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What is Virtual Reality?

Fourth Reality Virtual Reality Experts Bristol Dublin

By now you must have heard of Virtual Reality (VR) in some shape or form due to its ever increasing presence in the media. You may be wondering what it is exactly and what it means for you so we have put together some snippets of information to help you get up to speed with it all.

When was Virtual Reality Invented?

Virtual Reality has been around since the 1940’s but really came to everyone’s attention in the late 1980’s – 90’S. Do you remember those simulators at fun fairs and events? That’s VR!

The term ‘Virtual Reality’ was coined by Jaron Lanier - a respected computer scientist and pioneer in the field - in 1987

Who are the big players in the VR industry?

There are a few companies keen to get their headsets on the top of everyone’s Christmas wish list:

Oculus Rift

Oculus started developing the modern day VR headset after a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. You may have heard that Facebook purchased Oculus VR for a whopping $2 Billion in March 2014. The consumer version of their headset is due for release in Q1 of 2016 making it one of the first VR headsets to be available to the public.

The Oculus Rift has to be connected to a (pretty heavyweight) computer to run. The computer handles the processing of the VR environment whereas the headset acts as a display for the user. While this means free movement is limited (because of the necessary connecting cables) the Oculus Rift harnesses your computer’s full power to render rich, high quality visuals.

Samsung GearVR

This VR headset was developed by Samsung Electronics in collaboration with Oculus VR. It works differently to the others as you need a compatible Samsung Galaxy device that fits into the front of the headset and acts as the headset’s display and processor. It was confirmed in November 2015 that the consumer version of the GearVR will be released for an accessible $99! (Phone sold separately.)

Because the GearVR uses a phone to power its VR experience the wearer is free to move around unhindered while wearing the headset. This portability and freedom provides opportunities for use in a wider variety of circumstances than a linked headset. It also means that anyone is able to carry their VR experience with them in their pocket. However, because of the relatively limited power of current phones (compared to desktop computers) the GearVR has limitations on the complexity and graphical fidelity of experiences it can provide.

HTC Vive

HTC and Valve Corporation co-developed the HTC Vive VR headset and it is scheduled for release in December 2015. Like the Oculus Rift, the Vive is connected by cables to a computer which powers its visuals and, again, you’ll need something suitably powerful - your average laptop won’t cut it here.

The Vive is covered in sensors which help track the user’s position in the real world. Because of this, when the user moves in the real world their motion is mimicked exactly in the virtual world, allowing the wearer to move around a virtual environment as if they were actually there – ducking under things, leaning, jumping etc. The Vive also comes with two wireless hand-held controllers which track the player’s hand movements, allowing further natural interaction within a VR experience.

Google Cardboard

Yes, it really is made of cardboard! The Google Cardboard was developed by two of Google’s engineers hoping to encourage interest and development in Virtual Reality. Google have provided a list of instructions online so you can even make your own. Once that’s done you simply slot in your phone and are transported into a virtual world!

The Cardboard is an inexpensive and accessible option which, like the GearVR, is used with a phone to provide the user with a VR experience. It is compatible with a wide range of phones (provided they can run the necessary software). The Cardboard is limited in the graphical quality it can display because, like the GearVR, it is running off a mobile phone.

What can I use a VR headset for?

The most obvious suggestion would be for gaming. Imagine playing your favourite game in a totally immersive environment. It would be pretty cool! VR headsets are not just limited to games. Medical professionals have been early adopters of this tech which enables them to train in a safe, controlled environment. Similarly, Emergency services are adopting the tech for their training.

We have developed a number of VR projects for our clients which have, in turn, helped them to demonstrate their ideas, projects and services to their customers. Take a look at this Interactive Bar we recently developed for a drinks client.

What happens when you put one of these headsets on?

The first thing you will notice is that you have been transported into a fully immersive 360° experience which could be anything from taking part in a deep sea dive or flying a spaceship to a far off galaxy to running with wild Icelandic horses. By using a controller you can take full control and explore your surroundings, even interacting with characters or products depending on the environment.

Fourth Reality can collaborate with you and your team to design and create a bespoke Virtual Reality experience. We also have a suite of VR kits available to rent so why not give us a call to discuss your project!

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