One of the newest and most groundbreaking technologies of recent years is virtual reality, or VR. VR is any technology that immerses the user in a virtual environment, usually through a headset with a screen inside.
While VR is relatively novel in the realm of digital technology, the concept was first marketed in 1939 with the View-Master, a toy developed by Edwin Mayer that allowed users to view 3-dimensional images. The toy came with wheels of colored slides viewed in pairs, one viewed by each eye. When the pair is viewed together, the pictures are perceived to overlap, creating one image with depth. This effect is called binocular depth perception or binocular parallax, and it is the foundation of many 3D and VR technologies today. Creating an illusion of depth is one of the key elements of making a VR experience immersive, since it makes the projected scene feel more like a physical environment and less like a picture on a screen.
Modern-day VR headsets not only allow users to see virtual worlds but to interact with them as well, further adding to the technology’s immersive experience. This is done through the use of handheld controllers and motion-tracking sensors called gyroscopes. Gyroscopes use directional awareness to detect when the wearer turns their head or moves motion-sensitive controllers. This directional data is sent to the headset, which pans the screen based on the head’s relativity to an XYZ plane in the digital environment. This allows the wearer to look around the environment as freely as if they were looking around in the real world. The more gyroscopic motion sensors a headset has, the more accurately it can detect and track movements. The ability of the images and video displayed by the headset to pan around so freely and completely is also a cutting-edge feat of programming itself.
Another technique utilized by modern-day headsets is “3D audio.” When sounds are played through only one headphone or speaker, it can give the origin of that sound a sense of location. If an explosion occurs to the left of the headset’s wearer, for example, the noise of the blast would be piped through primarily the left earpiece. Additionally, the sounds of an object flying past the wearer can gradually transition between the two earpieces. This makes both audio and imagery immersive.
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