What is virtual reality?

How does virtual reality work? VR technology allows you to interact in a virtual world.

Virtual reality meaning

For years, researchers and developers have tried to take us out of our living rooms without physically taking us out of our living rooms through virtual reality (VR) technology. And for years, they've failed. The technology has been too intrusive, expensive, resource-hungry, or induced undesirable biological responses like headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Finally, VR technology is hitting the sweet spot in terms of price, comfort, and power. Moreover, modern VR headsets don't require ample open space like older ones. They're also standalone devices and don't necessarily need to connect to cutting-edge computers to function. All of this has resulted in respectable sales numbers for VR headsets.

Many, however, are still unfamiliar with VR technology.  In this post, we take a closer look at VR and answer some common questions about it.

What is virtual reality in simple words?

Virtual reality is a simulated experience that replaces our real world with a virtual one, typically through a head-mounted display that incorporates video, audio, and haptic feedback.

The headsets usually carry high-resolution monitors, one for each eye, that render a virtual world. Virtual reality systems also feature motion-detection technology to create a more immersive experience for users by tracking their movements.

Is virtual reality the same thing as augmented reality?

Virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) are different virtual experiences. While virtual reality completely replaces the real world with a virtual one (think The Matrix), augmented reality augments the real world.

Pokémon Go is an excellent example of augmented reality. The mobile game augments the real world by adding pocket monsters for gamers to find in real locations. Other examples of augmented reality are social media filters that change how someone looks. Some experiences offer a blend of augmented and virtual reality and are called mixed reality.

Can you feel in virtual reality?

Like any media, virtual reality can stimulate emotions such as joy, love, lust, anger, fear, and more. But virtual reality can’t make you feel hot, cold, or wet. After all, it's a virtual experience - and not real.

Despite advancements in technology, some people still feel headaches, blurred vision, and nausea after using VR. Whether you feel adverse reactions depends on your sensitivity to virtual reality, the quality of the headset, and if you're using the technology correctly.

Can a person learn empathy by using virtual reality?

Virtual reality can place users in another person’s shoes, allowing them to absorb new experiences and possibly gain empathy. According to a Stanford study, VR can make people more compassionate than other media. Jeremy Beilenson, a professor of communication and a co-author of the paper, said that the immersive nature of VR makes a difference, “Experiences are what define us as humans, so it’s not surprising that an intense experience in VR is more impactful than imagining something.”

What is the primary purpose of virtual reality?

The primary purpose of VR is to give users immersive experiences from the convenience of their homes by replacing their surroundings with a virtual world. Such experiences can range from shopping to socializing to entertainment to training. Here are some industries utilizing virtual reality:

  • Gaming: Video game developers have always strived to create immersive environments for players. With VR technology taking off, developers offer more in-depth and intimate gaming experiences.
  • Real estate: The popularity of VR technology in the PropTech (property technology) industry shot up during the pandemic as homebuyers looked for safe ways to tour properties virtually. Without risking physical contact, buyers used VR headsets to inspect homes. PropTech experts say VR usage is here to stay in real estate.
  • Mental health: Therapists leverage VR tools to help clients heal in innovative ways. For example, art therapists utilize 3D drawing tools to work with patients. VR is also helping people with mobility challenges overcome depression and anxiety by offering them unique experiences.
  • Travel: Travelers sometimes don’t know quite what to expect until they reach their destination. Videos and images can only show so much. But with VR, tourists are making more informed decisions about their vacations by touring hotels and resorts virtually.
  • Military: Armed forces are using VR to train soldiers for dangerous situations without risking their lives. These methods are also more cost-effective. Instead of transporting troops to remote locations or building expensive training environments, trainers can create virtual rehearsals for their soldiers.
  • Social media: Facebook and other platforms believe in the future of VR for social media. In a virtual world you can interact, socialize, and collaborate with the avatars of other social media users.

VR technology is finally maturing into a cost-effective and usable tool for the average consumer. Various industries are taking advantage off this by investing in interesting and innovative VR products. As adoption of the technology grows, we can expect VR to continue to surprise us in exciting ways.

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