What is Virtual Reality?

If you’ve never put on the distinctive headset and participated in a full-immersion video game experience you may wonder, what is virtual reality? Basically, virtual reality is a computer-generated experience that captures an event in full 360-degree perspective, letting participants feel like part of the event. Special headset glasses and often gloves with sensors built in give the viewer a sense of being present in the scene.


The virtual reality may be a video game, sports event, or even a movie that lets the viewer have the viewpoint of being in the middle of the scene and able to move to see a different angle. There’s even a new technology called CyberCook that enables users to create recipes using virtual ingredients like custard flavoured ice cream in real-time. A professional basketball game in virtual reality lets the viewer turn his head any direction to view the action from a different viewpoint as if he had been standing at the sidelines (or even in the middle of the court!) at the game and turned to look a different way. The action continues on uninterrupted as the virtual reality viewer essentially shifts camera angle and perspective by turning his head or shifting his body around in the real space of the room. Sensors in the headset adjust the viewpoint in the video screen to where the viewer would be looking after turning his head.


A video game in virtual reality allows the participant to sense sounds with directional sensation as in real life, and also to view and move around the game by moving her head and body. A player might follow a hallway by pointing her head the direction of the hall in the virtual reality viewer and either inclining her head slightly to move or using small steps with her body in the real world, for example. Challenges in the video game are met with responses of the player’s hands and body in real life. She swings her arms, lifts her hands or closes her fingers and the gestures are transmitted into movements and actions in the video game.


The technical processes through which computers create the virtual reality experience are very complex. To recreate the effect of human senses, with shifting angles of perception in the visual part of the experience and very delicate sensors able to measure and report slight movements of the eyes, head, and body, and to combine the input with the recorded game, all require huge computer processing power. Many decades of technical development of cameras, computer processors and memory, sensors and gyros, and other parts of the system came together to arrive at the smooth and clear virtual reality experiences available today.


Beyond games and entertainment, virtual reality has potential to be used in serious efforts, such as education and training, medicine and research, and architecture and engineering. Experiences that might be dangerous or expensive to perform in real life can be practiced with virtual reality, for example. Pilots, surgeons, or firefighters can practice techniques and ways to meet real-life challenges in the safety of a computer experience.