or when the headset plays a blurry image.
With VR glasses on, you can no longer see your surroundings, therefore tripping or bumping into objects in the real world is common. To use virtual reality, you must be in a safe, protected space where you can move freely.
As VR becomes more accessible and realistic, the likelihood that people will want to escape reality in the virtual world increases.
What is the difference with Augmented Reality (AR)?
The difference between AR and VR is that augmented reality modifies the real world by superimposing computer generated images over the real world. Whereas in virtual reality the goal is to change the entire reality into a 3D world. Check out the article that explains what augmented reality is here. Together these techniques are called extended reality or XR.