Virtual reality(VR) is one such technological breakthrough that has made some of the impossible things possible. VR enabled the users in experiencing a simulated environment that can be similar to or differ from actuality. Though this technology was initially used in the gaming and entertainment industries, it has evolved and found applications across a wide range of areas. The technology of Virtual Reality is all about experiencing an immersive environment.
There are other types of technologies similar to Virtual Reality namely, Augmented Reality and Mixed/Extended Reality. This article deals with the basics of Virtual Reality.
What is it exactly??
Virtual reality can be defined as the use of computer-aided technology to create three dimensional simulated environments. The scenes and objects of the environment appear to be real thereby making the person completely engrossed in the environment. The basic idea of virtual reality can be derived from the word’s constituent terms – virtual and reality. As per Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary , the term virtual can be defined as "being in essence or effect, but not in fact." The term reality can be quite complicated to explain. It can be simply described as the virtue by which something exists independently of the ideas concerning it. The combination of these two words describes the near-real experience of an artificial environment created with the help of technology.
Key Elements of Virtual Reality:
There are four basic elements in experiencing virtual reality:
(1) Virtual World
The virtual world can be thought of as an imaginary space that can be manifested via a particular medium. A virtual world can exist without the aid of a virtual reality system. The perception of such a virtual world via some tools giving an interactive and immersive experience, is said to be virtual reality.
Immersion can be described as the sensation of existing in an environment either physically, mentally, or both. Physical immersion is made possible via the synthetic stimuli of the body’s senses(selective senses) using technology. Mental immersion
can be defined as the mental state of having "a sense of presence" within an environment. The term “presence” is also used to represent this concept of immersion.
(3) Sensory Feedback
Sensory feedback is an essential component of virtual reality. The VR system is designed to provide direct sensory feedback to the participants based on their physical position. In order to accomplish this, the system tracks the movement of its participant. There are many ways that can be used by a VR system to accomplish tracking. A typical VR system tracks the head movement and at least one hand movement of the participant. It is mostly, the visual or sound sense that receives feedback. There are virtual reality environments that also interact via haptic (touch) experiences.
For a virtual environment to feel real, the essential element required is interactivity. A VR system is supposed to respond to the user actions as and when required and this would help give the participants an immersive experience. Virtual reality is associated with the ability of the participant to move physically within the world, obtaining a new vantage point via various movements. The collaborative environment is an extension of the concept of interactivity. It refers to multiple participants interacting within the same virtual space. A collaborative environment enables different participants to have mutual interaction within the simulation.
Combining the elements
Considering these four elements together, Virtual Reality can be referred to as an artificial medium composed of interactive computer-aided simulations that track the user’s movements and respond accordingly to give the user an immersive experience.
The perception of and the interaction with the virtual environment is made possible via certain tools. The virtual reality devices always come with two monitors, sensory perceptions, a sound system, and sensors that monitor the participant’s movements.
PC with required high-end specifications:
Based on the complexity of the VR content that is required to be experienced and to address compatibility issues, certain PC requirements are to be satisfied like good performance GPUs, etc.
o Immersive rooms:
Restricted space that is customized with the required technology to render an immersive multimedia experience.
o VR headset:
VR headset is a head-mounted device(HMD) that is used to display the VR content to the user.
o Data Gloves and sensors:
Data Gloves are electromechanical devices that are used to provide a haptic experience to VR users.
Certain sensors are used which aid in tracking the user movements.
o Essential audio devices:
Portable speakers or earphones(sometimes part of the VR headset) are necessary to simulate the user’s sense of sound.
o Handheld VR controller:
Handheld VR controllers are used to render touch contact and such interactions with the virtual surfaces.
VR applications and content can be created with the help of certain types of software and other tools.
The basic way in which VR works is by simulating the user’s vision and sense of sound. The VR headset aims to provide a completely immersive experience to the users. The VR headset is composed of special types of lenses, one for each eye. It consists of a screen that would be positioned in front of the user’s eyes in such a way that eliminates any interaction with the
actual surrounding world. Two autofocus lenses are utilized for adjustment based on individual eye movement and corresponding positioning. These lenses are placed between the eyes and the screen. The rendering of visuals on the screen to the user is done using a mobile phone or HDMI(High Definition Media Interface) cable connected to a PC.
Some of the basic necessities that enable in creating an immersive virtual reality experience are:
o A frame rate of a minimum of 60 fps(frames per second)
Frame Rate=Rate at which GPU(Graphical Processing Unit of a computer) can process the images per second(Unit=Hertz)
o Ideal refresh rate
Refresh Rate=Rate at which screen is updated per second(to render images) o Minimum 100-degree field of view (FOV) (180 degrees is ideal)
Field-Of-View=Extent or range up to which the display screen can support eye and head movement
o Response time to be less than 20 milliseconds
Among the major VR headsets available today, Vive and Rift both have 110-degree FOVs, Google Cardboard has 90 degrees FOV, the GearVR has 96 degrees FOV and the new Google Daydream offers up to 120 degrees FOV. The headsets HTC Vive and Oculus Rift provide 90hz displays, while the PlayStation VR offers a 60hz display.
This technology of Virtual technology has evolved immensely. This technology is applied to enhance a wide range of industries.
Its myriad of applications in medicine and industry has made it one of the top technologies of the millennium.