The big question of 2016 is “What is virtual reality?” (and “Why should I care?” but we’ll come to that below) and put simply, it could be the ‘next big thing’ and not only for gaming and entertainment. The possibilities for virtual reality stretch far beyond gaming in your front room, with theorised uses everywhere from social networking to education. But before we go any further – what exactly is virtual reality?
Let’s get technical for a second. Simply put, virtual reality is an interactive 3D image connected to a computer that users can manipulate to create the illusion of being in a virtual world. Three-dimensional environments coupled with 3D sound and precise head (and sometimes body) tracking effectively tricks your brain into thinking that the virtual world is real, and as such can provide a more immersive and personal experience than simply playing a game or watching a movie on TV.
Depending on the manufacturer, the virtual reality experience can vary greatly. Some manufacturers like Oculus offer only the standard head tracking where you’ll be able to look around the virtual environment, but not physically walk around or interact with it. Some manufacturers like HTC and Valve have taken it a step further, creating a system where your whole body can be tracked, allowing users to walk around their favourite virtual worlds and interact with it thanks to bespoke handheld controllers. It’s worth bearing this in mind – while all virtual reality headsets will offer the ability to view virtual three-dimensional worlds, some offer better levels of immersion than others.
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