VR. It may only be two letters, but it’s set to make big waves. Find out how virtual reality works in this trip behind the scenes…

We’ve seen VR in various forms over the years, from films such as The Lawnmower Man, Tron, and The Matrix, and they all share a common theme: total immersion, which is what VR is all about.

But how does VR really work and what might be around the corner? Read on for all the info and enter a new dimension…

What does VR mean?

VR stands for Virtual Reality. But if you want the actual definition, Oxford Dictionaries describes it as the: “computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.”

In short, VR isn’t real, as such. It’s a computer-generated world, image, or video that you can interact with for entertainment or education. And it makes things a whole lot more engaging than regular gameplay…

At the moment, when playing a computer game or watching a movie, it’s likely you’ll be sitting down, staring at a screen a few feet away from you. VR lets you experience entertainment in a much closer and immersive way.

Additionally, when you’re playing a computer game in the conventional way, when you look up you see the ceiling in your room. When you look to your left or right, you can probably look out of the window and watch the real world go by. But, with VR, when you look left, right, up, or down, you’re still viewing the VR world.

Thanks to accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and other sensors, you’re fully immersed. It’s all down to the Head Mounted Display (HMD), but we’ll cover those off soon…

How does VR work?

The dream of any VR creator or system is to make you – the consumer – forget what’s going on in your living room. Their aim is to make you believe there’s nothing else but the 3D VR environment.

What makes that so tricky? Replicating the sense of depth that comes from living in a real 3D world.

To achieve the illusion of depth, and therefore 3D, VR systems need to replicate what the human eye does on a daily basis. They need to show each eye a slightly different image at the same time: one positioned to the left, and one slightly to the right. This is known as a ‘stereoscopic view’, and it creates that 3D feeling.

How to experience VR

While VR has been around for several decades in one form or another, the delivery has been pretty much the same: the head mounted display (HMD). You’ll recall that one from earlier…

There are a number of different VR headsets on the market today. Some need to be connected to a computer, while others can be used with a smartphone. Prices and features vary, so be sure to look around to see what suits your needs and budget.

VR products that use your phone include the Keplar VR pro Goggles. These work with smartphones with a screen size between 3.5 – 5.7 inches. That includes iPhone 8, Sony Xperia XZ1 and Huawei P10 – to name a few.

A slightly pricier option is the Samsung Gear VR. This is specifically designed for use with the Galaxy S6/S6 Edge/S6 Edge+/S7 and S7 Edge. However, operation is similar in that content is powered and viewed from your phone when you click it into the holder. You’ll then find VR content, such as games, movies and VR tours in the Oculus store.

Other options you may have heard of include: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR. These have greater field of views (FOV), increased interactivity (using handheld controllers) and increased frame rates. The latter reduces on-screen stuttering, which in turn reduces the virtual reality sickness that some people can experience.

Haven’t we been promised VR before?

Well, yes.

However, technology is advancing at such a pace – and more importantly becoming more affordable – that VR has the real potential to become a regular fixture in peoples’ homes as the desire for immersive entertainment increases.

Not only can you watch films, or play games, but you can live it and feel it – virtually.

What’s next for VR?

The ability to freely move around the VR environment, is one possibility.

A company named Virtuix has created what they’re calling an Omni; a treadmill-like device that, once strapped in, allows you to jump, walk around, or run at speed in 360° without bumping into things and inevitably breaking the TV, a window, or worse still, limbs. Here’s a look at one possible future:

Another improvement that’s expected to come to VR is eye-tracking.

Currently, everything in a VR world is in crisp focus, as the system has no idea which part of the world (read: screen) you’re looking at – only in which direction. Eye-tracking will know if you’re looking at a tree in the distance, and de-focus the foreground, much like what happens to your vision in real life. This will drastically improve the VR experience and make it feel much more real.

Looking for VR apps? If you’ve just started to dip your toes into the VR waters, be sure to check out these VR apps.

Where to next?

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