Virtual reality is an exciting and expanding world. In the past, it has been mainly associated with video games, but the list of industries incorporating VR technology is growing larger. To better understand virtual reality, it’s important to know what it is and how it works.
1. What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is a computer-made, fully immersive 3-D world that can be interacted with by the user. When using virtual reality, the natural world is replaced by the reality that is inside of the user’s headset. The technology is meant to feel very life-like and believable. For instance, instead of having a 2D picture that can only be manipulated with a controller, such as with traditional video games, using virtual reality would essentially feel like entering the video game. The person can look around by simply moving their head, and with some VR systems, they can manipulate their surroundings as well.
2. What is virtual reality used for?
Virtual reality is most commonly associated with video games. Video games are where virtual reality started and the technology is still being heavily used in the gaming industry. However, the technology is being used in many other industries and has a lot of exciting new uses to offer.
2.1 Virtual reality in education
Educators have already started to use virtual reality in their teaching curriculums, and it will not be long before it will be much more common. Using virtual reality in education helps to create a higher level of engagement and understanding in students. Being fully immersed in a subject is not only more entertaining than reading or talking about it but also creates a higher level of understanding because students are able to study the subject more thoroughly.
2.2 Virtual reality in job training
Virtual reality has already proven to be very helpful in job training, and as virtual reality development continues, it will only get better. With job training able to take place over virtual reality, trainees can opt to do their training in their own homes. Not only will they get a more comprehensive idea of what their future job will look like, but they will be able to experience and be coached through common problems firsthand. This is a great option for jobs that are dangerous and require more precise training.
2.3 Virtual reality in healthcare
Virtual reality can be used to train healthcare professionals and to help patients. It is already being used to train for surgical procedures so that students can learn virtually instead of through practicing on a person. There are also ways to view inside the human body with virtual reality, which is helpful for students as well as for patients that would like to be walked through surgery. Virtual reality has also been proven to ease pain and anxiety in patients. In one study conducted on patients with fibromyalgia and low back pain, VR was able to ease their pain by 30% using distraction therapy.
2.4 Endless uses for virtual reality
Virtual reality is being used in many ways, and there are endless ways that virtual reality can be used in the future. Virtual reality is currently being used in retail, military, and even dining! Name any industry, and there is likely a way that virtual reality can make improvements to it.
3. How does virtual reality work?
There are two different parts to virtual reality, the hardware and the software. The hardware is the equipment that is required to use virtual reality, and the software is the technical aspect. Both are vital when it comes to creating a successful virtual reality experience.
3.1 Hardware for different types of virtual reality
There are two main types of virtual reality: PC-based virtual reality and standalone virtual reality. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and both require specific hardware.
3.1.1 PC-based Virtual reality
PC-based virtual reality offers the best communication between the VR and the computer, access to modern technology, and the best image quality that virtual reality has to offer. The drawbacks to this type of virtual reality are that you are tied to a PC, oftentimes via a wire. Even when used wirelessly, you must still be within a certain distance to your computer. This is also the most expensive type of virtual reality, as it requires additional hardware and a graphics card.
3.1.2 Standalone Virtual reality
Standalone virtual reality offers full mobility, good image quality, and is cheaper than PC-based virtual reality. In general, user experience is better with standalone VR than PC-based VR. Most virtual reality uses can be satisfied with standalone virtual reality hardware.
4. How virtual reality is able to trick your brain
Virtual reality software uses many methods to trick your brain into believing you are in a different reality. All these pieces work together in order to create the most believable virtual reality possible. Each piece plays an important role in creating a believable virtual reality.
4.1 Field of View
One of the biggest hurdles that virtual reality development faces is that of field of view. In general, humans can see in a 200–220-degree arc around their head. The objects that we see in 3D are the objects that are seen by both our right and left eye - which is roughly a 114-degree arc. Right now, virtual reality cannot accommodate this broad of a field of view, so developers instead focus their attention on this 114-degree arc. Developers are currently aiming to create devices that will allow for a 180-degree field of view, which would create a much more realistic simulation.
4.2 Frame rate
Frame rate, which is the frequency in which consecutive images are displayed, is an important factor in virtual reality. If the frame rate is too low, it fails to create a believable experience. There’s also another important factor to consider: too low of a frame-rate, and people start to experience motion sickness and other adverse effects.
Anything lower than 60 frames per second (FPS) is when motion sickness starts to kick in. That’s why most virtual reality developers are keeping their content around 90 FPS. In the future, the aim will be 120 FPS or more. The higher the frame rate is, the more our brain starts to perceive virtual reality as “real” - which helps ease motion sickness.
Audio is a powerful tool in the world of virtual reality development. Currently, developers are focusing on using spatial audio to create a more lifelike experience. Spatial audio is essentially audio and sounds that are not coming from one single source.
Virtual reality uses binaural audio tactics to simulate real sounds. This allows the audio to match the environment, and to change as the user is moving. More specifically, virtual reality uses these four elements to create a better audio experience.
- Left/right delay to convey direction
- Volume control
- Creating echoes or reverberations to simulate surrounding environmental factors
- Using head-tracking to track auditory space
For example, when a car passes you on your right, you hear the car louder in your right ear than in your left ear. If you turn to face the car, then you hear the sound at equal volume in both ears. The car would also progressively become louder as it approached, and then start to fade after passing you. Head tracking allows virtual reality software to determine the audio experience to match the visuals a user is experiencing.
4.4 Position and head tracking
Another way that virtual reality can simulate a real environment is through its ability to be manipulated. When you’re playing a video game and you turn your head, you are no longer in the video game environment. But when you turn your head while in virtual reality, your view will change but your virtual environment will remain consistent.
There are two different ways that virtual reality can track your position. Currently, mobile VR headsets are only able to pick up on rotational tracking: meaning it can detect when you move your head, but not when you move other parts of your body. This type of virtual reality is classified as 3DoF - meaning 3 degrees of freedom. Virtual reality sets that offer 6DoF can detect the user’s position in a room and is therefore able to pick up on all movement, allowing for a more immersive experience.
5. Virtual reality is only getting better
Virtual reality has already come a long way, but there are still big improvements being developed. Before long, virtual reality will be able to offer more realistic field of view, faster frame rates, and better audio. This new technology will allow for a more believable and enjoyable VR experience.
There are still improvements to be made when it comes to virtual reality development, but we are only at the beginning of what this amazing technology can do. VR is becoming more accessible of a technology, and it's already making waves in education, job training, and even healthcare! Many more professions are bound to follow as the technology develops more uses and people begin to understand it better.
About the Author: McKenna Harrop
McKenna Harrop is a content writer for HoloPundits. She spends her time copywriting, blogging, and upcycling furniture! She currently lives in Utah with her husband, where they enjoy hiking and watching bad TV together.