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Virtual reality (VR) technology is revolutionizing various industries beyond just entertainment. From education and science to commerce and manufacturing, VR is making a significant impact. In this article, we’ll dive into the world of VR, exploring its basics, the latest technologies, and various examples of its application.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality involves the use of computer technology to create simulated environments. Unlike traditional screens, VR immerses users in three-dimensional experiences, allowing them to interact with virtual worlds. By simulating human senses, such as sight, sound, and even touch, VR provides a truly immersive experience limited only by computing power and content availability.
According to Sam Trudgian, a VR developer at Napster, the industry is currently experiencing innovation in VR and augmented reality (AR) technologies. Headsets are becoming smaller, faster, and wireless. Businesses are already utilizing VR and AR in various ways, from presenting proposals to clients to town planning and sustainable development.
The Three Types of Virtual Reality
VR experiences can be divided into three main categories: non-immersive, semi-immersive, and fully immersive.
Non-Immersive Virtual Reality:
Non-immersive VR is the most common type and often goes unnoticed. It involves a computer-generated virtual environment where users remain aware of and connected to their physical surroundings. Video games are a prime example of non-immersive VR.
Semi-Immersive Virtual Reality:
Semi-immersive VR offers a partially virtual experience. It is commonly used in educational and training settings, utilizing graphical computing and large projector systems. For instance, flight simulators provide partial immersion for pilot trainees.
Fully Immersive Virtual Reality:
While not yet fully realized, fully immersive VR aims to provide the most realistic simulation experience. It incorporates all senses, from sight to sound and even smell. Applications in gaming and entertainment have paved the way for VR’s expansion into other sectors.
All types of VR involve immersive, computer-generated, multidimensional experiences that are interactive and believable.
Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) are often confused, but they are distinct technologies. VR creates entirely synthetic environments that replace the real world, while AR enhances the real world with digital overlays.
In VR, users are completely immersed in a virtual environment, whereas AR overlays digital elements onto the user’s real-world view. VR provides a new experience, while AR expands on the existing reality.
How Does Virtual Reality Technology Work?
Virtual reality technology combines both hardware and software components to create immersive experiences. Hardware elements provide sensory stimulation like visuals, sounds, and even touch, while software generates the virtual environment.
To create the illusion of depth and three-dimensional visuals, VR technology mimics how the human eye and brain function. By presenting slightly different images to each eye, VR simulates depth perception. This, coupled with the use of headsets and accessories, allows users to experience virtual environments as though they were real.
Virtual Reality Hardware
Virtual reality hardware consists of headsets and accessories like controllers and motion trackers. These devices are powered by proprietary software and can be accessed through web browsers.
VR headsets, such as goggles, are the visual screens used in virtual reality. They often include advanced features like sound, eye or head motion tracking, and cameras. There are three main types of VR headsets:
PC-Based VR Headsets: These high-end headsets offer the most immersive experiences but require cables and external hardware. They provide high-quality graphics, sound, and head tracking.
Standalone VR Headsets: Standalone headsets are wireless and self-contained devices, offering freedom of movement. They can function independently or wirelessly connect to other devices.
Mobile Headsets: Mobile headsets are affordable and use smartphones as the primary display and processing unit. While they provide a basic VR experience, they lack advanced features like positional tracking.
VR accessories enhance the immersive experience and include devices like 3D mice, optical trackers, wired gloves, motion controllers, omnidirectional treadmills, and even smelling devices. These accessories improve interaction and provide a more realistic experience.
Virtual Reality Software
Software plays a crucial role in creating VR experiences. Developers use various software tools, including content management systems, game engines, simulators, and visualization software.
Content management systems help companies organize and analyze VR content. Game engine software allows developers to create dynamic and interactive VR experiences. Software development kits (SDKs) provide the necessary tools for designing and testing VR experiences. VR social platforms enable remote collaboration and interaction, while training simulators find applications in various industries.
While most VR experiences require headsets, Napster’s Sam Trudgian believes that non-headset VR is on the horizon. Applications like Spatial, VRChat, and RecRoom allow users without headsets to interact in the same virtual environment. This expansion to universally accessible devices and platforms has the potential to greatly enhance the VR user base.
The Importance of Audio in Virtual Reality
Audio is a critical aspect of creating realistic and immersive VR experiences. Sound complements visuals, adding depth and realism to virtual environments. Audio cues guide users through their virtual experiences and play a crucial role in creating a sense of presence.
Binaural or spatial audio is particularly important in VR. It emulates how humans hear in three dimensions, providing a more authentic and immersive experience. By producing accurate environmental sounds and spatial characteristics, VR creators can enhance the sense of presence and realism for users.
Virtual Reality Applications Today
Virtual reality technology finds application in various industries, including gaming, healthcare, real estate, retail, education, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the adoption of VR for remote work, social interaction, and virtual travel.
Major Players in Virtual Reality
Leading companies driving VR innovation include Oculus, HTC, Sony, and Valve. These companies offer a range of VR headsets, each with its unique features and price points. The top VR headsets for 2021 include the Oculus Quest 2, Oculus Rift S, HP Reverb G2, Valve Index, Sony PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive Cosmos.
The Future of Virtual Reality in Business
Virtual reality continues to evolve, and its future looks promising. As businesses look to differentiate themselves and enhance customer experiences, VR and AR applications become increasingly important. VR in retail, for example, allows businesses to stay ahead of trends and provide customers with immersive shopping experiences.
One company at the forefront of VR in retail is 3D Cloud by Marxent. Their VR shopping solution offers a turnkey implementation that combines their 3D Room Planner with a VR experience that delights customers. With realistic 360° panoramas and easy-to-use software, businesses can enhance sales, reduce returns, and provide customers with an unparalleled shopping experience.
As technology improves and becomes more accessible, VR is poised to reshape numerous industries. With its ability to create empathy, enhance training, and offer unique consumer experiences, virtual reality is set to become an integral part of our future.
To experience the power of VR in retail, check out the VR Shopping Video and request a demo today.