Virtual reality – or VR – is name for various computer-powered devices or gadgets which can alter our perspectives on the environment. By far the most used technique in VR is stereo vision with use of binoculars. These binoculars may have a fully enclosed eyecups which help eyes focus only on information processed with it. VR uses our ability to see in 3D which is called stereopsis. By using our stereopsis, VR devices offer us a simulated depth of vision, something that standard 2D television/video picture doesn’t show to us.
Why is that so important? 2D picture coming from our television screens is distorted in a way which show us a clear image of the things shown, but it is still not feeling that this object has depth the way we see things in reality. This way the term “virtual reality” is largely explained. However, VR is not just limited to using stereopsis. Modern devices now exploit the fact that using a VR headset, our eyes are fully enclosed and limited to the picture produced and processed by the device.
Use of digital technologies to alter the appearance of the world around us is not a new phenomenon. VR headsets which used two analog pictures of different colors as a mean to emulate depth of objects shown on these have been around for decades. Occurrence of film and vision gave scientist an idea: if we use two cameras at a distance equal to distance between the eyes in one’s heat, and project the picture from each to the viewer’s respective eye, it will probably make full use of their 3D vision (stereopsis). That was proven correct, and laboratory tests with stereo vision tests showed that this way we can transmit the perception of depth along with two dimensions already transferred by already existing television and movies.
However, it was not until mid-2000s that VR devices have been put into massive use. It was due to huge, prohibiting price of headsets and other hardware for end-user, as well as limited ability of these devices to have any other uses.
The virtual reality (VR) revolution happened well after 2010 when a teenager named Palmer Luckey developed the first VR headset which used modern digital services such as digital camera, wireless connectivity and software applications. This headset, called Oculus VR, was first used to enhance computer gaming experience, which was the inventor’s primary intention. Oculus later partnered with Samsung to create an integrative environment which would turn a smartphone into a VR camera and display with help of binoculars.
Finally, Oculus Rift, a fully digital 3D headset was released in early 2016. This device can be used as a game console, 3D video player and a professional device which can help people develop and design. Unlike the Samsung counterpart, it does not have real time camera abilities, which is expected to be added on the future models.
At the same time, in early spring of 2016, HTC announced Vive, a rival product to Samsung Gear. This is the first VR headset which features its own camera available on the market. This unit also emphasizes gaming applications, while full utilization of its camera feature is expected to happen in a later stage of software library development.
However, knowing that all these devices cost $600 or more, that price is still a major impediment to its use. And it’s not only problem in developing countries. Even in OECD countries people are consistently bombarded with new and short living gadgets such as phones, tablets, smart watches etc. Most of these are designed to last for a year or two at maximum. With a high frequency of replacement an older device with a brand new, the “digital expense” is becoming a major hit to the household’s budget. Even some similar products to VR headsets, which emphasize broader usefulness, such as Google Glass, have poor sales owing to the price and slower aftermarket software development than expected.
A reconciling solution is brought by Google. It’s a cardboard head mount for a smartphone, which consists of less or more anatomic cardboard sheets and cheap plastic magnifying glasses used for focusing and extending the field of virtual view. The item, called simply the Cardboard, can be ordered from Google for $15. Similar head mounts can be also found on websites such as Aliexpress for as little as $1 plus shipping. Besides Cardboard, there is a wide variety of third party stuff which are made of plastic and somewhat more quality lenses, have a better anatomic grip and more comfortable head straps. All of these source the usability from the Cardboard’s software development efforts.
With a Cardboard or similar devices, you can use even a cheap smartphone as a makeshift VR station. Some bit pricier head mounts feature a remote control which is very useful for games and movies, since your phone is consistently locked in the head unit. Models which feature remote control units can be found at around $15, which is still a tiny price considering the full potential of VR which will be unleashed in the short future with many new films, games and various useful software awaiting to be released soon.