How does virtual reality work?
The virtual reality we have been referring to in this feature typically requires some form of a head-mounted display, a computer, smartphone or console that creates the 3D world and some form of input tracking, which could be hand tracking, voice or head.
There are currently a number of head-mounted displays all using this set-up including devices from Oculus, HP, HTC and PlayStation.
As we mentioned, some of the VR devices contain a display, splitting the feed for each eye. In these cases, a cable (usually HDMI) will transfer the video from your PC or console to the screen(s) in front of your eyes. Other more affordable VR devices make use of your smartphone to display VR content.
In terms of input tracking, there are several variations, all of which contribute to creating this fully-immersive world, whether that’s individually or in a combination of forms. Different devices use different components in order to achieve this, ranging from sensors and LEDs to wireless controllers.
For example, Sony PlayStation VR offers 360-degree head tracking by monitoring signals from the nine LED lights around the headset with a PS4 camera. When it comes to head tracking, low latency is a must to ensure there is a minimal lag between you turning your head and the world you’re experiencing responding. Some devices are better at this than others, with Oculus Rift S being one of the better models.
Motion tracking has been seen in a variety of forms from smart gloves to the likes of Oculus Touch, Valve’s Lighthouse and HTC’s controllers for its Vive headset. Each of these things works slightly differently but the idea is to ensure you feel as though you are using your hands during your experience. We won’t go into the ins and outs, but a plethora of sensors are involved, as well as lasers emitted from base stations in some cases, all of which helps with the detection the precise position of your head and hands.
Accurate tracking of headset and hand movements also incorporates something called six degrees of freedom (6DoF) tracking. This allows the tech to monitor your movement within the real world and translate that into the virtual game world accurately.
This tracking ensures that any movement you make including backwards, forwards, up and down and side to side is tracked properly to ensure the most immersive experience. For some of the more intense games where physical actions are a big part of the game this tracking is essential. VR boxing is a perfect example as the virtual reality headset needs to see when you duck to avoid a punch or swing your own in return.
In terms of the most popular head-mounted displays that are currently being talked about, that’s pretty much all that’s involved. But there are other things that could add to the VR experience. One of them is eye tracking. The benefit of eye tracking would be to deliver a more realistic depth of field, resulting in a more true-to-reality experience.
This sort of enhancement is already starting to come to market. The HTC Vive Pro Eye, for example, has eye-tracking built-in and allows you to do things like control menus and interact with the virtual world with just the movement of your eye.
Why is everyone talking about VR?
VR is constantly changing and improving. We’re seeing the prices of headsets falling and even the advent of new headsets being released. Technology improvements like wireless adapters and standalone VR headsets is making the technology more and more accessible. As the technology improves, more game developers are getting involved too. Meaning there are more games to play and more to get excited about.
Alongside VR, both Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality technologies are coming on in leaps and bounds. These provide interesting access to content that might even make its way into the workplace too. The future is certainly going to be interesting.