Beginner’s Guide to Virtual Reality: Everything You Need to Know

If it seems like the world of technology is changing faster than you can keep up, that’s because it is. Even tech geniuses have to adapt as computers and virtual reality outpace them.

As a beginner to the world of VR, there’s a lot of catching up you need to do before you can truly immerse yourself in the benefits. 

The good news is that you don’t have to take a course in technology or spend hours watching videos. Everything you need to know to understand today’s level of VR is right here in this article.

1. The Quick History of VR

Similar to the myth of the time machine, virtual reality started out as a fantasy plotline. When author Stanley G. Weinbaum wrote his short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles in 1935, he opened a veritable Pandora’s Box of ideas.

Weinbaum’s subject was an elfin professor who invented a pair of goggles. They were essentially a movie that allowed the viewer to access all the senses. One would feel as though they were in the scene, able to communicate with everything around them.

From Fiction to Reality (Virtual, That Is)

From this fictional idea came more than one hundred years of experiments. The 1960s brought us a head-mounted VR system—cumbersome and basic, but a good start. 

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The 1990s reopened the passion for virtual reality with the hit movie “The Lawnmower Man.” In it, a disabled landscaper partners with a cutting-edge physician to use computer simulation to retrain his brain.

But what really took VR to its current role in the spotlight happened in 2010. Teenager Palmer Luckey’s prototype of a realistic, functional VR headset caught the eye of crowd funders everywhere. 

Eventually, the prototype turned into the now obsolete Oculus Rift, and the company was bought for two billion dollars by Mark Zuckerberg. Since then, the technology has spawned countless ideas around the world.

2. How VR Works (an Overview)

All virtual reality starts with a core piece: the headset. Picture this like a pair of goggles. Cheaper sets will be bulky and heavy; more advanced gear is lightweight and streamlined. 

The headset connects to a computer or cellphone and a set of headphones. These tools allow the user to run an app or program through their goggles. The info is transmitted from the computer to the headset, creating a simulated experience.

Other accessories are optional, but they can enhance the game or app. Add-ons include hand controllers, joypads, and even accessories to bring smell into the world. 

These tools were initially used by gamers; however, the potential of VR is endless. Now, the technology is already in place ready in place in industries like healthcare, stock trading, and real estate. And those are only tapping the tip of the iceberg of what could be done with virtual reality.

3. Terms to Know

Now that you have an idea of what a VR experience looks like, it’s time to delve into the terms used in the field. As you explore VR, you’ll see these phrases crop up frequently.

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Field of View (FOV)

Scientifically, your field of view is anything you see at that moment. VR headsets use FOV to refer to your perception in the virtual world. Currently, all VR environments have a smaller FOV than what we see in reality. 

The better the headset is, the larger the FOV becomes, making it easier to believe you’re in the simulated place.

Degrees of Freedom (DoF)

“Degrees of Freedom” refers to the movements you make and how they’re tracked. The lower the DoF (typically 3DoF), the fewer movements are tracked. 

Generally, the most common terms are 3DoF and 6DoF. 3DoF tracks the movements of your head. 6DoF, also called positional tracking, will track the movements of your head and where it is in the physical space.

Inside Out vs. Outside In Tracking

When the camera is inside the headset, it tracks your movement from there, going outward (inside out). The more advanced the algorithms are, the more the outside environment is tracked, too. 

Inside Out tracking is used by headsets like Oculus Rift. Outside In tracking uses external hardware that follows the environment instead of internal cameras. It helps the system see your whole body’s movements, rather than your head only. 

With these main terms under your belt, you can jump into VR and expand your dictionary easily. 

As with the real world, the more you explore what virtual reality is capable of doing, you’ll run into new and exciting experiences you didn’t know existed.

Conclusion

Stepping into virtual reality doesn’t require any substantial background knowledge. 

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Of course, the more you know, the easier the transition from the “real world” into a simulated environment becomes. But all you need to know to make your first VR experience a good one is right here in this short guide. 

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