By SCOTT BAUGHMAN
If you’ve ever found yourself watching a High Definition movie or television show – say on your 4K television or computer monitor – you may have thought to yourself, “This image looks almost HYPER realistic, like it’s more definition than I see with my regular eyes!” And for some instances of HD entertainment, you’re correct. But what happens when you immerse yourself in that kind of image and then also include tactile and audio signals as well? That’s the basics of virtual reality.
In the previous installment of Technically Speaking we talked about “Augmented Reality” and how useful it has become in today’s world for video games, smartphone navigation and even real estate agents to name just a few uses of the AR tech. But what about Virtual Reality? What is it and how useful has it become in 2022?
The simplest definition of Virtual Reality is “The use of computer technology to create a simulated environment.” It is the idea of taking a computer and having it generate images, sounds and even physical pressure back to you to simulate or “convince” your mind that you aren’t sitting in your car or standing in your living room with a set of goggles on your face or gloves on your hands, but rather, you’re on the planet Qo’nos with Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise and getting ready to throw down with some Klingons. Or maybe you’re in Paris and getting ready to climb the Eiffel Tower with your sweetheart to watch the sunset over the city of lights. Or perhaps your swimming to the bottom of the ocean with Jacque Cousteau — or you’re doing any number of other impossible things before breakfast.
If Augmented Reality, or AR, is taking the existing world and enhancing it, then Virtual Reality, or VR, is taking a nonexistent reality and creating it out of whole cloth to make the experience seamless between the world you live in and the one you want to currently be experiencing. Obviously, the most extensive use of VR so far has been for video games and the world of entertainment.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has been pushing out their Oculus headset and handheld units to make experiencing VR easy and simply for many people since May of 2019. Already three years old, the headset that coordinates with many smartphones has proven to be quite popular, especially during the pandemic lockdowns for COVID-19. By utilizing a lot of the same technology found in smartphones, the Oculus Quest 2 – the current model – is a real bargain for what it delivers at around $400. The device is a standalone VR system that runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon microchip set and uses the Android operating system.
But if you want to coordinate it with your PC you can do so and use it simply as a goggle and handset monitor. However, let’s say you’re not really a video game fan, what’s the point of VR? In addition to playing games and simulating recreation, VR can also be used as a way to connect with people who are far away in a much more “physical lite” interaction than simply doing chat or a video call like ZOOM or Microsoft Teams or Apple FaceTime. If we were to meet each other in VR space, we could emulate “shaking hands” or “hugging” each other and there would be spatial components of watching each other walk around a room – taking the time to make conversational cues like getting closer or farther away from each other or changing our position relative to virtual objects in the VR space we occupy.
Educational uses for VR also exist that help students to interact with compounds, computers, teachers, classmates or even objects that they could never reach physically in a feasible manner. Schools and institutions have saved lots of money by having some scientific lab lessons switched to virtual versions so that students dissect simulated or virtual frogs, fetal pigs or of course human cadavers as they take anatomy lessons. Students are also able to interact with “dangerous” chemical compounds without the risk of creating noxious gases or blowing up the science lab – or simply having to clean up a lot of green goop when they improperly mix an acid with a base!
The future for VR is boundless as engineers use it to test new models of cars or aircraft without the risk of real world crashes or outer space technology without having to risk failure of the device when some future astronaut lands on Mars, way too far away from base for emergency repairs. In today’s world, VR is a very real success. Until next time…download complete!
By SCOTT BAUGHMAN