How Does Virtual Reality Work?

In a post-pandemic world, connecting virtually is no longer a futuristic or one-off idea. It’s a necessity. Employers, schools, and businesses are on the hunt for new ways to connect when in-person just isn’t a possibility. With programs like Zoom and Skype hitting peak numbers through the lockdown era, innovative technologies like Virtual Reality are moving from cool but intimidating to accessible and a viable solution for a plethora of challenges. So what exactly is Virtual Reality (VR)?

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality or VR is an immersive 3D experience commonly used in gaming, but with multiple applications. Where traditional screens fall short of giving users a fully 3D experience, VR aims to put the user directly into a virtual world.

While it may sound futuristic, it’s by no means a new concept. Virtual Reality has been a staple in fiction and pop culture since an early iteration first appeared in literature in 1933. 

So, how does it work? It all starts with a headset. That is your ticket into a virtual world. VR headsets put the user into a new world through first person perspective, allowing them a 360º view of their new environment through a combination of screens and lenses. Various controller options, including gamepads, joysticks, and gloves can allow the user to manipulate and interact with their environment.

But let’s backup; after all, the journey begins the first time you put on the headset. Headsets can range from a simple cardboard housing for your smartphone with a few lenses to tech packed powerhouses each offering unique experiences for the user. Some use your smartphone right in the device, while others connect to consoles and computers via cables. There are even a few premium devices on the market that house the experience wholly within the VR system.

Technologically advanced VR headsets track your head movements using sensors embedded within, known as six degrees of freedom or 6DoF. These sensors work together to plot your head on an XYZ plane; measuring your movements using gyroscopes, accelerometers and even magnetometers. Meaning, they can sense forward, backward, side to side, yaw and roll motions and adjust the virtual environment accordingly.*

In gaming, the Sony Playstation set up takes this a step farther, using LEDs on the outside of the headset and a mounted camera to more accurately track the users movements.

In all VR set-ups, response time between the sensors and the environment are key. Sensors need to affect the environment in less than 50 milliseconds and refresh rate of the screen needs to react at upwards of 60-120 FPS, otherwise the risk of motion sickness greatly increases.

Binaural or 3D Audio complete the immersion through headphones. Software programs adjust the sound in relation to the information provided by the position sensors.

While head tracking is the top tier technology available in VR, cheaper headsets can achieve similar results with more manual input from things like a game controller.

Even top tier headsets improve the experience with accessories like gloves, joysticks or controllers, allowing users to control and interact with the environment created by the headset. Brands like Oculus even sell additional sensors to improve accuracy of movement within the environment.

This combination of of technologies provide the most realistic virtual experience possible for the user.

Combine this tech with custom made environments and interactions designed by a team of experts, and the possibilities are endless.

So, now that you know how it works, how can you apply this technology to your business? Check out ‘How can Virtual Reality be used today?’

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