What is Virtual Reality? Should you care about VR?

13.09.2023 223 0

The concept of virtual reality (VR) is not new, but its popularity has increased in recent years. The concept was born together with photography and the invention of cameras. Do you remember stereoscopes? Playing with two still images, they generated the illusion of three dimensions (3D), more than 180 years ago! Through time, both the concept and its practical application evolved into sensoramas, and later, those sophisticated devices you saw on Sci-Fi movies became real and the name “virtual reality” was coined and flooded the media and marketing. Then, these two words were almost everywhere, and we all were warned of a technology that would deeply impact our lives. But do you know what virtual reality is? Will VR really impact everybody’s life? Should you care about VR?

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

Virtual reality is a technology capable of creating a simulated, computer-generated environment (3D), in which a user (you) can get immersed to, explore, and interact with it. The experience provided is described as virtual because the environment or simulation is created by a computer, no matter how close to reality it is.

What are the key elements of Virtual Reality?

Software:
Content creation tools. Generating animations, 3D models, textures, etc. for virtual environments requires the use of professional software tools (Maya, 3ds Max, Substance Painter, Blender, etc.).
• 3D graphics engines. VR experiences require sophisticated 3D graphics engines to handle rendering realistic environments, special effects, textures, lighting, and all the necessary elements to create immersive visuals.
• VR applications. Meaning, the software applications users interact with while wearing the VR headset. Applications, from games and simulations to virtual tours, educational experiences, and productivity tools are developed using graphic engines and SDKs.
Software development kits (SDKs). The SDKs include tools for tracking movement, handling input, rendering graphics, and integrating other features specifically needed by every headset.
• VR Middleware. Middleware solutions provide additional functionality for VR development, for instance, optimizing performance, integrating social interactions, or enabling cross-platform compatibility.
Positional audio (3D audio) software. It is software that generates realistic soundscapes that change based on the user’s movements within the virtual environment. Audio is an essential component of an immersive experience.
• VR platforms. Currently, a user can access platforms to purchase and download VR content for his/her headset. Some well-known names are PlayStation VR (Sony), Oculus Store (Oculus), and Steam VR (Steam).

Hardware:
Console or computer. The VR experience demands a powerful gaming console or computer to generate graphics and compute the interactions in real time. These systems need to meet high-quality specifications to guarantee smooth and immersive VR performance.
VR headset. This is the main and most popular hardware component. Several manufacturers are offering different models, various levels of comfort, immersion, and features. Some well-known VR headset brands are PlayStation VR, Oculus (owned by Meta), Valve Index, and HTC Vive.
• Display. This is a key element of the VR headset because it presents virtual reality to the users’ eyes. These displays are designed to reduce latency and motion blur to minimize motion sickness.
Input devices and controllers. Most VR systems include input devices or controllers for users to interact with the virtual environment. These can be from handheld controllers with motion sensors, triggers, and buttons, to other advanced devices which track gestures and hand movements.
• Sensors and tracking. To enhance the sense of presence, VR headsets include sensors to track the head movements of the user and sometimes even extra hand and body movements. Such sensors can involve gyroscopes, accelerometers, and cameras that monitor the environment for positional tracking.
• 3D built-in speakers or headphones. This audio technology is needed to properly reproduce the 3D audio designed to simulate sounds coming from different directions and distances, enhancing the realism and immersion of the virtual experience.

Benefits of Virtual Reality

VR offers interesting benefits on both a general and specific level. To know the VR benefits for different industries you should check our blog again in two weeks time. Here, we will talk about general benefits.
Improving learning processes. VR can change the way we learn and teach. It can make it easier for people to grasp dry, difficult, and abstract concepts and texts of subjects like maths, engineering, science, technology, and many more. Those concepts can come to life with VR. Students can be transported to specific environments which recreate conditions and elements for them to try virtual experiments. The learning experience could be much more attractive, distraction-free, interesting, and productive.
More efficient work training. VR offers trainers and trainees the chance to fail and try until they learn and master different skills, without risking their lives. VR can simulate all types of environments, replicating within them the conditions, hostile elements, or risks that are key for trainees to handle. The potential is huge for industries like aviation, manufacturing, defense, mining, oil and gas, and many more. Work training can be more efficient and safer, reducing time, money, and accidents.
Remote learning and training. Using VR, you can learn and train without the need of gathering with others in the same physical space. You can even experience group activities without being physically present at the site.
Try before you buy. Nobody can deny the success of e-commerce, but also the constant complaints, returns of products, and refunds to unsatisfied customers. Globally, companies pay high costs for such situations. VR can be the solution because, through it, customers could experience a product or service before they buy it. From clothes and aesthetic procedures to vehicles, you name it!
Developing soft skills. VR can create the ideal environments, with a high sense of realism, for humans to experience a lot of situations that demand the use of their soft skills (communication, leadership, initiative, teamwork, work ethics, adaptability, problem-solving, etc.). Developing such skills can be much harder than learning hard skills (knowledge and abilities to perform your job, maths, graphic design, writing, etc.) because they relate to our personality. Shy, hostile, diffident, and troubled employees can struggle to develop soft skills, but they are vital to offer quality customer service, work with a team, and contribute to the business’s success. VR simulations are great to train people to react properly, emotionally and practically (processes to solve problems), when situations arise in real life.

Drawbacks of Virtual Reality

Expensive equipment. To guarantee a high-quality virtual experience for users demands high-quality VR equipment (powerful computers and headsets). This is expensive and therefore, accessible only to some.
Cybersecurity and privacy. VR systems can collect personal data and experience cyber security risks like data breaches, just like other connected technologies.
Motion sickness. Users can experience motion sickness or discomfort due to the discrepancy between the visual movement in the virtual environment and the lack of corresponding physical movement. This can be caused by different factors, latency, bad quality equipment, or visuals.
Tethered experience. Many VR systems require being tethered to a computer or console, restricting movement and potentially causing inconvenience. In the opposite scenario, not needing to be tethered to a computer, your VR system will offer you a limited battery time so sessions can’t be so long.
Addiction. Virtual reality experiences can be so good and lead to overuse or addiction. Some users can neglect their responsibilities and activities in the real-world, to spend more time in the pleasant or exciting simulation.
Isolation. The use of VR without limits can cause social isolation. Users can remain disconnected from real-life interactions to spend complete days immersed in virtual worlds.
Health concerns. The abuse in the use of VR can lead to an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle, eyesfatigue, eyestrain, and other unpleasant issues related to the eyes’ focal length adjustment.

Challenges of Virtual Reality

Hardware improvement
Advancing VR technology needs to overcome limitations related to display quality, motion tracking accuracy, and reducing latency. Another area to be improved is energy consumption. VR hardware can be power-intensive and that means higher energy consumption and environmental impact.

Standardization
There are not yet wide standards for VR and that causes compatibility issues.

Content quality
Creating quality content matters and is expensive. But pointless or poorly developed content and bad quality visuals (3D environment) can lead to disappointed users and negative effects for businesses.

Costs
To use VR to its maximum potential is expensive. A formula must be designed for this technology to expand and be accessible to more users. Especially when you think about the benefits of VR for education.

Cybersecurity risks
VR systems connected to the Internet can be as vulnerable as other systems to cyberattacks and hacking. Developers must work to protect users’ privacy and security and users must follow safe practices.

Responsible use
Education and safe practices focused on the responsible use of VR systems are essential. We should be able to get the best out of this innovative technology, without risking our physical and mental health.

Accessibility for users with disabilities
VR systems could be excellent for people with disabilities to learn or experience environments and situations they can’t in real life. That requires making the headsets more custom designed based on the users’ specific needs. Currently, that could be very expensive and hard to offer.

Conclusion

VR is a technology with potential to be used in many different industries. It is still facing challenges and there is a long way for VR to go to become a technology of massive use. Should you care about VR? Yes! As a businessperson or a regular user, knowing more about VR can open opportunities, new markets, or the mind to a new technology that could become part of your life and change it dramatically in the future. Yes, VR has the potential to impact everybody’s life, but we are not there just yet!
If you are into VR, we recommend you try our virtual tour of Sofia Data Center 2.

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