What is virtual reality?

VR is becoming more popular and more accessible every year, but what is virtual reality? Here is everything you need to know about VR.

Virtual reality has taken the tech and gaming world by storm over the last few years, but what exactly is VR, and how is it impacting technology?

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about VR and why it’s going to be such a big part of gaming.

What is VR?

As you may already know, VR stands for virtual reality. Virtual reality is what it sounds like. It is a world that does not exist in reality but is created by computers and can be experienced using a VR headset.

VR headsets allow users to be put into a 3D simulated reality. Usually, users will be able to look around in 360-degrees and even interact with the virtual environment and move around the room, however, that is not the case with all VR headsets and experiences.

VR headsets use stereoscopic displays to immerse you in the simulated world, with many coming with controllers that allow you to see your hands in front of you and interact fully with whatever simulated elements are in the virtual experience.

The display is split between your eyes and should create a believable experience, with the overall goal aiming to align the user’s head and eye movements with the changes in the virtual world to create an illusion of an alternative reality.

Depending on what VR headset you’re using, and what experience you’re trying to recreate, VR can be used to create simple experiences, such as looking at a 360-degree photo, or more complex experiences, such as games and interactive films .

It’s important to note that VR is not the same as AR (augmented reality), which stands for augmented reality. AR is when virtual images and simulations are overlaid into real environments, with Pokémon Go being one of the most popular examples.

How can I experience VR?

There are multiple ways to experience VR nowadays. You can check out VR headsets from the likes of Oculus or PlayStation, which are more costly but offer a high-end experience.

Google also offers the Google Cardboardwhich turns your smartphone into a VR viewer for as little as £10, meaning that you don’t necessarily need to shell out to experience virtual reality.

What VR options are out there?

We will run down a couple of the options out there for anyone hoping to get into VR, though we recommend checking out our best VR headset listso you can check out the best options currently available.

It’s important to note that each VR experience will look a little different, whether that comes down to the number of sensors you need to set it up, the resolution of the screen or the price of the headset itself.

Is VR worth it?

Since we’ve gone on and on about how VR works and what experiences it can offer, it’s also important to ask if it’s actually worth it. This is a hard question to answer, though it seems that for most people, VR isn’t quite accessible enough to make it worth it at the moment.

A lot of that comes down to the price, as if you’re after a high-quality VR experience, you will need to pay a pretty penny. One of the best value headsets we’ve reviewed, the Oculus Quest 2starts at £299, with some premium models hitting near the £1000 mark.

A lot of VR headsets also don’t work straight out of the box, whether that means connecting it to a gaming PC or setting up multiple sensors that can track your movement, VR headsets are not as easy to use as a lot of gaming consoles out there.

Plus, the VR games market is not as saturated as regular games, meaning that you may be waiting for months at a time for new VR titles to drop. This isn’t the case for other consoles out there, like the PS5, Xbox Series S/X and switchwhich see new releases dropping multiple times a year, as well as a massive backlog of games that can be accessed anytime.

That being said, anyone who is willing to splash out and wants an immersive experience while they game shouldn’t be too discouraged, just keep in mind that VR isn’t quite as accessible as a lot of other options out there.

VR jargon to watch out for

For anyone that is unfamiliar with VR, you will want to understand what the specs mean before your commit to a new headset. Look below to find out the most commonly used words associated with VR and what they mean.

Resolution: Since VR headsets can come with two screens, one for each eye, you may see that some headsets come listed with two resolutions. One will relate to the resolution of the individual screen and one if the combined resolution of the screen.

For example, the oculus rift and HTC Vive both have two 1,200 x 1,080-pixel OLED displays.

As with most things, the higher the resolution, the better the picture will be. Plus, since the headset is sat so close to your eyes, you may notice the individual pixels more so than on a phone or TV screen.

Field of view: Many of the companies putting out VR headsets will make a big deal out of their respective device’s field of view. Most will be around the 100 degrees mark. To put that in context, humans are capable of perceiving up to 180 degrees horizontally without moving their eyes.

When it comes to VR then, the bigger the field of view, the more immersive and realistic an experience you’ll get.

Refresh rate: Essentially, this is the number of frames per second the screen will display. When it comes to VR, refresh rate is even more important as a higher rating helps heighten the feeling of realism.

So whereas a monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate will look fairly smooth, when it comes to a headset that’s trying to create a sense of virtual reality, a higher rate means a better experience. Anywhere from 90 to 120Hz will make for a smooth and immersive VR excursion.

persistence: Persistence refers to the length of time each pixel in the display remains lit and is important when it comes to limiting motion sickness. A full persistence display renders a frame and shows it on-screen until the next frame.

With VR, that causes problems with judder and motion blurring as the frame is only correct in relation to where you’re looking. That means if you’re turning your head continuously and the refresh rate isn’t high enough to keep up with your movement and re-render each frame in relation to where you’re looking, you’ll begin to feel the effects of motion sickness as the information on the screen isn’t keeping up with your movements.

With low persistence, the VR display will only light the correct pixels for as long as you’re looking in the right place, and will immediately blank them out once the scene isn’t relevant to your head movement. With a high enough refresh rate, this continuous lighting and darkening of pixels becomes imperceptible to the human eye, resulting in a much smoother and less nauseating experience.

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