How Virtual Reality Works

It’s easy to see that the next blue ocean for smartphone in popular culture is virtual reality, or VR. Console video gaming have begun developing VR-exclusive content with Sony’s PlayStation VR, and Android has also started implementing VR with recent generations of their phones. While the iPhone has yet to get the VR technology off the ground but have plans to do so in the near future.

It’s only a matter of time before VR becomes commonplace, but how does virtual reality even work? How are tech companies creating headsets that completely immerses the user?  The best VR experiences manages to titillate not just one of our senses, but many of them.

The eyes can be tricked into believing that it is in a 3-D world with a stereoscopic display, meaning an image is displayed to illustrate depth at faintly different angles. The background of the image is also important when creating a 3-D environment with an effect known as parallax. Parallax is when the position or direction of an object appears to change when seen from different points. So, the father an object is from you, the slower it appears to move as you move.

Two important factors that help a successful VR experience is the field of view component, which is how much of the visible world a user can see. Humans have about 180 degrees of field of view when looking forward and about 270 degrees when you account for eye movement.

Latency is the delay between action and reaction and this factor can derail a VR experience. It is reported that any latency over 20 milliseconds not being fast enough to create the illusion in the brain of being in a different environment. The basic rule of thumb for this factor is the lower the latency is, the better experience the user will have.

If field of view or latency isn’t pulled off, motion sickness can ensue. Poorly executed VR can lead the user to feel disoriented and a lost sense of direction.  We’ve all heard stories about first time VR users vomiting shortly after starting the experience, which happens when any of these factors are out of sorts.

Another big aspect of VR is how you interact within this virtual world. The controllers for VR headsets are a combination of sensors. There are typically infrared sensors that communicate with the headset about your location and lets the user move freely around the room.

Spatial audio creates the sounds a user experiences in VR. This is also known as 3-D sound and the placement of sound is on a three-dimensional plane matching sounds from different angles. Basically, it is form of surround sound.

VR is poised to make another stab at entering the mainstream after a failed attempted in the 1980s and 1990s with a handful of gaming consoles. However, this time around the landscape of technology is different. A vast majority of people are now walking around with mini computers in their pocket that can easily support the necessary VR technology. We are basically just waiting for the “it” thing to come along to open the flood gates of everyday VR use.

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