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What is Virtual Reality & How does it Work? ( A Complete Tutorial For Beginners)

what is virtual reality & how does it work

Technology evangelists are preaching that Virtual Reality will finally come out of its childhood in 2017. How much familiar you are with the word ‘Virtual Reality’? Or VR, whatever you may like to call? How often do you come across this word? May be several times a day chatting with your friends or browsing on the web. Have you ever imagined why all of a sudden the word Virtual Reality has gained so much significance? Virtual Reality is more like a storm rather than a new facet of technology. It’s a destination of technology!

In his facebook post on 25th Mar 2014 Mark Zuckerberg wrote,

Virtual Reality was once the dream of science fiction. But then Internet was also a dream, and so were computers and Smart phones. The Future is Coming!”

He immersed into VR better than anyone!

Here once more, I would like to intrude one famous quote of Frank Biocca, which better describes the state and activities of Virtual Reality in our Real World!

“VR dangles in front of our eyes a vision of the media’s future, changes in the ways we communicate, and the way we think about communication. The medium that tantalizes us so has gone by a number of names: computer simulation, artificial reality, virtual environments, augmented reality, cyberspace, and so on. More terms are likely to be invented as the technology’s future unfolds. But the enigmatic term virtual reality has dominated the discourse. It has defined the technology’s future by giving it a goal–the creation of virtual reality. Virtual reality is not a technology; it is a destination.”

What is Virtual Reality?

The most compact definition of Virtual Reality that can be given is, “Computer created objects under digital atmosphere which seems to be real but it is not.” Technologists have defined Virtual Reality in several ways. Each one has  a different perspective of seeing it. But one thing is common in all, ‘Simulation of User’s senses such as sight and sound under virtual environment to such an extent  that the user comes out of his belief and start perceiving virtual environment as real and immerses himself into it.

Technical definition of Virtual Reality describes it as, “the digital atmosphere, crafted with the help of computer technology and software that presents images, sounds, and other sensations to users which appears almost near to  real but it is not.”

Commendable and interesting thing about VR is that the simulation of the senses is so strong that the user who is under the VR Environment starts believing that the objects are real! It is created with the help of interactive technologies.The most simplest example of Virtual Reality that can be given is a 3D Image in online Games with which you interact with the help of keys of your keyboard and mouse.

How Virtual Reality Works?

As I wrote earlier Under VR Environment the user experiences a feeling of immersion. With the simulation of the senses the person gets so much involved in the virtual environment that it seems real to him. He feels that he is part of that Virtual World. Once the immersion happens, the user starts interacting with the objects. That makes the situation even more appealing and interesting for him. In the words of a computer scientist the process of immersion and interactivity together is called telepresence. It makes you unconcerned about your real atmosphere. On the contrary, you start perceiving virtual environment as your real one.

Interactivity in Virtual Reality

The most important part in Virtual Reality is the interactivity aspect. Immersion is okay but what when the user doesn’t involves in the environment. Earlier applications in VE systems were offering only passive experiences – such as feeling a gust of wind while watching a pre filmed movie, sitting on a motion chair wearing a Head- Mounted- Display.

In modern day VR Apps, users can build their own objects. An excellent example of it is, Disney’s Quest’s, CyberSpace Mountain Capsule in Orlando Florida.   There you can create your own virtual roller coasters. You can also put a simulator into it to drive your dream creation! But it is still very far from the example of a true Virtual Environment. No doubt the immersion aspect of it is very strong and compelling but when it comes on interactivity aspect, VR Systems like that scores few points.

Interactivity in VR depends on three major factors;

  • Speed- is the rate at which user’s activities gets absorbed into the computer system and shown to the user in a way he wants to see
  • Range– is used to gauge the total number of possible scenarios that can be generated with a single action of the user
  • Mapping- is used to refer the capacity of the System to deliver natural outputs as a result of particular user’s action.

Navigation is the first criteria that needs to be fulfilled by the VR Systems so that it can be called truly interactive. If the user can control his actions in VR Environment then it can be called as an interactive experience.

For a VR System to be called truly interactive it should give the user the liberty to modify the environment.

Major components of VR Headset Systems

Most of today’s’ VE Systems are being administered by personal computers. No doubt such PCs are highly sophisticated and advanced enough to craft the desired Virtual Environment. Let’s have on look on the major hardware family of a VR Headset;

  • Personal Computers
  • Graphics Card
  • LCD Monitors
  • CRT Monitors
  • HMDs
  • Input Devices

To display the images and graphics to the users VE Systems take help of HMDs. HMDs are nothing but headset that a user wears on his head. Headset Comprises of 2 monitors-for both the eyes. The VE Systems use Stereoscopy to create or enhance the illusion of depth in the image.

Some advanced VE Systems have also the capacity to display images on walls, roof and floor.  Such Environments are called CAVE AUTOMATIC VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS and image displays under such environments are called CAVE DISPLAYS.

Next comes Tracker Technology after Display Technology. It is for analyzing the user’s viewpoint. So that right images are sent to the user on display. Then comes the input devices in VR Systems. As of now the input devices that are in use are;

  • Controllers wands with buttons,
  • electric gloves,
  • Joystick
  • Voice Recognition Software
  • Treadmills
  • Tracking balls
  • Data suit

The process of Immersion in Virtual Reality

If you will observe minutely then you will find that the entire concept of Virtual Reality revolves around presence and telepresence and some technological hardware. Virtual reality is more like a  medium similar to telephone or television. What happens when you talk to someone on your phone? You feel as if that person is sitting in front of you. Exactly the same happens visually when you watch something on your television screen. How do you react with your senses when your favourite Hollywood protagonist comes on the screen? Do you smile or not? In a similar way you react when you come across your dear ones.  The effect and power of Virtual Reality is so much intense on the user that, he totally surrenders his physical presence in the front of Virtual Environment.

Now let’s us come out of this example. In the words of Jonathan Steuer, a computer scientist, there are two main driving components of Virtual Reality- Depth of Information, and Breadth of Information.

  • Depth of Information- is the quantity and quality of data that the users encounters while interacting with the Virtual Environment.
  • Breadth of Information- breadth of information is the total number of sensory dimensions that the user continuously experiences in VR Environment.

Till yet sight and sound are the two main stimulating factors in VR. But of late Scientist and Engineers are also targeting to include touch component in Virtual Reality. Touch interaction phenomena in VR Systems is called Haptic Systems.

Top 6 Best VR Headsets that are truly Interactive

Let’s get into their names;

  • Sony PlayStation VR
  • HTC Vive
  • Oculus Rift
  • Samsung Gear VR
  • Google Daydream
  • OSVR


Over to You All

Many aspects of Virtual Reality are continuously evolving and changing. So it’s always better to go through the updates. Readers, I have sincerely tried to put each and every information in this post to be accurate and  latest. Still if there is any shortfall, then please remind me, by commenting.

Was this post helpful for you in arresting the concepts of Virtual Reality? And yes one more request.

Please do share with me if you have any additional information on VR.Which VR Headset you are using? What are your experiences about it? Your review and comments can help others. Further don’t forget to share this post on Virtual Reality with your friends on FB, Linkedin, G+, Pinterest or any social platform where you may like to share!

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  1. Sathish Arumugam

    Virtual reality technologies have helped us in several ways. I agree with the three top factors of virtual reality interactivity. The blog was awesome though it was colossal and it nearly takes me 15 minutes to read it out thoroughly, the information and message you provided in this article have not made to think bored. It is the awesome capacity of a blogger, most of them won’t think in this perspective, and they write a long blog. But you have proven your capacity. Eventually thanks for sharing.

  2. Nivedita Agnihotri Post author

    Hi Sathish,
    First of all, I want to say thanks to you that you came on my blog and read my post! Your comments are really inspiring! thanks for your beautiful comments once again!

  3. Pingback: Top 15 Leading Virtual Reality Companies Writing the Future of VR (A Complete LIST) - IoT Funda

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