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VR: How does it work?

Have you ever wondered how virtual reality works and how we are instantly transported to new digital worlds? What components are needed to create a truly immersive reality? We will tell you in the article.

There have been significant changes in the virtual reality world in recent years. Initially, VR seemed to be something that exists only in fiction. Fortunately, it is now a reality. Almost everyone can visit VR attractions or try multiplayer VR games.

So how does virtual reality work and why is it such an important step in technological development?

Virtual reality creates a new environment, replacing the real world with immersive simulation. By using special hardware and software, VR presents a real-world alternative.

To achieve a sense of immersion and realism, virtual reality systems use various technologies such as infrared LEDs, motion sensors, cameras and screens. These devices collect information about movement and transfer it to the virtual world that the user sees. Accessories such as tactile feedback devices and sound systems are sometimes used.
Virtual reality is not just a substitute for what we see. It creates an environment that we can interact with. With the help of artificial intelligence and algorithms, VR headsets adapt the virtual world to the user's actions in order to trick the brain and make it feel like it is in another reality. VR headsets react to our actions and process them through software to create virtual objects and environments.

With the advent of new forms of virtual reality, the question of its functioning has become more complex. At the most basic level, all types of virtual reality immerse users in simulation by using various combinations of sensors, artificial intelligence and special equipment, such as headsets.

When people think about virtual reality, they often imagine the experience of total immersion. However, virtual reality provides different levels of engagement. The term "non-immersive virtual reality" is a bit of a misnomer because all forms of virtual reality have some degree of engagement. In these types of VR, your interaction with the virtual world is limited by basic capabilities. There are no advanced functions such as spatial position detection, sensors or gesture control. Instead, controllers are used to interact with the digital environment. Driving simulators are a good example. In this case, you sit behind the wheel and drive a car, just like in real life. Some simulators could imitate tactile feedback to make the experience more realistic. However, this type of VR usually does not use any headsets.

Sometimes called "mixed reality," semi-immersive virtual reality includes digital elements on top of real objects or environments. It is usually used for educational and entertainment purposes.
For example, pilots and flight engineers could use immersive displays to see digital content displayed on windshields and other devices. This kind of immersion is called semi-immersive because it does not create the illusion of another world. Instead, it simply complements the environment, similar to how it happens in augmented or mixed reality.

Most people imagine virtual reality as a "total immersion." Examples of full-immersion headsets are, for example, Meta Quest 2 and Quest 3. They allow users to experience a complete simulation.

When fully immersed in VR, the real world disappears, it is replaced by sounds, pictures, and even physical sensations that correspond to the image on a computer screen or display. Most often, this service is offered by VR clubs and parks. These headsets use artificial intelligence and sensor technology to respond to user actions and move them around the virtual world. Sometimes full-immersion virtual reality headsets can work together with tactile accessories to convince the brain that a person actually touchs objects in digital space and interacts with them.
All the possibilities of virtual reality, regardless of their form, usually depend on the use of various types of hardware and software. As already mentioned, these components have become more advanced. Among them:

  • VR headsets. These are the key devices of many virtual environments. They are put on the head and cover the user's eyes. They are called helmets or headsets and not only isolate you from the world, but also show you specific information related to the virtual simulation. The point here is that they replace the real world with a computer-generated image. These headsets include screens, cameras, motion sensors and infrared LEDs. They can take many forms, from wired devices connected to a computer to stand-alone headsets such as Meta Quest.

  • Lenses and screens. Virtual reality headsets have special lenses that are positioned between the screen (usually LED) and the eyes. They change the images, making them three-dimensional. The headset sends two images through these lenses (one for each eye). It also has infrared cameras inside that adjust the lighting depending on the environment. Trackers help the headset to adapt the contents of the screen to the movement of the head. Some devices can even track eye movement to improve image quality.

  • The viewing angle. This is an important part of the VR headset that coordinates the virtual world with the real one. An ordinary person sees the environment in the range from 200 to 220 degrees. Our vision through the left and right eyes overlaps at a certain angle, which allows us to perceive the three-dimensional world. Creating a 3D environment that matches a person's natural viewing angle is the way virtual reality headsets convince our brain that we are in another world. The realism of perception depends on how much our movements affect what we see. A minimum delay is necessary so that the device reacts instantly to movements when a person turns their head or changes the object of observation.

  • The frame rate. It determines how exciting our experience will be. Although human eyes can capture up to 1,000 frames per second, the brain processes information only up to 150 frames per second. Usually movies in cinemas are shown at a frame rate of only about 24 frames per second, but such films are not designed to reproduce reality. VR developers believe that frame rates below 60 frames per second could cause sickness and headaches.
  • Spatial sound. In recent years, it has become increasingly important in virtual reality. Sound and its direction affect how we perceive three-dimensional space. Advanced technologies use techniques to determine the location of sounds relative to the head. This means that if we walk through a room in virtual reality and someone calls us from behind, we will hear a sound coming from behind. Many audio technology developers have been using such 3D sound for many years, including YouTube, Spotify and even Google's virtual reality audio system.

  • Tracking the position of the head and body. Realistic visual effects and sound are needed to create a sense of immersion. However, the real magic of virtual reality lies in the fact that we can freely move and interact with the surrounding space, which reacts to our actions and position. Head tracking technology uses various sensors such as detectors and gyroscopes, as well as artificial intelligence to adapt the displayed image to our movements. Modern headsets such as Varjo XR-4 allow us to move freely and look around in 360 degrees, just like in real life.

  • Controllers. Some developers experiment with technologies such as sensors and trackers to reduce the need of controllers. However, many headsets still remain with them. Controllers are physical devices that allow users to interact with a virtual environment. For example, the controllers that are with Meta Quest 2 or 3. They transfer information about what we want to do into virtual reality software. However, as companies continue to develop more advanced motion and body tracking techniques, the answer to the question "How does virtual reality work?" may change. Perhaps in the future we will not have to use joysticks to move in the virtual landscape.

  • Software. It plays a key role in creating a VR environment, combining various functions such as delay, frame rate, position tracking and 3D tracking. Like many other programs, it is flexible and can be customized to satisfy different needs. Most programs include all the necessary data and code to create a 3D virtual world and characters. They also contribute to efficient transmission of information through a VR headset.
Virtual reality technologies are constantly being improved. According to experts, the virtual reality market is expected to increase by an average of 27.5% by 2030, as innovators explore new horizons.
In the near future, the answer to the question "How does virtual reality work?" will change as new hardware will be available, new opportunities in spatial computing will be explored, and more advanced artificial intelligence algorithms will be developed. Now, you can enjoy all its benefits in VR parks.