What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality is going mainstream. Only a few years ago, the technology that is now on the market would be seen as a thing of science fiction. But we’ve now entered an age where these ideas and dreams are being made real, and science fiction has become science fact.
So what is virtual reality – or as I’ll call it from now on VR – all about?
I’ve set out this getting started guide to provide the layman with a straightforward introduction to VR, its uses, applications and potential.
I’ve tried to keep things as jargon-free as possible.
VR is being able to experience a computer-generated environment as if you were really there.
By donning a headset you can enter unique worlds and experiences and trick your brain into thinking it’s really happening.
VR headsets use tracking and motion sensors to convince your brain that you are actually within the experience.
The goal is to immerse the user in an experience and let them enjoy something that in normal circumstances they might not be able to do.
Tracking and motion sensors located on the headset or in handheld motion controllers or gloves, allow you to look around inside the world and manipulate objects within it, while at the same time creating artificial signals that our senses of sight, sound and touch believe are real, convincing us we’re there.
Getting Started in VR
What you need – depends on what you want
Before you get into VR, ask yourself what you want to do.
Most people will be looking to game. If this applies to you, ask yourself whether you want to enjoy casual, designed-for-mobile and smartphone experiences or would prefer to enjoy the more high-tech experiences provided through the headsets of the big players in the VR space, Oculus and HTC.
Remember, as with all technology, the hardware and software that will help you enjoy VR is being developed all the time.
Google Cardboard is the cheapest and easiest way to experience VR.
For around $15-$20 you can pick up a DIY headset that you can build yourself that you can use with your smartphone.
As its name suggests, it is little more than a folded cardboard headset kit that contains a slot to hold your smartphone and two lenses to view the action.
There is also a large range of pre-built headsets that are compatible with smartphones.
These are all more solidly built than Google Cardboard but as such are a little more expensive.
The most popular of these devices would be Samsung’s Gear VR, which is made for Samsung’s Galaxy range of Android smartphones.
But what if you’ve got an iPhone? Well, don’t despair as the aforementioned Google Cardboard will comfortably work with Apple iPhones, as well as a large range of other prebuilt headsets.
High-end VR headsets
The smartphone-ready headsets are great and while offering nowhere near the optimum VR experience they are going to help drive VR take-up in a big way and will make VR experiences much more widely available.
This can only be good for the industry.
If you have a little bit more money to spend and want a premium VR experience you should look at what Oculus and HTC are offering.
Oculus’ Rift headset is probably the most popular of the two, but HTC has emerged as a big player with its Vive headset, which is backed by the software expertise and reach of Valve, the company behind the Steam gaming platform.
Currently, these headsets will cost you around $599-799, so you definitely are paying a lot more, but what you get is a more immersive experience that utilises (in the Vive’s case) motion sensors, that can be wall mounted to provide you with a virtual space to walk around in, instead of just a desk-bound experience.
While the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require a dedicated computer to run, PlaystationVR is expected to launch in October 2016, allowing millions of Playstation 4 players to experience VR for the first time, and further expanding the reach of VR, bringing it into even more people’s homes and importantly making even more people aware of it as a new technology.
Hopefully, this provides you with a solid introduction to the world of VR.
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