Here is Everything You Need to Know About VR Headsets
In the year 2014 Virtual Reality(VR) took a giant leap. From the hands of a limited few, the technology has now seeped into the consumer market. Oculus can be credited for bringing the technology to the mainstream. Taking cues from Oculus, several new devices have arrived in the market. Sony got its Project Morpheus and Samsung got the Gear VR headsets. There were also some independent attempts into making VR headsets including Google’s Cardboard project. The question remains – is this just a mere fad or is this technology here to stay? We delve into the past, present and future of VR Headsets today.
What is Virtual Reality?
According to a popular online encyclopedia, virtual reality is a computer simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds. It, in essence, creates a world that creates the perception of being in a whole new place. Using various other techniques, VR can create sensory perceptions of touch, smell, sounds and even taste.
The Journey to Now…
It’s not really a recent phenomenon in any sense of the word. There have been efforts to create an artificial environment for manipulating the senses since the 1800s. In 1860’s there were art installations that used a 360-degree panoramic mural to create an artificial reality. One of the most prominent examples of this is Sala delle Prospettive by Baldassare Peruzzi.
Since then, there have been multiple efforts to artistically take the audience into a perceived reality. But in 1968 the first computer artificial reality headsets came to become a reality. Dubbed the Sword of Damocles that was created by computer scientists Ivan Sutherland. It was archaic in every sense of the word. It only displayed wire-frame models and was so heavy that it needed to be suspended from the ceiling, thus getting its name.
In 1991, Sega arrived with the first VR headsets for the consumers. Though it got a tepid response from the press, and there were fears that they could spoil the eyesight of children, this prevented it from getting to the shelves.
Nintendo tried its hand at VR headsets when it came out with the Virtual Boy in 1995. This device too was a commercial failure, and the users faced discomforts like dizziness, nausea, and headaches after extended use. The device was also lamented for the lack of a head tracking feature and color graphics.
Fast forward to 2014, and we see a return with a vengeance of the VR technology. Aided by high processing power of modern day devices and the phenomenal breakthroughs in the mobile technology, it seems like VR has finally found its moment in time. The race was intensified with the purchase of Oculus VR by Facebook. Sony and Samsung soon followed with their own designs. Google tried to bring the technology in the grasps of everyone with the cardboard project, a DIY project through which you can create a stereoscopic VR headsets using cheap ingredients which costs just about $20.
How do VR Headsets work?
VR headsets pretty much use the concept of 3D glasses. On the displays, there are two images, one for each eye. These images, when viewed through a stereoscopic lens system, gives a perception of depth in the images. The brain brings together the two images as one and that creates the depth that immerses the user into the artificial world. Advanced VR systems like the Oculus have motion tracking system that responds to the user’s movement. Using hardware like the Omni treadmill, you feel like you are really moving around in the virtual environment.
The emergence of mobile-based portable headsets has made it a lot easier to access the technology. Devices like the Gear VR, Google cardboard, and ANTVR make it a lot easier to use. These even allow you to look at your movies with a perception of watching them on a big screen. This could possibly mean the end of movie theaters and the expensive popcorn that comes with it.
The other potential uses of the technology
Virtual Reality is not just limited to providing quality entertainment and gaming, it has many real world applications too. It can come in handy in multiple fields such as:
Virtual field Trips
The best way to learn about a new place is to go there and travel around. It can often be educational to travel. But if you cannot afford the trip, you have virtual reality to your rescue. The virtual tour can show you around the place and using complementary technologies like haptic mediums; you can get to touch and smell your new environment too. It can be a complete immersive experience that you wouldn’t want to come out of.
Learning by doing is the best way to acquire knowledge. Using the tools provided by gaming advancements in VR, students can learn to interact with their future workplace. For example, an architect can learn to create buildings and manipulate it in real time, almost like Ariadne in Inception. It can even come handy to school children to bring lessons to them in a more interactive immersive fashion.
Several military professionals are trained on VR surfaces. It is a lot more economical than creating real world environments and also decreases the chance of injury while training. It gives the chance to practice their lessons as many times as needed. Pilots are also trained on simulators that actively recreate the flying environment. VR can come handy to train drivers who work in specialized environments such as high terrains or ice roads.
Doctors can benefit from some virtual simulations too. Specialized surgeries that require immense precision require constant practice. In an artificially created environment, the surgeon can constantly train on the simulated body to perfect his/her skills that could someday come handy to save real lives.
Challenges with VR Devices
VR though has been in development for quite a while, but there are some limitations to the technology to make it more palatable to a mass audience. The confines of graphics and the tracking systems even in the best headsets results in various discomfort for the users. The industry needs to really work on the VR tracking systems.
The audio too is an important element of an immersive experience. The disconnect between the audio and visuals or low quality audio can also lead to motion sickness and other discomforts. The audio industry is being encouraged to fix the gap to create a more natural environment for the users.
There are also some issues with the content that can be created for consumption in the virtual world. Some psychologists say that the VR can create a generation of sociopaths who have gotten so used to first person violence that they are desensitized to it. To counter this, there is a need for regulation and codification of content meant for VR headsets. There should also be instruction and education on how to use the technology right so that it benefits all.
A Long journey begins now.
With the processing power up to the mark and graphical interfaces replicating reality better than ever, this is the right time for VR to come out of its cocoon. The smartphone revolution has brought the VR technology in the grasps of everyone. Google’s cardboard project literally makes this technology universal. There is a long way to go with the potential applications of the technology, but its mainstream visibility will speed up its adoption in various fields. There is a lot the technology can offer us, and it’s just the beginning of the access to the virtual world. The immense potential of the technology is still up for unlocking. We’re excited about the prospects of VR, are you?