Virtual reality has been used as a marketing term for engaging, interactive video games and 3D movies and television shows. Still, none qualify as VR because they do not fully or partially immerse you in a virtual environment. Even though a small mobile screen could never produce the compelling experience of VR, a search for “virtual reality” in your cellphone app store would yield hundreds of results. However, interactive games and computer simulations would match aspects of our description above, indicating more than one way to create virtual worlds—and more than one flavor of virtual reality. Here are some of the most significant variations:
Three components are required for a comprehensive VR experience. To begin, you’ll need a believable and extensively detailed virtual environment to explore; in other words, a computer model or simulation. Second, a sophisticated computer capable of detecting our movement and adjusting our experience in real-time (so that what we see or hear changes as quickly as we move—just as in real life). Third, computer-linked technology completely immerses us in the virtual environment as we move around. We’d typically need to wear a head-mounted display (HMD) with two shows and stereo sound, as well as one or more sensory gloves. Alternatively, we may roam around inside a room equipped with surround-sound loudspeakers and onto which moving visuals projected from the outside are displayed. In a minute, we’ll go over VR equipment in greater depth.
Non immersive virtual reality might include an extremely realistic flight simulator on a home PC, especially if it has a very large screen, headphones or surround sound, and a real joystick and other controls. Not everyone wants or needs to be completely absorbed in a different world. An architect may create a comprehensive 3D model of a new building that can be explored with a mouse on a desktop computer to demonstrate to clients. Even if it doesn’t immerse you, most people would consider that a form of virtual reality. Computer archaeologists frequently produce intriguing 3D reconstructions of long-lost towns that you can roam around and explore in the same way. They don’t transport you hundreds or thousands of years back in time or recreate prehistoric noises, scents, or tastes. Still, they provide a far more immersive experience than a few pastel drawings or even an animated film.
What about games in a “virtual environment,” such as Second Life and Minecraft? Do they fall within the category of virtual reality? They match the first four of our requirements (believable, interactive, computer-generated, and explorable), but not the fifth: they don’t completely immerse you. However, they do provide something that cutting-edge VR often does not: collaboration: the concept of sharing a virtual world experience with others, frequently in real-time or very near to it. Collaboration and sharing are likely to become more essential aspects of virtual reality in the future.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, virtual reality was one of the trendiest and fastest-growing technologies, but the rapid growth of the World Wide Web mostly died off interest after that. Even though computer scientists developed a way to create virtual worlds on the Web (using a technology called Virtual Reality Markup Language, or VRML), ordinary people were far more interested in how the Web gave them new ways to access real reality—new ways to find and publish information, shop, and share thoughts, ideas, and experiences with friends via social media. With Facebook’s rising interest in VR, the future of the technology appears to be both Web-based and collaborative.
Virtual and augmented reality
Smartphones and tablets have put what was once considered supercomputer power in our palms and pockets. When we’re traveling across the world, perhaps seeing a historic landmark like the pyramids or a fascinating foreign city we’ve never been before, what we generally want is an enhanced experience of the thrilling reality we can see in front of us, rather than virtual reality. As a result, the concept of augmented reality (AR) was born, in which you may aim your smartphone towards a landmark or a spectacular structure and receive relevant information about it. Augmented reality seeks to integrate the physical world we live in with the massive virtual universe of knowledge we’ve jointly produced on the Internet. Although none of these worlds is virtual, the notion of exploring and navigating both simultaneously has parallels with virtual reality. How can a mobile device, for example, determine its exact location globally? What happens to the items you view on your tablet screen while you walk about a city? Technically, these issues are identical to those faced by makers of virtual reality systems, implying that AR and VR are closely related.