Virtual Reality Is Growing Fast

Virtual Reality (VR) is a bit of a buzzword these days, but the technology is real enough, advancing by leaps and bounds, and appears poised to be A Big Deal. It's a bit of an odd concept to get your head around, but if you ever used a View-Master toy, you are halfway there.

In fact, View-Master is supposed to be bringing us a VR version later this year. Imagine looking into a View-Master 3D stereoscope at a scene of, say, a field with sheep in it. Now imagine if you move your head, your field of view changes just like you were really standing in the field and looking around in person.

That's the basis of the VR experience. The ability of the viewed scene to change according to where you are looking is known as "head tracking".
What the View-Master VR device might look like

The environments you can find yourself immersed in may be "real" or fanciful - pretty much anything that creative minds can come up with. There are other factors that could be brought in, such as simulated "touch" (so you can effectively "feel" things in the virtual scene). For now the main goal is to provide a readily usable portable system that most people can use with little effort. Keeping headsets or viewing devices, light, comfortable and flexible are important goals for developers and designers. We have the technology well in hand; it just needs to be optimized.

VR is separate from "augmented reality" - the latter is more like the experience provided by something such as Google Glass. You might look at a store while wearing the Glass hardware and you would perhaps see which items the store has on sale, or perhaps which of your friends are in the store at the time. This information would appear to be "overlayed" or "projected" onto the real-world scene. There are some smartphone apps offering this ability, such as Layar and Yelp's Monocle. You hold your phone up as if to take a picture of a store (say), and would be presented with the information on the phone screen. This sort of functionality usually depends on GPS, so the software "knows" where you are

For a good overview of the kinds of hardware involved thus far, take a look at the short video below from Marques Brownlee, who always gives clear, informative presentations.

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