What is VR and how it works?

HWM (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

In essence, the goal of VR is to cre­ate an im­mer­sive mul­ti­me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence, putting you in a world, real or imag­ined, and let­ting you in­ter­act in that world. The ul­ti­mate goal is pre­sum­ably like that scene in Dis­ney’s To­mor­row­land where Casey New­ton ex­pe­ri­ences the “jour­ney” to “To­mor­row­land” when­ever she touches the pin. As we take in most in­for­ma­tion of our sur­round­ings via our vi­sion, the pur­suit of VR be­gins with fool­ing our eyes enough to be­lieve that we ac­tu­ally are in a re­al­ity sep­a­rate from the real world.

To do this, spe­cial stereo­scopic dis­plays that look like gog­gles are used, with two sep­a­rate im­ages sent to each eye, sim­i­lar to the con­cept of 3D. This cre­ates a more com­plex but more be­liev­able per­cep­tion of depth. Some go the ex­tra mile of im­mers­ing our other senses into the ex­pe­ri­ence, but few go be­yond pro­vid­ing ear­phones for the sound depart­ment, let alone the full im­mer­sion that al­lows us to run, climb and all that with­out bump­ing into any­thing in the real world.

Of course, that sort of full im­mer­sion is not fea­si­ble now, just as VR as a whole was not fea­si­ble 5 decades back. Even in the vis­ual depart­ment, there are some is­sues that still need iron­ing out.

Our eyes are very used to the smooth­ness of real life; what­ever reg­is­ters in our sight changes with ev­ery minute move­ment of our eyes and head. VR head-mounted dis­plays (HMD) aren’t as per­fect just yet, as there will be a slight de­lay be­tween when we move our heads and when the dis­play in the HMD adapts ac­cord­ingly. This lag, how­ever minute, will con­trib­ute to a nau­se­at­ing feel­ing cur­rently in­evitable with ex­tended pe­ri­ods of VR; the brain is try­ing to con­vince it­self that the rea­son you’re not see­ing change in your field of view im­me­di­ately is be­cause you’re not ac­tu­ally look­ing at real life.

Then there is the is­sue of re­fresh rates and frame rates. Ocu­lus and Valve agree that what­ever we see in VR needs to be ren­dered at at least 90fps for a smooth, nau­sea-free ex­pe­ri­ence, but that will re­quire some pow­er­ful hard­ware, and such power can be dif­fi­cult to achieve depend­ing on the type of HMD. The dis­play that is the win­dow into the world of VR it­self needs to be ca­pa­ble of a re­fresh rate equal to or greater than the fram­er­ate of the con­tent. If ei­ther fails, not only does it re­sult in an ex­pe­ri­ence that isn’t im­mer­sive enough, it also means that nau­sea will come knock­ing on your door again. This is sim­ply be­cause the brain isn’t used to hav­ing to deal with re­fresh rates, and 90FPS seems to be a frame rate that is too fast for our eyes to per­ceive the in­di­vid­ual frames.

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