An Introduction to Virtual Reality: Overview
World-changing technologies often begin life as the stuff of sci-fi novels. Children grow up reading about and watching imaginary heroes use fantastic inventions to solve impossible problems.
Some of those children grow up dreaming of making those technologies real. The brightest of these achieve some level of success. Their early prototypes are enough to hint at a coming future, but they reveal the difficult real-world challenges that keep them from being useful to the everyday person.
So the dream sleeps, waiting for its challenges to become solvable. Most people forget about it. Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, it becomes real again. And we slowly and collectively realize the same thing:
It’s useful now.
Technology enthusiasts are familiar with the so-called “hype cycle.” Analysts such as Gartner go so far as to map it out. Pay particular attention to where they consider Virtual Reality (VR) to land on this hype cycle.
VisionThree has more than a few geeky dreamers under its roof, myself included. Over the last few years, we’ve experimented with each major VR hardware prototype that became available, and our firsthand experience agrees with Gartner’s assessment: on the wings of cheap and pervasive mobile technology, Virtual Reality has arrived, and it’s a powerful communication tool.
What is it?
Virtual Reality is a general term for immersive display and input technology that creates the feeling of being present in a computer-generated place.
HTC Vive on CNBC’s Closing Bell
Apps as we know them exist on screens. In VR, the app is a space you can visit. This has immediate and obvious benefits for fields like architecture, education and sales, but is also highly useful for demonstrating physical objects or places that would otherwise be limited by real-world constraints or resources.
Need to give a surgery patient a tour of their own heart? To inspect a scale model of a new building, trying out new furniture and scribbling review notes on the walls? How about learning to disassemble and reassemble a luxury car? Or maybe you’d just like to play tennis with a friend from overseas, on the moon?
Simply put, VR can do for physical places and objects what the internet did for storefronts. The key is what we call “presence.” Presence is the feeling that you are present in a virtual space, when you stop thinking about the technology and your mind engages with the content and place. It’s when your brain stops asking “where am I?” and starts asking “what happens here?” When a stunning virtual environment meets the power of custom app development, the possibilities are near endless.
Won’t it make me feel sick?
It used to until very recently, and it’s a very common fear. It’s like this: VR’s talent is to make cost-prohibitive experiences viable. So when VR came back on the scene a few years ago, we did the logical thing and built our own personal roller coasters. It turns out that virtual coasters have similar effects on people to the real ones.
Over the last couple of years, we learned something that should have been obvious: VR needs to be gentle to people. Whether or not someone feels sick after using VR has everything to do with what they were doing in it.
When your body’s sense of balance disagrees with what your eyes see, you feel sick. Anyone who has been inside a ship in choppy seas will agree. The two keys to avoiding nausea in VR are tracking hardware that locates your head faster than you can, and software that never tricks the mind into expecting to feel forces it can’t deliver on. Forces like the ones you’d feel on a roller coaster, for example.
We have to make sure that the VR app doesn’t try to convince you that your body is moving in a way that, in reality, it isn’t. With gentle, well-designed content and the latest and greatest hardware, VR doesn’t make people sick. To begin to unlock its true potential, enthusiastic geeks (like me) had to learn restraint.
All of these lessons and some incredible new consumer hardware have created the possibility to walk freely around a physical room and interact with virtual objects using your hands. To create, learn, simulate, explore and experience firsthand.
Videos can’t truly do this technology justice; you have to experience it firsthand to truly understand it. It can be a little intimidating to put the visor on for the first time, but nearly everyone is glad they did. And experiencing something in a well-designed VR environment is a fast-track to a powerful memory – one that can truly connect your audience with your product or service. Experiences matter here at VisionThree, and VR is poised to redefine what we expect a digital experience to be.
In future posts we’ll dive deeper into VR applications, available hardware and content styles. This introductory overview has opened your mind, and your eyes, to what’s possible in the future.
Want to know more about VR, or see a live demo? We’d love to show you how magical these experiences can truly be. Contact us here to get started!
Nate Logan is the Technical Director at VisionThree. He’s responsible for architecting the experiences we create, along with exploring new technology and making sure it works.