What is Virtual Reality

To define virtual reality would mean covering a range of things, as it isn’t confined just to the sci-fi image of a gamer wearing a futuristic headset as they travel virtual worlds.

Virtual reality consists of any environment that is three-dimensional and computer generated which allows the person to believe it is reality. The person can also interact with their virtual world, mainly through sight and sound.

Woman Wearing VR Headset and Waving with Hands

Some examples of virtual reality include:

  • Flight or training simulators
  • Virtual raids for the military
  • 3D pictures and movies
  • Virtual worlds and games
  • Virtual clinical therapy

Who Can Use Virtual Reality

Virtual reality can be used within a range of different fields, interests, and purposes. Currently, the most popular forms of virtual reality are used for training purposes, entertainment value, and for clinical therapy. Here’s how the different groups utilise this technology:

Clinicians and Mental Health Staff

VR for clinical purposes is not a new notion, as therapists have been experimenting with the technology for over 30 years. However, according to Live Science, now that modern VR systems have made it more accessible to everyday people there is believed to be an increase in using it to treat psychiatric patients, particularly sufferers of PTSD.

By using virtual reality, clinicians are able to gently expose patients to feared situations in a way that is safe yet effective.

Movie Viewers

3D movies have been around for quite some time now, but the technology behind virtual reality has allowed this media form to step up the game further. Owners of the modern Oculus Rift and HTC Vive systems are now able to fully immerse themselves into virtual cinematic worlds with their headset and sound systems, creating a completely new viewing experience.

Smiling Man Watching VR Cinema


While a few of the larger gaming developers tried for years to create a VR system for home use, many failed. However, with the new systems now available gamers are able to transport themselves to another time and place and act as the main character within a game.

They can now fight, crawl, shoot, and perform a number of activities in these simulated environments from the comfort of their lounge room.

Military and Flight Staff

Simulators have long been an integral part of training for those involved in aviation and military, as users are able to familiarities themselves with virtual environments that provide them with practical experience. According to the Virtual Reality Society, combat training, flight simulation, vehicle simulation, and medical training are just a few of the ways that these industries utilise this technology.

How Does Virtual Reality Work

When most people hear the phrase virtual reality, they immediately assume some futuristic set of goggles atop a user’s head. While this is true in some cases, the term virtual reality is a lot broader than that. Regardless of the form, though, the science behind virtual reality is the same across the spectrum.

The aim of virtual reality is to transport the user so that they become fully immersed in a simulated environment. The effects that this has on the brain is that users have heightened sensory reactions to their environment making it feel lifelike. The more advanced the technology, the greater effect of immersion it will have.

For head mounted displays (HMDs) like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, their goal is to create an environment for the viewer that doesn’t have the regular boundaries of digital media such as computer or TV screens. They achieve this by offering a full, wrap around goggle that takes over your entire view.

Oculus Rift Trough Goggles

As they’re connected to a computer generally, information is fed from here using an HDMI cable to two separate feeds. The two feeds are either sent to one display per eye or two, with a lens in between your eye and the pixels. It’s this reason that the goggles are adjustable, as everyone has a different length of space in between their eyes.

A stereoscopic image is created by angling two images, and the lenses then focus and reshape the image, mimicking how we view the world. A minimum frame rate of 60 per second is required so that viewers don’t feel dizzy or sick, with most modern machines going far above this rate.

There are various tracking systems also at work with VR headsets, these include:

Head Tracking

This tracking system is the one that controls the image as you move your head. Head tracking means that when you look up, down, or to the side, the picture you’re seeing moves along with you. Inbuilt headphones on these modern VR systems also allow for binaural audio which creates a more lifelike environment.

Using head tracking technology, the sound can shift so that it appears it’s coming from different directions.

Eye Tracking

Although not completely developed in these new systems, eye tracking is the next large hurdle for VR companies. Currently, when a player is gaming, their visual focus in the game is sharp no matter where the object is. However, this isn’t how we experience real life. Eye tracking will be able to follow our eyes to see exactly where we are looking without moving our heads.

This type of technology will not only make things more realistic but also help to curb some of the motion sicknesses that comes from having to adjust your head as you game.

Motion Tracking

Another important addition to virtual reality systems which adds to the lifelike experience is motion tracking. The technology is still a work in progress currently, but developers are hoping to keep track of your hand movements as you play without the need for controllers or other devices.

Man Playing with VR Using Motion Controllers

Current input options include treadmills, gaming gloves, Xbox controllers, and voice controls, so it is still a work in progress.

With all of these technologies combined, you have the basic design for virtual reality glasses. However, as we see further advancements in the field you can expect things to get a lot more complicated and realistic.