Currently, virtual reality is based on stereoscopic displays such as glasses and headsets, and is mostly used for entertainment purposes. However, it includes much more than visual effects – and has actually been around for a long time.
Virtual reality, in its most ordinary form, works through visual and auditory stimuli. Because of that, it’s pretty common to use headsets that completely cover eyes and ears, depriving the user of hearing and seeing anything outside of the virtual reality. “Real” reality is something you want to block out completely.
So, how does it work? Answer: three-dimensional mind tricks
VR thrives on creating an illusion of depth – making you think a two-dimensional screen is actually three-dimensional and that you’re in it. This is accomplished using something called “stereoscopy”, which basically involves projecting two images at your eyes to trick your brain into thinking there’s just one.
And stereoscopy isn’t anything new – as early as the 19th century artists and photographers were creating stereoscopic images to create the illusion of three-dimensions. But these days, it’s taken to a whole new level, used in movies and other computer generated three-dimensional environments.
And yes, that means VR. Think of the Oculus Rift as a machine that interpolates so many images at once that not only do you think they’re three-dimensional – but that you can move through the dimension.
But the most impressive feature of VR headsets is their ability to interact with the user’s head movements. When using a VR headset, the view is completely overlaid by a 3D viewer. The generated image does not remain static in a single point; it follows the user’s movement.
The major improvement of modern virtual reality devices is in the fast processing of images and correction of distortion of the lenses. Pretty cool stuff, right? Check out our recommendations for some iPhone-enabled headsets here and here.