This article contains affiliate links. If you click on these and make a purchase, we will receive a small percentage of the sale.
VR (Virtual Reality) has been one of the most exciting technological developments in recent years. While it was introduced as a niche segment a few years ago, it is becoming mainstream with time. The launch of games and applications, such as 360° videos from Facebook, has further driven the success of VR (Virtual Reality). It is being used for entertainment, education, gaming, training, research and development, medical procedures, and even socializing.
What is VR (Virtual Reality)?
VR (Virtual Reality) is a simulation created to provide an immersive experience to its users. It can be inspired by reality or be completely imaginary. A VR head-mounted display (HMD) is the main device used for VR (Virtual Reality). It has two LCD or OLED screens, one for each eye. Popular VR headsets include Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The simulation is displayed on the screens of a VR headset. Sounds and sensations (haptic feedback) are used along with images to immerse a person in a digital 3D environment. It is like 360° videos, but the users feel as if they are actually present in the simulated environment. They can move around in the virtual world and interact with the objects through motion controllers. Virtual Reality setups may include omnidirectional treadmills, motion tracking gloves or suits, and haptic feedback systems in addition to a VR head-mounted display (HMD).
VR (Virtual Reality) is used for entertainment, education, and even professional work. The simulated environment can be a game, a training exercise, or even a virtual office. You can even have a retail shopping experience from the comfort of your home. Some virtual environments allow users to socialize through avatars. They immerse a person in a digital 3D environment. VR (Virtual Reality) is also used in science, medical, and industrial spheres.
How Does Virtual Reality Work?
The working of VR (Virtual Reality) is based on the stimulation of the human senses and motion tracking. The primary sense stimulated for Virtual Reality is the vision, although hearing and touch play important roles as well. A VR head-mounted display (HMD) comes with two screens, one for each eye. It is attached to a device such as a computer, console, or smartphone. The content is generated by the device and is displayed on the VR head-mounted display (HMD). Viewers feel as if they are actually in the VR (Virtual Reality) environment, like 360° videos. A minimum frame rate of 60fps is required along with at least 100° Field of View (FoV) for an immersive experience. Both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive come with 90Hz screens, which allow for a super smooth refresh rate of 90fps.
A few VR headsets designed for use with a smartphone don’t have screens. Instead, the smartphone is inserted into the VR head-mounted display (HMD). The VR headset has lenses that transform the smartphone screen into a stereoscopic one to immerse a person in a digital 3D environment. Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream are two such VR headsets that can be used for 360° videos or other virtual applications.
Some VR headsets have autofocus lenses between the eyes and the screen to change flat images to 3D ones. The lenses adjust focus according to the movement of the eyes. They may use an infrared controller for tracking eye movement. VR Headsets also track head movement for 360-degree videos or virtual 3D environments. It changes the imagery as you move your head to the sides or tilt it at an angle. A VR head-mounted display (HMD) uses different types of sensors and instruments for head tracking. These can include an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and LEDs along with cameras. They allow the VR headset to track the head movement in three dimensions (X, Y, and Z axis). You can look around in the VR (Virtual Reality) just as you would in the real world. It immerses a person in a digital 3D environment better. HTC Vive VR headset comes with 32 headset sensors for tracking.
Hearing is another important sense that improves the immersion level of the viewer. Most VR head-mounted displays (HMD) feature built-in speakers or use external speakers. They have noise-isolation and offer a 3D surround sound experience. When sound effects are coupled with visuals, it becomes more engaging for the viewers. The users feel as though they are actually present in the simulated environment or 360° videos.
Additionally, VR headsets come with controllers for interacting with the simulated environment. The controllers may have motion sensors for mimicking the movement of your hands in the VR (Virtual Reality). Some feature 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) controllers that support tracking in 3D space. They can track your body’s movement and mimick the same in the virtual world. It is great for 360° videos and to immerse a person in a digital 3D environment. HTC Vive has 24 sensors in its controllers for tracking motion. A few VR (Virtual Reality) systems may incorporate omni treadmills for enhancing the user’s movement.
VR vs. AR vs. MR – What is the Difference?
Along with VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality) are other technologies that have emerged in recent years. While most people consider the three technologies to be similar, there is a considerable difference between them.
In a VR technology, everything that you see through the headset is simulated or computer-generated. All the objects, buildings, or people that appear on the VR head-mounted display (HMD) are rendered. Games are a great example of VR (Virtual Reality).
In comparison, Augmented Reality has both real-world and simulated objects. The simulated objects are superimposed in the real-world. In simple terms, Augmented Reality is a combination of the real world and a virtual world. It adds layers of virtual objects to the real environment. For e.g., you want to buy furniture for your home. Many sellers, like Ikea and Lowe’s, use AR to show you how the furniture will look in your room. It will use your smartphone or tablet camera to capture an image of your room. The furniture will then be rendered and superimposed on the image, allowing you to check if it suits your home. Pokemon Go, a popular smartphone game released in 2016, is a great example of Augmented Reality in gaming. There is something known as Augmented Virtuality as well. While AR adds virtual objects to the real world, Augmented Virtuality simulates real objects or people in a virtual world.
Mixed or Hybrid Reality is a combination of VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), and Augmented Virtuality. AR and Augmented Virtuality can be considered as subcategories of Mixed Reality. Mixed Reality environments are primarily used for simulation-based learning, military and aviation training, and in the medical field. They do not isolate you from the real world completely, unlike VR (Virtual Reality). Microsoft HoloLens is a prime example of Mixed Reality headsets. While the headset comes with screens, it has semi-transparent glasses for viewing the real world simultaneously.
What are the Major Players in the VR Market Currently?
VR headsets are available from many manufacturers. More and more companies are entering the VR segment. One of the oldest players in the VR market is Oculus (acquired by Facebook in 2014). Their Rift is the most popular VR headsets, although the later models (Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift S) sold equally well. The Oculus Rift has a 90Hz screen with a resolution of 2160×1200 pixels. It supports 360° tracking and is lightweight and is suitable for 360° videos. Oculus has sold millions of VR headsets.
HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR are other well-selling products in the VR market. When it comes to specs, HTC Vive is among the best VR headsets. It uses OLED screens with a resolution of 2160×1200 pixels and a 90Hz refresh rate. Its headset has 32 sensors, while the handheld controllers have 24 sensors to immerse a person in a digital 3D environment. HTC Vive VR headset supports 6DoF controllers. It can be used for 360° videos. However, it does not come with integrated speakers, and you need a separate headset.
While HTC Vive is primarily focused on Steam games, Sony PlayStation VR is targeted at the console segment. PlayStation VR works with PS4, but Sony has confirmed that the VR headset will work with the upcoming PS5 console using an adapter. Its screens have a resolution of 1920×1080 and support 90Hz and 120Hz refresh rates. It comes with a camera for motion tracking.
Samsung Gear VR and Google DayDream View are other VR headsets to immerse a person in a digital 3D environment. Microsoft HoloLens is used for MR (Mixed Reality). A few smaller companies, such as Fove, have also stepped into the VR and AR segment. With more brands foraying into the VR (Virtual Reality) niche, and the rising demand from consumers, VR headsets are bound to be an essential part of the tech-savvy modern life.