Beginners Guide to VR (Virtual Reality)

Your beginners guide to VR (Virtual Reality) starts here.

Sometimes joining a party after it’s started can feel really awkward. Everyone already knows each other, the dancing has started, and you’re feeling like you wished you’d managed to get there earlier because now it feels impossible to catch up. And we know people feel like that with technology. It can feel really hard, or even impossible to catch up, especially as the world of technology moves so fast. If you are out of the loop with VR, worry no more, we’ve got your back. Here’s a short beginners guide to VR (Virtual Reality) for you to get your teeth in to, looking at what it is, it’s position within the technology world and why it’s useful to have.

VR: What is it?

VR stands for Virtual Reality. In a nutshell, VR is cutting edge technology that can be used for many different purposes including business, entertainment, recreation, training and gaming. VR has played a significant role in gaming and consequently that association is still very strong, but it really isn’t just for games! 

Generally here at Circus, when we talk about VR, we’re talking about a virtual reality created by technology. It allows you to experience and interact with a 3D world that either isn’t real or is a location accessed remotely. VR’s ultimate purpose is to simulate settings and environments realistically enough to fool the human mind into accepting them as real.

Usually for VR to fully immerse you in a 3D world, you would need to wear a VR headset and sometimes use gloves or a hand controller, but it is still possible to experience virtual realms via computer, tablet or phone. When you wear a headset to experience VR it sits much nearer your eyes then a computer screen would do. This means you are really immersed in your simulated environment and your distracting surroundings are removed. However, it means that the computer has to deliver much higher resolution images to make sure the experience is smooth and consistent. 

VR can be created as stand alone with headsets and controllers or created by using an external device such as a PC, console or just a mobile. Stand alone offers lots of flexibility as headsets are wireless and connect directly to the internet. You can then use an app store or similar where VR applications can be accessed. With this, you don’t need any other external device. However you will need a smartphone or tablet to set up the VR headset on your first use. A limitation for this type of VR is that all the computing power resides in the headset. This means that there may be limited processing power, less storage capacity and a poorer quality of image. Standalone VR can also really struggle if the WIFI connection is inconsistent. Some headsets offer a wireless feature, but they can also be linked to a PC offering the best of both worlds. One limitation of using VR through an external device, as opposed to the standalone approach, is the fact that you have to be physically plugged into the external device. Not so much of a problem for a seated experience, but if you need to get up and move around, physically being connected to something else in the room could get tricky!

How new is VR technology?

Well, not that new actually. There’s a lot of discussion as to when VR officially began, but back in the 1960’s a device called the Headsight was created. But there are also pre-digital versions of VR out there too. Artists had been painting 360 degree paintings many, many years before VR, with the idea of giving the viewer a fuller, richer experience where you are taken to another place. And that is something VR can give us – a fuller, richer experience that takes us to another place. 

You might not think it, but VR technology is built upon ideas that date all the way back to the 1800s, almost to when practical photography was invented. In 1838, a device called a ‘stereoscope’ was invented. A stereoscope used twin mirrors to project a single image. Over time, this idea was developed, and in 1939 it was patented as ‘The View Master’. View Masters are still around today!

The idea of developing simulated environments is something technologists had also been working on for a while. The first real breakthrough happened in the 50’s by Morton Heilig, who had a background in Hollywood’s motion picture industry. He created an experience where the audience could really feel that they were in a movie. The piece was called ‘Sensorama’ and it simulated the real city environment. Viewers got to ride around Brooklyn on a motorbike. You could see the road, feel the vibration, hear the noise of the engine and smell the exhaust fumes! As you can see, VR isn’t really a brand new technology. And the technology that exists now would never have been possible without the work that came before. 

Why VR?

There are different types of VR: immersive, non immersive, web based and so on. The one that gets us excited is the fully immersive type, using headsets and some sort of hand controller. Why? Well, it’s this type of VR that gives us the most options. It means you can explore the galaxy, train employees in near to real situations, undergo practice for a seriously difficult surgical operation in challenging circumstances, or take an underwater tour of a shipwreck. It can be used for work, leisure, pleasure, training, personal growth, physical rehabilitation… the list goes on! The uses of VR are manifold, and anyone can use it. 

Some of the applications of VR are seriously astonishing. Let’s take the field of medicine for example. As cited above, surgeons can practice complex and delicate operations in a near to real simulated environment. Having the opportunity to practise surgical skills means better outcomes for anyone having an operation. We think that’s pretty extraordinary. 

So when you think about VR now, hopefully we’ve given you some solid info to go on. That this beginners guide to VR (Virtual Reality) has got the ball rolling. How will you be using this tech? For work, for leisure, for excitement, or to develop skills? With VR, the world can be your oyster. 

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