Virtual Reality describes a computer generated environment that is three-dimensional and can be interacted with by humans as if one is there. The technology is programmed with a Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) to generate sound, imagery, and several other sensations that can replicate a subject in a real environment.
It is originally designed to help people experience and understand the world around them better through an immersive telepresence that is independent of any headset.
The famous virtual reality equipment is the VR headset generally referred to as a head-mounted display – HMD.
WHAT IS A VR HEADSET?
A VR Headset is a virtual reality technology Integrated into a head-mounted display unit to provide its wearer a personalized view of life-size virtual features in three dimensions.
With the adoption of the virtual reality technology into gaming, the VR headset through its sensors can simulate the physical presence of the wearer in an imaginary environment where every movement of the wearer affects the features in that virtual environment.
The aim of any VR headset is to give the wearer a total immersion into a game or app. The virtual reality experience gets immersive and appears so real that the wearer acts in a similar way he/she would react to real life situations.
With the technology, your field of vision is determined by where you look and this is achieved with the head-tracking sensors of the headset.
In the VR headset comes two separate lenses that display images in a stereoscopic manner, and an audio system that reproduces sound in stereo.
Most VR headsets have a gyroscope, a structured light system, an accelerometer, and other sensors for a perfect motion tracking of the wearer’s head. Some sophisticated VR headsets have sensors that track eye movements for special controls, while some others come with a controller for gaming purposes.
The early VR display headset announced by CES in 1994 was the Forte VFX-1.
An extension of the technology to mobile devices birthed Smartphone VR headsets. The Smartphone-based Virtual Reality Headsets are basically equipped with lenses that act like a stereoscope when you view the screen of your mobile device through them. They also have a secure protective enclosure where you can insert compatible mobile devices. However, Smartphone VR headsets depend on your mobile device to give the right simulation of an immersive 3D Virtual Reality experience unlike a PC or console based VR headset. This makes the smartphone-based headset cheaper.
The smartphone-based headsets make use of the hardware of your phone through wired or wireless connections since they are without an integrated display or processing units. Consequently, users may experience few lags due to a low response from the mobile device compared to premium VR headsets.
To get the best out of a smartphone-based VR headset, you should use it with high-specced phones that meet the manufacturer’s requirements.
A famous and early virtual reality viewer kit for mobile devices is the Google Cardboard made from low-cost materials.
WHAT CAN VR HEADSETS BE USED FOR?
The application of virtual reality is very wide but the obvious primary and common use of the VR headset technology is in gaming. Virtual Reality headsets are commonly used for 3D games to get an immersive VR experience, where the wearer takes a first person position of the main act.
However, the virtual reality technology has the prospect to refashion the future for several other fields like architecture, medicine, business, or the manufacturing industry, and not just gaming that it is widely known for. Few of the sectors currently adopting the VR technology for an immersive 3D experience are further discussed below:
Currently, medical students train with VR headsets to perform surgeries on virtual patients in a well-controlled environment. Medical students can now watch surgical operations from the perspective of a lead surgeon with a full control to rewind, forward and pause the surgery without missing important parts.
Beyond surgeries, a cost-effective rehabilitation tool already in existence is an immersive virtual reality therapy by MindMaze, capable of treating brain injuries or stroke victims. It engages the wearer in virtual exercises to regain cognitive functions as well as motor functions.
Cinemas and 3D Movies
With the aid of dedicated apps that are capable of immersing you into a 3-dimensional movie display or 360-degree view, you can turn your VR headset to a theater or cinema.
The VR headset surrounds you with stereo sound effects and produces imagery on a huge virtual theater screen that makes you feel like you are in the movie itself.
Tourism and Museums
As a way to satisfy the wanderlust of tourists and frequent travelers, special apps capable of transporting a viewer to certain tourist attraction sites have been designed. For example, you can travel to Hawaii virtually in less than 90 seconds and avoid the winter blues with Travel Brilliantly, a special app from Marriot in collaboration with Oculus. Several museums are now working hand in hand with developers to create a virtual environment for people to visualize their physical collections as well.
Before the U.S military deploys their soldiers, they often prepare them for combats by training them with Virtual Reality simulators. The simulations are game-like in nature but replicate the real world environment. It is of high importance that a team or troop of soldiers practice working together with virtual armories before handling real-tactical equipment to fight real battles. Such captivating training is better understood and retained for a longer period in the mind of participants.
The next step to online product purchase on regular shopping websites like Amazon could be through Virtual Reality apps. With VR apps like Trillenium, you can tour an entire store virtually from your convenience and enjoy a 3-dimensional view of the products.
ASOS, one of Europe’s biggest online retailer has shown interest in the app and soon, shoppers will be able to make purchases on the website through their VR headsets.
Other sectors that are currently taking advantage of the VR technology includes construction, sports, education, automobile manufacturing, courtrooms and space research.
TOP VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSETS FOR 2017
PLAYSTATION VR: THE BEST CONSOLE GAME HEADSET
The PSVR headset was designed by Sony to deliver unexpected immersive experiences in entertainment, and it stands as the only VR headset option for console gamers.
Sony Computers Worldwide Studios first introduced the console-based headset technology in March 2014 as a revolution “to shape the future of games.” The PSVR was finally released on October 13, 2016, to work seamlessly with the PS4.
It comes with a processor board that outputs the display to the headset and your TV screen simultaneously if you would like to share your visuals with friends in the room, and it has an audio jack for 3.5mm headphones to output the 3D audio effects directly into your ears for a surround feel.
To track head movements within 360 degrees, the PSVR headset comes with nine positional tracking LEDs that interact with the PlayStation camera. There are several other move controllers that you can use with the PlayStation VR headset for the best precision.
In the box comes the Sony PlayStation VR headset, the processor unit, PSVR games demo disc, earphone with additional earplugs, an HDMI cable, a USB cable, and a connection cable for the VR headset, the power adapter, and AC lead plug.
OCULUS RIFT: THE BEST BUDGET PC VR HEADSET
Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display manufactured and developed by Oculus VR. It was released in March 2016.
It makes use of a stereoscopic OLED display of 1080 by 1200 resolutions, and its lenses provide users with a wide field of vision. It also has an integrated audio system that reproduces rotational and positional 3D sound effects.
The primary focus of the manufacturer is to make Oculus Rift a gaming device, something cheaper than the premium HTC Vive. This makes it the best budget PC game VR headset out there.
However, the Rift is also capable of rendering 360-degree 3D movies in a virtual cinema environment too. Switching to the network mode allows several Rift owners share and watch the same movie.
In the box comes the Oculus headset, an Oculus touch remote controller, Oculus Rift constellation sensor, Xbox One Wireless Controller with its adapter, and a pair of AAA batteries.
HTC VIVE: THE BEST PC GAME VR HEADSET
Vive is a premium virtual reality headset manufactured by HTC and co-developed by Valve Corporations. The VR headset was unveiled officially in March 2015 during the Mobile World Congress keynote.
In the headset are about 70 sensors and two screens (one for each eye) to give the wearer a field of view of 110 degrees. It makes use of a room-scale technology that uses special sensors to turn a room into a virtual world where you can walk around a space of 4.6m by 4.6m. This special feature adds an extra dimension to the user experience.
The headset also comes with motion-tracked handheld controllers that are able to interact with good precisions in such an immersive environment.
The early adopters of the headset’s technology are gamers, but the HTC Vive works well with virtual reality applications in other fields too.
With so much sophistication and the use of several control add-ons for maximum precision, HTC Vive makes a perfect VR headset for PCs games.
In the box is the headset with a 3-in-1 cable, a link box with its mounting box and power adapter, two base stations and power adapters, two motion controllers, mounting kit, earbuds, USB cable, HDMI cable, face cushion and cleaning cloth, two micro-USB charger, two controllers with lanyard, a sync cable, and the manual.
SAMSUNG GEAR VR: THE BEST SMARTPHONE VR HEADSET
Gear VR is a smartphone-based virtual reality headset specially designed for Samsung mobile devices like the Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, or Note 5 running Android Lollipop 5.0 platform and later versions.
The technology is born out of a Samsung Electronics and Oculus collaboration but manufactured by the former. Gear VR was first announced in 2014 to give room for developers that are interested in creating compatible apps for it, but it was finally released on 27th November 2015.
The most recent Gear VR headset now comes with a better design and an improved perspective visualization. Its controller has a touchpad and few buttons. The smartphone-based VR headset can connect with your mobile device via Bluetooth.
In the box is the Orchid Gray Gear VR, a USB Type-C device holder, a black Gear VR remote controller with a wrist strap and controller holder, micro USB connector, device holder, and two AAA batteries.
GOOGLE CARDBOARD: THE BEST BUDGET SMARTPHONE VR HEADSET
Google Cardboard is a virtual reality development from Google, designed in form of a head-mount. It basically consists of a foldable cardboard and a pair of stereoscopic lenses all made from low-cost materials, which makes it the best budget VR headset for smartphones.
The smartphone-based VR headset was first shared in 2014 at Google I/O developers Conference. It was designed in a bid to encourage the development of more virtual reality applications. The schematics and assembly instructions for Google Cardboard are available to all on the official website for free, for those who would like to build theirs.
Google Cardboard works fine with mobile devices running on Android and iOS platforms. An assembled viewer kit will have a space in front where you can insert your smartphone. There is also a fastener to secure and hold your phone to a position and to your face.
What forms the Cardboard head-mount viewer is a lens of 45mm focal length, a fastener or Velcro, capacitive tape, magnets, an optional near field communication tag, and a well-cut cardboard.
Achieving an immersive virtual reality experience is technically complex and several technologies have to be put in place within a VR headset to render the right cognition and human perception. Developers and manufacturers, therefore, deserve a pat on the back for such efforts to making this as real as possible.
The VR technology, however, is becoming widespread and now has several innovative uses beyond gaming to build the interest of several people in the VR headset. In the near future, we are hopeful that the virtual reality technology will be fashioned to improve how humans communicate with each other and interact with the world they are in.
Users should, however, observe certain safety measures when making use of a virtual reality headset, especially when playing VR games with it.
Some gamers have reported to experience motion sickness, while some feel dizzy and nauseous after a long use of the VR headset. This can be due to an overuse of the technology or due to technical compatibility issues. You can read the manufacturer’s instructions about the requirements of compatible mobile devices to get the best out of your virtual reality headset.
You should also use the headset in an empty room to avoid accidentally damaging properties or injuring your pets. The best practice is to take off the headset and earphones at intervals to regain consciousness of your environment for safety.