What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR) technology gives the user an immersive experience in a virtual world. This makes it appear as though the user is in a different environment instead of in the real world. 

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

VR is a computer-generated world where the user can manipulate objects and move around using haptic controllers. There are three main types of VR simulations:

  • Non-immersive — These systems allow the user to remain aware of their physical environment and they rely on a computer or video game console.
  • Semi-immersive — These experiences give the user the perception of being in a different reality while still remaining connected to physical surroundings through the use of 3D graphics; this level of depth is generally used for training purposes. 
  • Fully-immersive — This level of experience requires specialized VR glasses or a head mount display (headset), which provides the user with high-resolution content and a wide field of view to completely immerse the user in an alternate reality.

Virtual Reality vs. Augmented and Mixed Reality

The virtual reality experience is distinct from both augmented and mixed reality based on its fully immersive experience that does not include real world features. Both augmented and mixed reality incorporate aspects of the user’s real world environment or surroundings. Since VR is completely virtual, users rely on a headset to become immersed in the experience. VR only enhances a fictional reality, while augmented and mixed reality both enhance the virtual and real world. 

Applications & Examples of VR

Virtual reality has a wide variety of applications, both in business and as entertainment. 

  • Healthcare — The use of VR in healthcare has increased due to its interactive nature, which allows healthcare professionals to practice procedures prior to working with patients.
  • Education — VR has a wide array of uses in education, such as virtual field trips for middle school students or VR training for nurses.
  • Virtual travel — VR allows users to explore other countries from the comfort of their home.
  • Professional sports — VR has revolutionized the sports industry for players and coaches through training exercises, and for viewers by enhancing their experience so they can attend from anywhere.
  • Entertainment and gaming — VR has enhanced TV, movies, and gaming by providing the user with heightened immersive experiences.

Virtual Reality Hardware

A headset is one of the key requirements for VR immersive experiences. The headsets generally have two small high-resolution monitors, which provide separate images for each eye. The headsets also have binaural audio systems, and positional and rotational real-time head tracking to track the user’s movement within the virtual environment. The headsets can either be tethered to a PC or stand-alone devices. 

Future of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality applications are expected to increase as the technology continues to evolve and improve. Some experts anticipate that the fully immersive experiences will become deeper through the addition of advanced touch (haptic feedback) and even smell in the future. The use of VR in daily life will increase and become integral to many work and educational environments. Learn more about how SimX uses VR to advance healthcare training.