What is Virtual Reality Headset? – Virtual Technology in a Nutshell

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In March 2016, virtual reality glasses Oculus Rift started selling, the world entered an era when people watch movies and play with an absurd box on their face. A Digital Frame explains what virtual reality is for modern person and what can be obtained from it.


Why virtual reality is better than screen


This is a new level of immersion. Even if you have a very large display, the game is still ends up contained by it. In glasses, the virtual world exists around you, wherever you look. Because of curving lenses and tracking sensors of the device, brain perceives the picture not as an image, but as an environment. That’s why sometimes people react to virtual reality so actively (see the video above).


Who invented virtual reality

Virtual Reality 1

This technology cannot be called new. The first prototype of virtual reality glasses was developed in 1968 by American scientist Ivan Sutherland. The device displayed primitive graphics, and its design was so heavy that it had to be fixed to the ceiling. In the early 1990s, when virtual reality was considered a promising technology, glasses for Sega Mega Drive and prototype Atari Jaguar VR came out. But by the end of the decade interest in them was exhausted, and in 2000s most people forgot about virtual reality.

Again, media started talking about this topic only in 2012, when 19-year-old engineer Palmer Lucky and John Carmack, a 42-year-old game developer, who created Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, appeared on Kickstarter with Oculus Rift glasses. A fan of virtual reality, Lucky assembled first prototype just one year before – he wanted to get a better picture than in his previous glasses. Oculus Rift collected almost 2.5 million dollars on the crowd-hosting platform, which is ten times the minimum amount required, and two years later, Facebook unexpectedly bought Oculus VR for $ 2 billion. Then everyone started talking about new virtual reality.


Is there an alternative to Oculus Rift

There are two types of glasses: standalone VR-headset, having their own processor and connecting to the computer, as well as mobile VR-glasses. There are fewer complete VR-headsets – right now there are only two products on the market besides Oculus Rift: joint development of Valve and HTC called Vive and PlayStation VR.

Mobile glasses are made almost by everyone. They are lighter, don’t have wires, and all calculations beeing made in a smartphone that is attached in front of your eyes. The most famous model is the Samsung Gear VR. It is designed to watch movies rather than games. The most interesting is LG 360 VR. You don’t need to insert smartphone in them (it connects via USB), so they are light and look like real glasses with arches.

The most brutal version – cardboard Google Cardboard, created for the popularization of the theme, viewing panoramic photos and 360-degree videos. They can be assembled by yourself (there is an instruction for this), and can be bought for $ 15. In the first case, you have to tinker with the adjustment to your smartphone. Overall today, these are the most common virtual reality headsets in the world – about five million pieces have been produced.


How virtual reality glasses work

How VR glasses workIn expensive headsets there are two small OLED-displays – when you put the device on, they are a few centimeters from the eyes. On both displays via HDMI (or via VDI) the same picture is transmitted, but with a small offset. In front of the displays there are two image-distorting lenses, which create the effect of a three-dimensional image. So it would be possible to look around in the virtual world while turning your head, there are few sensors in headset: magnetometer, gyroscope and accelerometer. There is also another one – a tracker with infrared LEDs – it should stand on the table, watch at the person and record his/her position in space. It is required for games where freedom of movement is allowed. Device is also connected by USB cable for data transfer and power.


What characteristics are important for VR-headset

The glasses like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR have four main characteristics: image resolution, frequency of its updating, viewing angle and tracking area. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have almost the same characteristics: 2160 × 1200, frequency of 90 frames per second and angle of 110 ° (field of view of a person is about 190 °). Only area on which sensor can monitor movements of a person is different: in HTC Vive it is much larger (4.5 by 4.5 meters, and not 1.5 by 3.5 meters). In the PlayStation VR, characteristics are different: slightly less resolution (1920 × 1080) and viewing angle (100 °), but smoother animation (120 frames per second). Mobile glasses are only responsible for one parameter – viewing angle. And, as a rule, it is less than in full-fledged headsets (for example, Gear VR has only 96 °). Resolution and smoothness of the animation depends on the characteristics of the smartphone. If it’s Galaxy S6 Edge, then resolution will be 2560 × 1440.


How much does it cost

Oculus Rift can be ordered for moderate price. HTC Vive is more expensive. The price of the PlayStation VR and more detailed review can be found in our other article. PlayStation VR only works with PlayStation 4. For a comfortable experience in Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (they can not be connected to consoles) you need a computer with a certain minimum configuration.

PC requirements for using Oculus Rift:

  • video card Nvidia GTX 970, AMD 290, equal or better;
  • Intel i5-4590 processor, equal or better;
  • 8 GB of RAM (or more);
  • HDMI 1.3 output;
  • two USB 3.0 ports.

PC requirements for using HTC Vive:

  • video card Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, Radeon R9 290, equal or better
  • Intel Core i5-4590 processor, equal or better;
  • 4 GB of RAM (or more);
  • HDMI 1.3 output;
  • USB 2.0 port.

At the same time, Gear VR, a headset with several sensors and a touch screen, costs considerably less, but it will work only with five Samsung smartphones: Note 5, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, S7 and S7 Edge.


What games can you play in virtual reality this year?


So far, only endless simulators, adaptations of computer games (Alien: Isolation, Elite: Dangerous, Dying Light, Slender: The Arrival) and the slow Land’s End from Monument Valley developers have been available for the VR glasses. All other impressive games thate came out or just were announced you can find below.

For the PlayStation VR there are about 17 titles, including Robinson: The Journey, story of the boy whose ship fell on the planet with dinosaurs, languid flirt simulator Summer Lesson, as well as Tekken 7, psychedelic shooter Rez Infinite and Final Fantasy XIV.

On the Oculus Rift you can find space battles in Eve: Valkyrie, Lovecraft’s story Edge of Nowhere, beautiful role-playing Chronos, game about girl and stone monster Golem, science quest with two main characters The Assembly, horror at the space station P.O.L.L.E.N, analogue of the film “Gravitation” Adr1ft, simulators (climber – The Climb, eagle – Eagle Flight) and Minecraft.

For HTC, about 80 games have been adapted (you can see complete list in Steam), and alot more are planned in the future.


Which controllers are used for virtual reality

Oculus Rift works with a controller for Xbox One (included). The PlayStation VR is shipped with a controller for the PlayStation 4. The Gear VR has a small touchpad with buttons. Vive has a more interesting solution – two controllers with trigger hooks, like the Nintendo Wii, with which the gamer can control hands of his character, shoot and interact with different objects. For Oculus Rift there is a similar development available – Oculus Touch. Over time, many accessories will be released for games, such as a copy of the M-77 Paladin, from which you can shoot in the virtual version of the new Mass Effect, armor gloves for the new part of The Elder Scrolls, special costumes for sports games, etc.


What else can you do in virtual reality?


Virtual reality has a huge potential. Soon it will be desired interface for house and interior design, for sculpture and furniture models and to visually show products to potential customers (as already Audi does). Virtual reality makes it possible to create three-dimensional drawings (see above video as Disney animator draws Little Mermaid). Master classes and excursions thanks to this technology will become more interesting, and simulators (for example, driving) – more realistic. The military will be able to control tanks, drones and combat robots, sitting in a shelter or headquarters. Sites will begin to adapt for glasses, and 3D-Internet will appear.


What about movies for virtual reality

So far the films in virtual reality are more like a mixture of a short video game and animation. In the near future they will start to develop and become more meaningful (see how well VR is used in the documentary film “Zero Point”). Festivals Sundance and Tribeca staged a short program of VR-films, and BBC prepares a documentary about Easter uprising in Ireland. A separate issue are adult movies. Studios are interested in filming a virtual video, where the viewer becomes one of the actors. Now it looks strange both in glasses, and from the side.

To make a film inside which you can look around, you need a camera with a dozen lenses. GoPro has a tripod Jump, which is attached to 16 action cameras. After shooting, video tracks from all of them are sent to Google’s cloud service, where for a while the frames are processed and converted into stereoscopic video. Nokia has an alternative solution – the Ozo sphere. It shoots a spherical video, and then glues it. It’s convenient, fast, but expensive. A tripod with 16 GoPro cameras soon will be replaced by recently announced GoPro Fusion.


What are virtual reality’s shortcomings


Everything is very expensive. In order to play video games, you need to buy an accessory that costs almost as much as console or computer. The glasses themselves are cumbersome, uncomfortable, wires are stretching from them (this problem should be solved by the new standard 5G, which will allow transferring huge amounts of data at a high speed).

There are also several subjective reasons. Firstly, some don’t feel comfortable with glasses – putting on the device and headphones, you completely disconnect from the real world and don’t know what is happening around. Secondly, a person with glasses looks strange from the outside, because of this virtual reality can become a niche entertainment for fans of video games. Thirdly, people react to it in different ways: if some users do not experience any discomfort, others feel very dizzy and nauseous.

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