What We Know About Virtual Reality

The definition of virtual reality comes, naturally, from the definitions for both ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. The definition of ‘virtual’ is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So the term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’. This could, of course, mean anything but it usually refers to a specific type of reality emulation.




This may seem redundant but virtual reality is exactly what it sounds like. Using a VR headset, you are put into a 3D simulated reality which you can look around in 360 degrees, just like in the real world.

You can usually interact with the virtual environment, and, in some cases, even move around.

VR headsets use stereoscopic displays to immerse you in the simulated world, and many will come with controllers that allow you to see your hands in front of you, allowing you to interact more fully with elements of whichever virtual experience you’re playing.

The goal is to align the person’s head and eye movements with changes in the virtual world to create the illusion of an alternative reality.

VR can be used to describe fairly simple virtual experiences, such as looking at 360-degree photos as if you’re in the actual environment and much more complex experiences such as VR games and interactive films.

VR is also distinct from Augmented Reality, or AR, which is a term used to describe when virtual images and simulations are overlaid onto real environments. The Microsoft HoloLens, a holographic computer built into a headset, is the most salient example of an AR headset.


It seems more and more ways to experience virtual reality are cropping up every day. Smartphone makers such as Samsung and LG are investing heavily in VR with their Gear VR and 360 VR headsets respectively, while Google offers the cheapest way to get involved with its cardboard viewer that turns your phone into a virtual reality headset.

In short, you don’t have to shell out a load of cash to try VR these days, and although the best VR experiences come with the higher-end headsets, virtual reality is now available to all, in some form.

Here’s a list of some of the ways you can get involved in this whole VR thing:

  • Google Cardboard
  • Gear VR
  • Playstation VR

Why have virtual reality?

This may seems like a lot of effort, and it is! What makes the development of virtual reality worthwhile? The potential entertainment value is clear. Immersive films and video games are good examples. The entertainment industry is after all a multi-billion dollar one and consumers are always keen on novelty. Virtual reality has many other, more serious, applications as well.

There are a wide variety of applications for virtual reality which include:

  • Architecture
  • Sport
  • Medicine
  • The Arts
  • Entertainment

Virtual reality can lead to new and exciting discoveries in these areas which impact upon our day to day lives.

Wherever it is too dangerous, expensive or impractical to do something, in reality, virtual reality is the answer. From trainee fighter pilots to medical applications trainee surgeons, virtual reality allows us to take virtual risks in order to gain real world experience. As the cost of virtual reality goes down and it becomes more mainstream you can expect more serious uses, such as education or productivity applications, to come to the fore. Virtual reality and its cousin augmented reality could substantively change the way we interface with our digital technologies. Continuing the trend of humanising our technology.

Features of virtual reality systems

There are many different types of virtual reality systems but they all share the same characteristics such as the ability to allow the person to view three-dimensional images.

  • These images appear life-sized to the person.
  • Plus they change as the person moves around their environment which corresponds with the change in their field of vision.
  • The aim is for a seamless join between the person’s head and eye movements and the appropriate response, e.g. change in perception.
  • This ensures that the virtual environment is both realistic and enjoyable.

A virtual environment should provide the appropriate responses – in real time- as the person explores their surroundings. The problems arise when there is a delay between the person’s actions and system response or latency which then disrupts their experience. The person becomes aware that they are in an artificial environment and adjusts their behaviour accordingly which results in a stilted, mechanical form of interaction.

The aim is for a natural, free-flowing form of interaction which will result in a memorable experience.