What is VR? – a guide to the concept of Virtual Reality

what is vr

What is VR?

VR (VIRTUAL REALITY) is a term that describes computer-simulated environments which mimic actual physical presences within locations in the real world (or in fantasy worlds). Typically, experiences are visual only. They are comprised of info that is displayed via a computer monitor or via stereoscopic displays (these stereoscopic displays are advanced, “3D visual” interfaces).

However, some types of VR experiences offer more to users. They can include a range of supplementary data which is designed to stimulate other senses (such as the hearing). These accessories are commonly utilized in order to provide participants with a more convincing experience. Examples include speakers or headphones. These transmit auditory information in order to add richness and dimension.

Virtual Reality gets plenty of media attention these days. However, it’s definitely not a new form of technology. Since VR environments have been in existence for decades, VR actually has an extensive and interesting history. But the first, primitive examples of these high-tech simulations simply do not compare to the sophisticated and dazzling “virtual worlds” which have been crafted as of late.

The point of the best  interfaces is to give users the means with which to lose themselves in their experience. In other words, users should (ideally) be immersed in virtual worlds which feel remarkably real. In best-case scenarios, those who utilize VR environments will forget that these virtual worlds (which they temporarily “inhabit”) are simulated. Senses will be stimulated to such an extent that users will feel that they are an integral part of their respective virtual world experience and immersive entertainment. All for as long as their sessions last. After all – what is VR if not an excuse to totally immerse yourself in your gaming experience?

While all virtual environments don’t provide this sort of illusion, some do succeed in this regard. High technology continually fuels the power and potential of Virtual Reality environments. So the astounding simulations found today will undoubtedly soon be eclipsed by new (and marvelous) VR environments of tomorrow.

The most impressive and realistic VR environments call to mind the wise words of acclaimed English science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke:

what is VR

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Now, let’s take a look at some important highlights from the history of virtual reality….

What is VR? – a history.

The inception of Virtual Reality began in the 50s. At this point in time, computers were huge behemoths. They had to be housed in air-conditioned rooms. These computers were utilized by experts only. In most people’s eyes, early computers were little more than outsized calculators. However, there was one person who realized the full potential of computers, as they related to the concept of VR. This was Douglas Engelbart – a radar technician. He was also a true visionary in the field of VR. Because of his experience with radar, he was able to envision digital displays that came from computers, rather than seeing computers as giant adding machines. By connecting a computer to a screen, Engelbart knew it would be possible to take things further…


what is vr

Naysayers derided Engelbart’s line of thinking. However, the next decade brought forth others who shared his passion for visual computer displays. By the 1960s, the world was ready for a new approach to computing. Because communication technology intersected with computing and graphics technology, new styles of computers began to emerge. This therefore assisted the creation of more sophisticated visual displays. Transistors were used in computers, rather than old-fashioned vacuum tubes. These advancements paved the way for the advent of VR.

Cold War Fears Sparked Real-time Data Simulations.

The spectre of the Cold War created tensions which prompted the American military to step up their defences. They did this by creating a radar system which was able to process plenty of data and then display it in real-time. After this, aircraft designers came on board with Virtual Reality. They created models that tracked air flow data for specific types of aircraft. Computers were rebuilt in order to facilitate these realistic simulations. Of course anyone asking “what is VR?” at this time would have been met with blank looks. This was a term known then as scientific visualization.

MIT is one of America’s premier educational facilities. It’s students played a pivotal role in lowering barriers to human interactions with computer systems. In the early 1960s, a technician named Ivan Sutherland created a light pen. This pen allowed pictures to be drawn on a computer. He used a special program known as Sketchpad. By 1970, this computer wizard had created the first lead-mounted display. It permitted him to move text around on a computer monitor.

These first efforts to create virtual worlds led to flight simulators and a host of other, practical applications. Today,  systems are utilized for a range of purposes, from training to entertainment.

So what is VR? Simply a training aid? Well originally – yes. But this has now expanded to take in virtual reality movies and games as well.

What is VR? – modern VR accessories.

what is vr

The aim now is to provide users with more natural depictions of realities. So the makers of today’s most impressive VR systems utilize a range of hardware. This can include glasses (such as Google Glass), goggles, helmets and game controller devices. For example, gamers may enjoy more fulfilling experiences by using head-mounted hardware or controllers. These will give them more sensory stimulation. But also allows them to participate fully in digital environments.

In this manner, technology is augmented. Therefore creating a fuller, richer and more realistic gaming experience. This sort of hardware (including the acclaimed Oculus Rift “reality virtual” headset) offer users access to the latest, most convincing 3D effects. Omni-sensory effects of this type are designed to stimulate eyes, ears and touch. For example, vibrating controllers may offer a more natural simulation, by mimicking movements which might occur in a virtual world. While headsets will allow users to see and hear everything in a digital environment.

As you can see, cutting-edge VR accessories add verisimilitude to computer simulations. While the cost of VR experiences is generally high, the usage of these types of accessories is trickling down to mainstream users. For example, the famous Wii gaming console features a range of “sports accessories” which allow users to feel more involved in the virtual environments on their TV screens. Prices for Virtual Reality hardware of this type have dropped considerably. This obviously allows the masses to get a taste of what modern VR has to offer.

what is vr

What is VR? – learning more.

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is VR?” you may want to find out more. Luckily, a host of books, podcasts, webinars, online articles and blogs are devoted to exploring the beauty and magic of high-tech, VR systems. By learning all that you can about these digital worlds, you’ll become an  expert.

When it comes to modern VR, many designers are pushing forward and breaking barriers. All in order to offer users ultimate simulations that stimulate the senses and provide incredible 3D effects. As technology continues to evolve, these systems will become even more realistic.

Virtual Reality systems help mankind in a range of ways. Some of them quite unique and interesting. For example, ScientificAmerican.com has reported on a new  system. It is known as the Simulated Environment for Counselling, Training, Evaluation and Rehabilitation – SECTER, for short. This allows troubled teens to deal with their issues (and learn effective coping skills) within a virtual environment. This is just one example of the way that this high-tech, digital software may be used in order to create a happier, healthier world for new generations.

When it comes to VR, the only limitation is imagination. Those who have the technical skills that are required in order to bring their visions to life will become the originators of tomorrow. And provide the world with top-tier Virtual Reality systems that are totally true to life.