What is Virtual Reality: The Essential Guide to Our Simulated Future

April 14 2020

htcOculusvalve index

What is virtual reality going to offer the world in terms of business solutions and practical applications? It’s a question on the minds of almost every marketer and tech enthusiast.

Virtual reality, or VR, has gathered a lot of hype in the last year, but many remain unconvinced about whether there is real substance behind the style. Is VR just a fad, or is there much more than hype?

It’s time to find out.

In this guide to virtual reality technology, we’ll find out what virtual reality is, how VR technology works, and how different industries are leveraging the advantages of virtual reality through VR devices, apps, and business solutions.

Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

What is virtual reality?
How does virtual reality work?
Virtual reality devices
Examples of virtual reality apps
Future of virtual reality

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a type of computer technology that creates a simulated, immersive environment wherein the user can interact with three-dimensional (3D) space. As VR technology simulates human senses, including sight, touch, hearing, and even smell, the computer effectively acts as a gatekeeper to an artificial 3D world.

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

Humans love to get lost in stories and creative pursuits. Activities like painting, screenwriting, and reading can facilitate a mild hallucinogenic experience of sorts, but VR technology is something different entirely.
Advances in VR technology make it possible to bring an artificial reality close to the user, to the point it is an immersive experience we can see, hear, and touch. This is made possible through a range of VR devices, such as:

  • A desktop computer
  • A smartphone
  • A head-mounted display (HMD), like VR goggles or a VR headset.

These devices create the 3D space and perform input tracking to monitor user actions, such as head or hand movement, and speech patterns.

Oculus Rift S

Source: Zen Entertainment

Typically, HMDs comprise the following key components and features:

  • Display screens to show the user what is happening.
    Lenses that reshape images to present them as stereoscopic 3D images. The display splits the feed to each eye, creating depth in the images to give the user the sense that they are looking into three-dimensional space.
  • HDMI cable to transfer the video feed from the computer or console to the display screens.
    Wide field of view that spans 100 or 110-degrees, so the 3D world follows you whenever you look around.
  • A high frame rate of at least 60fps to ensure the world reacts as expected, which keeps the illusion intact.
  • An input tracking device that communicates with the system's processing unit to tell it the orientation of a user's point of view. This device uses sensors to track the user's direction and speed, so the display adjusts the images as the user moves.

6 Best Virtual Reality Devices in 2020

Here’s something not everyone realizes:

VR is not new.

The concept of virtual reality has been around for decades, with sci-fi movies like The Matrix, making us crave such incredible, other-worldly experiences. However, it took a little longer for science to catch up with art.
So, now that it has, we have to ask:

What is virtual reality capable of in 2020?

It's not quite at the level Neo and Morpheus had access to, but VR new technology is making huge strides. Here are some of the best virtual reality devices available today:

1. Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is the de facto gold standard of virtual reality headsets. After Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014 for a cool $2 billion, the company went all out to establish its brand as the market leader. Although its move towards global VR dominance has been slower than expected, Facebook has had some success with the flagship HMD - the Oculus Rift. This model is equipped with a high field of view that makes it perfect for video games.

Oculus Rift on the other hand is a tetherless VR headset which means it doesn't need to be wired to a computer. Because of that feature, it's more comfortable to use. Oculus made an incredible feat by pairing the headset with computer through Oculus Link which provides enough performance even for more demanding applications. The other highly-praised feature is hand tracking. Most VR headset require controllers to manipulate with objects in simulated environment. With hand tracking you don't need controllers anymore - instead of controllers you are using hand gesture to perform actions.

Quest Circuit Stream

Oculus Quest also has affordable price point making it one of the most popular headset for vr development. Read our Oculus Quest development setup guide if you're eager to start developing apps for the Quest.

2. HTC Vive

The main challenger to Oculus is the HTC Vive, which is the leading VR headset and controller combo currently on the market. HTC boasts groundbreaking room-scale technology and packages it in a sleek yet powerful, innovative kit that delivers a fully immersive gaming experience. After its attempts to crack the smartphone market faded, HTC looks set to go all-in with virtual reality -- more on that below.

flagship htc

You can learn more about the battle for supremacy of VR headsets by checking out our blog post, HTC Vive vs. Oculus.

3. Valve Index

Valve Index is another tethered high quality and high performance virtual reality headset on the market. Their developers, a software company Valve which are most known for their gaming platform Steam, released it on June, 2019. The headset bundle provides accurate tracking with controllers and high refresh rate which is perfect for applications such AAA-produced VR games. But Valve works great with business solutions such as virtual reality training where precision is important.

Valve Index Circuit Stream

4. Samsung Gear VR / Google Daydream

The next VR device on our list is the Samsung VR headset and Google Daydream. Samsung with Oculus at its core is a more affordable option for most people to dip their toes in the virtual reality pond. You can use it with a smartphone, and of course, the latest Samsung phones are the best choice for the job.

google daydream

Gear VR and Daydream was a step up from Google Cardboard and are mainly used for watching 360 degree videos or simplified smartphone games. The performance of these devices comes from users smartphone which is limited.

However both devices are going becoming increasingly less popular due to "true vr" competition from Oculus, HTC, or Valve Index.

If you're interesting in developing for either of those, read our development setup guides for Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR.

5. Google Cardboard

The Samsung Gear isn’t the only device worth considering if you want to have a virtual reality experience with your smartphone. Google Cardboard is a user-friendly, cost-effective VR device that makes it easy to get started with VR gaming. Just pop your phone into the cardboard frame and away you go!

Googel Cardboa

Source: Google Store

7. Haptic Gloves

What is virtual reality - just headsets?
You may wonder that, but it's not the case. Not at all. You can dive further into fictional worlds with various VR devices that enhance the immersive experience. Haptic gloves use sensors to track hand movements and gestures and also use vibrations to serve users with tactile feedback while they navigate through 3D environments. HaptX is widely considered to be the best haptic glove in the VR market, but there is a mounting buzz about the Teslasuit Glove set to launch later in 2020.

haptic gloves circuit Stream

8. Treadmills

If you have the money and lots of space at home, another VR device worth a look is the Virtuix Omni Treadmill. You can walk, run, or jump in 360-degrees spaces, making exercise more fun as you explore a virtual world.

Source: virtuix.com

The Best Virtual Reality Apps in 2020

Now that you know what virtual reality is, and how VR works, it’s time to look at some of the best virtual reality apps. Here are the most exciting ways in which the real world is using VR technology in 2020.

Virtual Reality Games

What is virtual reality meant for if not the gaming world? The concept of VR came straight out of futuristic science fiction movies, and now that the technology is finally worth talking about, gamers can't get enough of it.
Here are the best VR games to lose yourself in 2020:

Half-Life: Alyx

The Half-Life game series already had a big reputation before Alyx came along. With high expectations, this installment could have been a disappointment, but thankfully, it’s been a rousing success.

This mind-bending VR game takes the ingenious puzzles and sci-fi horror adventure into a new dimension in more ways than one. If you only play one VR game this year, make it Half-Life: Alyx.

Alyx Hand Tracking

No Man's Sky

In 2019, Hello Games released the action-adventure survival game, No Man’s Sky to much fanfare. While there are plenty of games to immerse yourself in now, No Man’s Sky offers an encapsulating environment that makes it stand out from the rest.

Superhot VR

First-person shooters were already good. When you take this simple premise and give it a VR upgrade, you have the makings of a very addictive past time. Superhot has nailed the blueprint, utilizing 360-degree tracking to amazing effect, as enemies can come up from behind you if you’re not careful.

Virtual Reality Business Solutions

So, what is virtual reality bringing to the table in terms of business solutions? How is VR improving strategy, sales, marketing, and customer service?

Source: Statista

Studies from Statista project that companies in the U.S. alone will spend over $5 billion on mixed reality technologies in 2020. When you hear that, surely it’s offering something special in return, right?

Let’s take a look.

Virtual Reality Training

Training employees is one of the most used business applications of virtual reality. By creating a digital twin or a virtual simulation of training scenario, the users learn to perform complex task without consequences.

For example, a chemical manufacturer INVISTA, implemented a virtual reality training for one of the nylon machines. Before the VR training the machines had to be turned off. With traditional training the new employees performance was compromised by loud and hot environment as well.

spooling-gif

One the virtual training was introduced INVISTA was able to train more people in less time with the same proficiency as with traditional training.

What about training in healthcare? OssoVR runs virtual training simulations for soon-to-be surgeons. In VR environment a surgeon-in-training performs hundreds of incisions on a digital issue making sure the procedure is perfect before "the real deal".

Virtual meetings

According to Owl Labs, about 62% of employees between the ages of 22 and 65 work remotely some of the time, while 30% work remotely full-time.

This revolutionary shift in the dynamics of the workforce will probably continue in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more people taking steps to work from home on a continuing basis. As a result, companies need to adapt to make sure the loss of in-person collaboration doesn't harm productivity.

With virtual meetings, companies can go beyond simple video calls to utilize full-body immersion. In 2019, HTC announced a new business unit, VIVE Enterprise Solutions, which provides a full portfolio of extended reality (XR) solutions for business purposes. The company is also set to launch VIVE Sync, which facilitates global VR meetings, allowing up to 30 people to interact in a virtual meeting space from anywhere in the world.

Customer service training

It’s not easy to train new employees for every possible situation they may encounter. However, with VR training, you can certainly ensure recruits are better prepared for their job without the risks that could arise in real life. Walmart uses virtual reality to train employees on a wide variety of scenarios, from spills in the aisle to interactions with unruly customers.

Immersive sales

One of the best use cases of virtual reality is the ‘try before you buy’ feature that companies in retail, beauty, and home decor are offering. The Italian furniture brand, Natuzzi, enables customers to visualize different products and decorations in their own homes through a VR experience that makes interior design easy and enjoyable.

Another stunning example is the Volvo Reality app that allows people to test drive a car before buying -- without leaving the showroom. The app combines with a VR headset, offering a fun game that also influences customers with their purchasing decisions.

Next-level content

Regardless of how technology changes the digital landscape, content marketing remains a central tenet of business growth in practically every industry. Text-posts are giving way to visual-first content, with infographics and video now the preferred choice for many companies, and their audiences.

What is virtual reality doing for content marketing? National Geographic runs VR events where attendees can “visit” exotic and adventurous locations, getting up close to nature in jungles, and explore deep-sea wrecks.

Another stunning example is Sandbox VR, a sort of virtual arena where people strap the haptic suits and VR devices and battle out it out amongst each other in virtual environment. Sandbox VR enables a full-body social VR experience that trumps passive media consumption where most of the users are sitting down.

Immersive pitches

When you make a pitch for any new idea, the key to winning people over is to tap into their imagination and evoke emotion. What better way to do that than through virtual reality?

Today, the audio and visual capabilities of VR are so advanced that immersive pitches are much more than a gimmick. Instead, they can be exactly what is needed to sway investors.

Strata’s app, Spaces VR, allows investors to visualize how a new product will look on the shelves before it is even made. Using the technology to bolster a pitch is an excellent tactic to make long-term, large-scale projects feel more achievable, which is an enticing prospect for investors.

The Future: What is Virtual Reality Going to Offer the World?

After decades of derision, virtual reality technology is no longer a half-baked pipedream or sci-fi fantasy. So far, VR has been championed by the gaming world, but companies in all industries are waking up to its capabilities. There have been some incredible breakthroughs for VR in medicine, as it is used to assist surgeries and help Parkinson’s patients learn how to walk again.

Another exciting use of VR is military training. Alberto Lopez is a Circuit Stream course student that created a virtual battlefield, which is just one way that soldiers can benefit from this technology.

As more business solutions arrive on the market, the value of VR will continue to soar, as it allows brands to connect with customers in an immersive way that captures their attention, unlike any other form of marketing or sales.

Even if customers don't use VR technology as often as their smartphone or laptop, businesses can still benefit. Just by offering VR experiences or a dedicated app, a company gains a reputation as an innovative brand that is committed to providing a better customer experience.

Now, it's time to put your HMD on and tell us what you see in the future for virtual reality.

If you're looking to start developing for virtual reality, visit one of our free Introduction to VR workshops, or request a syllabus for XR Development with Unity course, where you learn all the fundamentals of VR in 10 weeks.

Get the XR Development Program

WRITTEN BY

CJ Haughey

Tech Writer

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