Virtual Reality is the new frontier in the technology that has taken the idea of a user interface to a new level. Although the concept is more than a decade old, it got a reboot when Oculus moved from its garage to a Kickstarter campaign and then was brought over by Facebook for $3 billion USD.
The new generation VR is more realistic and has given birth to a dozen branded headsets and thousands of games and apps.
While the VR experience stays as a black box to most people, some are curious to find out how the tech works. In this article, we will try to explain the technology that powers the virtual reality.
Virtual reality tries to create a simulated world by shutting off external visual stimuli and providing a realistic-looking simulation within the VR headset. The headset could either contain two identical screens, each for one eye or a smartphone screen divided into two. The images on the screen are supported by two separate lenses that can be adjusted to each individual’s eye specifications. The fitting gives the user a three-dimensional image by mimicking the way human eyes are set up.
To give a realistic simulation, the content processor (or GPU) has to maintain a minimum of 60 fps frame rate and the images have to have at least the same refresh rate. It also requires a 100-degree minimum field of view to give realism to the scene. A 180-degree field of view would be better though. A set of sensors track the movement of the head and present the respective views. The sensors need to have less than 20-millisecond latency. Any slower and the brain will realise the VR simulation is not real. Any variation between the frame rate and refresh rate will cause the user to experience nausea. The whole setup has to work in perfect sync. Add to these spatial sound effects and we have an excellent show.
When they all work as expected, they will trick the brain into believing the simulated is real.
Most of the consumer grade VR headsets offer a 110degree field of view. The top end headsets give a 90 fps refresh rate, making it easy to believe in the virtual reality.
While the VR tricks the brain through fooling our vision, the balance set up in our inner ear is not fooled that easily. So when a user feels like he is moving although, in reality, he is standing still; the brain gets conflicting signals, and the user experiences motion sickness. The symptoms could be as mild as strained eyes or go as bad as vomiting, nausea, and even seizures. Almost all the side effects of VR are temporary and subside, eventually. Long-term studies of the VR usage is still ongoing so we do not know if there are any permanent injuries.
That being said, when you follow the safety instructions faithfully, VR can be an excellent experience that allows you to explore the moon or the equatorial forest without leaving the comforts of your home.