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Virtual reality allows you to travel anywhere around the world, into space, inside your favorite movie, and even into a possible real estate purchase before you buy it. This simulation of real world events and places can be accessed simply through an electronic device, and all you need is some sensors and a headset to do it.
Some virtual reality setups require even less equipment, working with just a smartphone and a pair of goggles! But how much do you know about Virtual Reality? In this article, we are going to be sharing with you the Ultimate Guide to Virtual Reality (VR).
What Is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is the name given to a simulated experience that makes you feel as though you are really there. It is three-dimensional and realistic, done through computer generation. The user of virtual reality is fully immersed in this simulated world and made to feel as though they are really there.
Often in virtual reality, the participant gets to control what happens around them. It can be used for games, immersing the player in the game themselves and letting them control what happens. It can be used for a variety of reasons and is utilized by industries around the world.
It can be seen as a form of escapism, allowing the user to escape from their current reality in a new one of their choosing. It is also used for a number of other reasons, including education, gaming, and even health care (more on these later!).
There are three important components of virtual reality that tend to be identified in all virtual reality experiences. These components can be understood as vital parts of a virtual reality set up, and are what most users will be looking for out of the experience.
|Virtual Reality Component||Effect of the Component|
|It needs to be believable||People don’t participate in virtual reality just to feel as though they are watching something from the comfort of their homes. They want to feel as though they are really there. Virtual reality needs to be believable to achieve this. |
Everything you see and hear should make sense in the wider picture – if you are in a virtual reality jungle you should be able to hear the animal, perhaps some rain, the sound of trees, and be able to see the wildlife around you.
|Interactive and immersive||Immersiveness comes with the changing of the scene as you move around and turn your head. This is what would happen in real life, and in order for it to be fully immersive, it should happen in your virtual reality experience, too. |
In terms of interaction, it is important that there are some aspects of the reality that the user can interact with. For example, if they are inside a room, they could open a door.
|Computer generated||Typically, virtual reality scenes are generated on a computer with high tech, excellent quality 3D graphics. |
This enables you to move around the scene and makes it far more realistic. Because it is computer generated, things happen in real time, making it a more immersive experience.
As you can see, all of these aspects are very important in making virtual reality an unmissable experience. The avenues available for exploring virtual reality are particularly interesting. Most of the time they involve buying special gear such as headsets with built in goggles and sensors. Let’s explore some of the most popular types of virtual reality set-ups around…
PC-based virtual reality:
There are two different types of PC-based virtual reality headsets. These are tethered and untethered. The former (tethered) is currently the most widely available of the two. The experience provided by these is a very immersive and interactive one, and it certainly has the price point to match!
This type of virtual reality set up features motion sensors, external camera tracking, head tracking, and a dedicated display. Popular models include the PlayStation VR setup which needs the PlayStation 4 or above to run, and the Oculus Rift 2, which needs a powerful computer.
Standalone virtual reality headsets:
This type of virtual reality set up enables you to experience excellent quality virtual reality wherever you are. Typically the one headset does everything without the need for cables, a games console, computer, or a phone. The setup is similar to that of a phone or tablet in that it is a single piece of hardware.
They are typically wireless. However, do not confuse them with wireless headsets that can be connected to a computer or game console, as some PC-based virtual reality headsets connect via Bluetooth rather than wires.
Mobile virtual reality headsets:
This type of virtual reality setup is far more affordable in comparison to the latter two we discussed. The way they work is by allowing you to place your smartphone into the headset where there are two separate lenses, breaking your phone screen into two separate screens for your viewing.
Everything will be done from your phone, and so there are no wires or other pieces of hardware you will need. That being said, it does of course require you to have a compatible smartphone. It will also be of a much lower quality than the other two types of virtual reality headsets because unlike those, our smartphones are not really designed for virtual reality purposes.
A Brief History Of Virtual Reality
The virtual reality technology that we have today seems so high-tech that it’s hard to imagine it belonging to any other era than the Digital Age. However, virtual reality can be traced back much further than the 2000s. The term ‘virtual reality’ was coined in the 1980s, but it certainly builds on technologies that date even further back than that! Let’s take a step back through history.
In the 1830s, the world saw the invention of the first stereoscope. This is now thought to be the precursor for the virtual reality we know and love today. A stereoscope took two separate images from different angles of the same object. This allowed the viewer to see a three dimensional image of the object.
It creates more depth, making the image solid and 3D. It did this through two twin mirrors, producing a single image. This 1838 invention was eventually developed into the 1939 ViewMaster. This patented model paved the way for the stereoscopes of today, which are still sold!
Simulated environments started to gain popularity in the 1950s. Whilst these environments are not exactly like virtual realities, the idea behind them remains the same. Simulated environments were often used for entertainment and education purposes.
For example, you could go to a historic museum and receive a simulation experience of riding on a mine shaft or flying in a plane. The seat would move and vibrate as though you were really there, and you would be shown a screen with footage that looked like these environments.
One of the best examples of this is the Sensorama. The Sensorama was developed by Morton Heilig in 1956. Heilig had a background in the movie industry, and so he wanted to create a way to make the movie experience even more immersive.
The Sensorama was developed to make customers feel that they were in the movie they were watching. Heilig simulated the sights, sounds, feelings, and even the smell of the environment.
It was also Heilig that invented the first head mounted device for viewing things. This was his Telesphere Mask. His patented creation paved the way for future inventors, providing an excellent foundation for the VR headsets of today. Certainly, even as far back as 1965, other creators were full of buzz about Heilig’s invention.
Another inventor called Sutherland built upon Heilig’s original idea and created his Ultimate Display, which he called the “window into a virtual world”.
Sutherland was very close to ‘virtual reality’ with what he said. However, as we mentioned, the term virtual reality wasn’t really used until much later. This came in the 1980s from the founder of VPL Research.
His name was Jaron Lanier, and he began to develop the equipment that would be needed in order to achieve virtual reality. This equipment is very close to what we use today – goggles and gloves.
All of these inventors, from the creation of the first stereoscope to Lanier’s work in the 1980s, have helped virtual reality become what it is today.
Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality
When the term virtual reality is mentioned, your brain may also be thinking about augmented reality, or AR as it is abbreviated to. Both of these are often, incorrectly, used interchangeably. However, they are different. Let’s explore in more depth the differences between them:
- Augmented Reality as we know it today is far more of a recent invention, relying mostly on smartphones to be utilized. It uses your camera on your smartphone to take a live view of your actual real-life surroundings. It then overlays these surroundings with digital graphics and other elements. A great example of this is the innovative Pokemon Go Game that became a hit back in 2016. This is a game for your phone that uses a downloadable app and access to your camera to allow you to ‘catch’ Pokemon in your physical surroundings.
- Virtual reality is a complete digital immersive experience. Rather than using digital elements on a real life canvas, it needs to be put on your person – for example by wearing goggles, gloves, or a headset – and then turning the world around you into an imagined or simulated environment. Whereas augmented reality uses smartphones and similar devices, virtual reality has its own specific devices such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Quest.
Augmented reality makes use of actual reality, keeping that central and then using digital enhancements around it. On the other hand, virtual reality is a solely digital world. It can be made to look like real life, or it can be made up completely. It can put you into a fictional world of your creation, your favorite movie or game, or even at a concert being held on the other side of the world.
Both of them use digital elements to alter reality for the user, but as you can see, augmented reality keeps more of actual reality than virtual reality does. Both of them are very popular, that is certain.
However, augmented reality is more accessible, especially given the popularity and reach of smartphones. It can often be accessed by simply opening up an app, such as the example of Pokemon Go, as well as augmented reality ‘filters’ on apps such as Snapchat and Instagram.
Virtual reality is less accessible because of the gear and equipment that is needed for this. This is often pricey, and requires more space as well as any additional costs for attending virtuality events, buying virtual reality games, and the cost of any extra gear you may need in order to fully experience it.
What Can Virtual Reality Be Used For?
Virtual reality has enabled people around the world to experience things that would have been very difficult or even impossible, to do otherwise.
It can be used for entertainment purposes, education, healthcare, and tourism, as well as so much more.
To properly explore the splendor of virtual reality and what it can enable us to do, we thought it would be most beneficial to see each of the uses listed in a table, with examples next to them.
What virtual reality is used for
Many popular games can be played using virtual reality.
The Playstation VR set – known as the PSVR – that was released in 2015 proved very popular, allowing players to experience their favorite games up close and personal.
VR can be used for making new car prototypes rather than creating lots of physical prototypes.
This, in turn, helps cut down on the environmental impact associated with the automotive industry.
The tourism industry can also utilize virtual reality.
Museums and other tourist attractions can offer virtual reality experiences to people who cannot physically get there, boosting revenue for them, and introducing a wider audience to what they do.
Through VR, students have been able to have virtual meetings with tutors for extra help
VR can help provide educational experiences for students, such as simulations of historical events, or journeys into space.
Virtual reality allows for training to be done in new and innovative ways for sports amateurs and professionals alike.
As well as training, virtual reality also allows for fans to watch games live and feel as though they are really there.
Oculus offers the opportunity to view live events in their virtual reality gear.
Some examples of these live events have included NBA games, concerts for Billie Eilish and Wiz Khalifa as well as a number of talks and panels.
You can experience the sights and sounds of many different places around the world from the comfort of your own home.Wander along a Parisian street in the morning, and get lost in the Amazon rainforest in the afternoon, before stopping off in Japan for sushi in the evening.
Buying real estate
Through virtual reality, people are able to view real estate before they buy it. This is especially helpful if the building is far away from the prospective buyer.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, and virtual reality can be used for many more things than this.
However, because of how quickly it advances and due to the constant technological discoveries of the world we live in, we could dedicate the whole article just to telling you all about what virtual reality is used for.
Suffice to say, your imagination is your only limit when it comes to virtual reality!
Gone are the days where it was used solely for entertainment purposes. Of course, virtual reality for entertainment is still one of the main uses, but as you can see from our table, it has opened the doors for many other wonderful uses. Not mentioned here is healthcare.
Innovative engineers have developed programs that allow healthcare to be accessed via virtual reality, such as therapy sessions and appointments. There are even ways you can attend a virtual reality medical operation as a way of learning.
This is a great way of teaching medical students from afar as it can be made to look incredibly lifelike. It is also a fantastic way of preparing patients for their procedures and reassuring them.
How Are Virtual Reality Experiences Created?
Creating virtual reality experiences is an exciting process that uses computers and high-tech equipment, editing software, cameras, and graphics. One way to create virtual reality experiences is by using a camera to film 360 videos.
For this, expensive cameras and software are needed in order to film the initial footage. This then needs to be put together to create a virtual reality experience. The way creators do this is by ‘stitching’ panoramic images and videos together.
However, it should be noted that this will not give you a true virtual reality experience. Whilst it may look real, it will not allow you to interact with the surroundings or be fully immersed inint. You will be able to look around, but will not be able to open doors and action things.
In order to have this fully immersive experience, you should instead look to the creation of virtual reality experiences by means of game engines.
Game engines can create virtual reality experiences that are interactive and immersive. The two main game engines that are used are Unity and Unreal. The engines allow you to create games and other virtual reality experiences with their software.
Of course, you don’t have to use them, and indeed many creators choose to do it by themselves with much success. However, there is no denying that these two engines have been successful. Here are just some of the virtual reality experiences they have engineered:
- Meet Mike
- Lucky’s Tale
- Batman Arkham VR
- Medal of Honor
- SUPERHOT, and much more
Unity, one of the game engines specializing in virtual reality, do more than just games. They were also used for Walmart’s virtual reality training program, as well as helping healthcare providers, educational institutes, and the automotive industry to create virtual reality experiences.
Side Effects Of Using A Virtual Reality Headset
For all its positive points (escapism, education, training, and much more), virtual reality is not without its drawbacks. There are side effects of using virtual reality gear that really should be considered before you decide to purchase a set-up for yourself.
To explore these side effects in more detail we will be listing the side effects and then including information alongside each of them. Let’s take a look…
- Eye health issues – One of the more worrying side effects of virtual reality gear is that of eye health issues. Due to the effects of virtual reality in that it tricks the eyes into thinking they are somewhere they aren’t, this can affect the way your eyes focus, track and even your depth perception.
- Headaches – Eye Strain, sensory overload, and motion sickness can all cause headaches, and since virtual reality causes all of these things, it can also contribute to headaches, too.
- Injury caused by lack of spatial awareness – It can be very disorientating when you use virtual reality gear, even for a relatively short amount of time. When you are wearing the goggles and headset, you are at risk of injuring yourself in your home. Even afterward it can take a little while for your spatial awareness and depth perception to get back to normal, in turn increasing your chances of injuring yourself.
- Dizziness – Think of how you feel after getting off a fairground ride or if you get car sick, imagine that feeling. This is similar to how virtual reality can make you feel. That dizzy, uneasy feeling is a common side effect of virtual reality. This is more likely to happen to people who have suffered motion sickness or vertigo before but can happen to anyone.
- Nausea – Nausea goes hand in hand with some of the other side effects we have already discussed, especially with motion sickness and dizziness. Again, it’s that feeling after getting off a fairground ride! This is especially common if you are playing a video game with virtual reality, or if the experience is fast-paced.
- Seizures – This frightening side effect is a possibility for users, particularly those who suffer, or have suffered, from seizures in the past. However, even if you don’t have a history of seizures, it is possible that it may still happen. For this reason it is important to follow the instructions exactly, taking regular breaks and only spending 30 minutes at a time using it.
As you can see, the drawbacks and health side effects associated with virtual reality are worrying and unpleasant. Given that seizures are also possible, it could potentially be life-threatening.
That being said, provided virtual reality gear is used exactly according to instructions. Limiting yourself to just 30 minutes at a time and taking lots of breaks, then there is no reason why it cannot be enjoyed safely.
Why Does Using A Virtual Reality Headset Make You Sick?
As you know, one of the side effects of using a virtual reality headset is that it can cause nausea and sickness. This is a common side effect of virtual reality if it is used for longer than the recommended time.
For this reason, we truly felt that it would be helpful to discuss the sickness associated with virtual reality in more detail, exploring why it can affect you in this way.
The reason for the sickness that often comes when someone is experiencing virtual reality is related to motion sickness. When you view an image that is in motion, your brain can start to receive signals that you are actually in motion.
The brain receives these conflicting signals and gets confused about the environment around you. You can start to feel disorientated, resulting in the same feeling you get when you experience travel or car sickness, or when you get off a fast roller coaster.
Because of its connection to motion sickness, it seems that people who have experienced motion sickness in the past, whether that be when traveling on a boat, in the car, or on a rollercoaster, will be more susceptible to feeling sick and nauseous whilst using virtual reality gear.
It is very much like ‘simulator sickness’ which can happen when partaking in simulator games such as car racing in an arcade.
Motion sickness and simulator sickness is more likely to happen in certain groups of people. Some people are more susceptible to it than others. As well as this, it is thought that there may even be external factors not related to a person that can make you more susceptible. We explore these below:
- It seems that women are more likely to report these problems than men. There have been no scientific reasons discovered for this, but it could be related to hormonal or social issues
- Ethnicity may also play a part. It is not understood why, but research has shown that Asian backgrounds are more likely to report these issues than other ethnicities.
- Your field of view can also be a factor. If you have a larger field of view or are closer to the screen, then you are more likely to experience nausea and sickness.
- Age may also play a part in your susceptibility to feeling nauseous when using virtual reality. Different studies have shown different things. Some say that children are more likely to get sick, whereas others find that older adults will be more likely to report nausea.
As you can see, it is a topic that has varying opinions, and certainly there is more research that needs to be done. That being said, provided the virtual reality gear is used responsibly and according to instructions, you will likely find that sickness will be kept at a minimum.
If you are unsure whether you should use virtual reality for any reason, whether that be health related or not, then you should seek advice from a medical professional.
How To Overcome Virtual Reality Motion Sickness
Overcoming virtual reality motion sickness is definitely possible. First and foremost, the thing you should bear in mind is the importance of prevention.
By this we mean you can take steps to reduce your risk of motion sickness whilst using virtual reality gear.
As we mentioned in the previous section, some studies have shown that there are some external factors that can make a person more susceptible to experiencing motion sickness when you utilize virtual reality.
Take note of these factors above and consider whether you fit into them.
If, for example, your age or gender puts you at a more significant risk of experiencing motion sickness, then you should take care.
Ensure you have regular breaks, and use it for short periods at a time. If you have never used virtual reality before you should use it for a short period of time at first to see how you react to it.
By this we mean, you should use less than the maximum recommended amount at first to see if that has any effect. If you are not already predisposed to experiencing motion sickness, then there are still some tips you can follow for overcoming motion sickness. We have listed them below for your reference:
- Try sitting down. This will restrict your movements a little and reduce your risk of becoming disoriented and injuring yourself through a fall or getting dizzy. This, in turn, will reduce your chances of experiencing motion sickness as you will feel more grounded.
- Whenever you feel nauseous it is a good idea to cool yourself down. Before playing, crack open a window or door to ensure a cool breeze can get through. After playing, even if you do not feel sick immediately, drink some cool water and get a breath of fresh air
- Ensure the headset fits you correctly and that the brightness is adjusted correctly for you. It is a good idea to lower the brightness of the headset as much as possible in order to reduce eyestrain and headaches which can cause nausea
- If you have issues with balance or an ear infection you should not use your virtual reality headset until the issue is solved. This is because a virtual reality experience can affect your balance even more, causing vertigo and other issues including nausea
- Deep breaths! Do not underestimate the power of a big deep breath. Deep, full breaths have long been known as a nausea combative, and it is n different in this instance. Utilize the most powerful tool our bodies have given us and deep breath throughout your virtual reality experience to stave off sickness
- Take it slow and build up your exposure to virtual reality gradually over time. It is important that you use it for short bursts of time. Most manufacturers recommend no more than 30 minutes at a time, with long breaks in between in which you get fresh air, take a drink, eat a snack, and sit down. We think that there is no harm in reducing this 30 minutes even more, especially if you are a beginner at virtual reality. Try 15 minutes at a time to see how you feel and gradually build up
Remember, sickness and nausea is a common side effect of using virtual reality experiences, but there are steps you can take to reduce this, and to help overcome motion sickness after it has happened. Take your time, follow the instructions from the manufacturer, and remember to enjoy yourself!
The Future of Virtual Reality
Just a brief look at the history of virtual reality, as outlined early in the article, tells us that it has come a very long way in recent years.
From the invention of the stereoscope in the 1800s, which was the foundation for the virtual reality we know and love today, to the recent technology that has allowed live concerts to be streamed to virtual reality devices around the world, clearly huge leaps have been made.
It does beg the question of where else it can go. As we know, virtual reality is a tricky thing to get right, and due to the high-tech equipment needed, and the astronomical costs involved in virtual reality, it can be hard to see much happening at least in the near future.
However, as more technology develops, it is likely that virtual reality will eventually become more accessible and more heavily researched. Particularly in recent years, virtual reality has developed into a way of letting people experience things that they otherwise have not been able to, for example if they cannot leave their house due to environmental or health related factors.
It is clearly a very beneficial invention, in cases such as these, and the fact that it is used so successfully in healthcare, education and training is a sign that it could indeed develop further.
In order for virtual reality to expand from its current status as a ‘niche’, it needs to be made far more accessible for the everyday, regular Joe. By this we mean, prices need to be more realistic for people. Augmented reality offers a similar experience for sometimes fractions of the price.
As prices come down and sales increase it is likely that content creators who specialize in virtual reality will expand their experiences, making them more engaging for the wider audience. We may even begin to find other creators who have not previously engaged with the world of virtual reality diving into it, as the demand increases.
One thing is for sure, in this ever-changing world, the future of virtual reality is as unpredictable as anything else, but it remains that there have been many innovative uses for it thus far, and we cannot see that changing in the near future, no matter how inaccessible it is to the masses at the moment.
We are still in the Digital Age, of course, and with virtual technology on the rise in other sectors, it is exciting to think about what virtual reality inventions developers and engineers will come up with next.
Virtual reality is certainly one of the defining features of this Digital Age, showcasing exactly what high tech innovation can do for us. From its roots as a form of entertainment, to its usage as a way of educating, providing healthcare, and training, virtual reality has proved its worth time and time again.
The options available for buying your own virtual reality headset range from being priced at a low and accessible range, requiring just your smartphone and one piece of additional hardware, to a more expensive investment, requiring a good gaming console or computer as well as the virtual reality equipment.
As the popularity of virtual reality increases though, it is likely the prices may lower and become a little more accessible for the masses.
For all it’s good points, it is important to remember the side effects that go hand in hand with virtual reality, particularly the threat of motion sickness which is very common when using virtual reality gear. That being said, provided the health and safety instructions are followed and you take note of our advice earlier in the article, these side effects should not pose a huge issue.
One thing is for certain, as we edge closer to the end of the article, the world of virtual reality is abundantly interesting and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere just yet. From its origins in the stereoscope invented in the 1830s, to the first simulated experiences of the Sensorama,
and to the live concerts streamed to virtual reality headsets in recent years, virtual reality has come a long way. With the many more creative and innovative inventions cropping up every year, the world of virtual reality looks set to becoming more widespread and accessible.