What does a virtual reality (VR) headset do?
Nowadays, talking about virtual reality is talking about the metaverse. The two concepts are so intertwined that they are often used as synonyms. But the idea of an out of reality experience started long before Mark Zuckerberg came into this world.
Some specialists believe that the first prototype of what would become virtual reality appeared in 1853, at the hands of the British Charles Wheatstone. He was the inventor of stereoscopic glasses, which used mirrors in front of the eyes with a slight angle in the lens. Thus, two side-by-side images (drawings or photos) were superimposed, bringing a sense of volume and immersion.
It was in the 1960s, however, that virtual reality began to gain clearer contours, at the hands of scientist Morton Heilig. He created Sensorama, an arcade that featured a chair that moved, glasses with a viewfinder, speakers and even a few scents to intensify the experience. Around the same time, Philco engineers created Headsight, a visual stimulus and object recognition project that used a remote camera.
In 1985, the company VPL Research – which still launches products related to this universe – began to invest in the area and ended up making the term Virtual Reality official, which basically consists of an environment created entirely digitally, with the aim of creating something very close to reality. Through the use of gadgets, visual and sound effects, technology is able to insert the user in this environment and make it possible for him to interact with what is being shown.
Virtual reality and other realities
It is important to differentiate the concept of virtual reality, augmented reality and 360º videos. When we talk about augmented reality, we refer to something that is based on the real world and features virtual elements, creating a mixed reality – unlike virtual reality, which is 100% digital. Good examples of augmented reality are Instagram and Snapchat filters and the Pokémon GO game.
360-degree videos often require gadgets to view. But the videos are just recordings of real environments. In the case of virtual reality, the environment presented is created entirely digitally, although it is often simulating a physical reality.
Virtual reality glasses
The “access” to virtual reality is done through specific glasses or headsets. This equipment was designed so that no external interference occurs, completely covering the eyes and the top of the nose. The lenses produce an effect called stereoscopic 3D, which is what allows the user to fully interact with the environment.
The technology deceives the brain so that it “believes” that it is seeing a real environment, in which several virtual objects are positioned. Thus, what is transmitted is an environment with the same sensations of depth, height and width of a real place.
In addition, the glasses have a feature called “head tracking”, which allows the internal software to recognize your position and determine the area around you. When the user moves his head sideways or looks around, the system understands the movement and shifts the images in the same direction. The speed at which this is done is still not ideal – so many people report headaches or nausea when using the device.
Games and virtual reality
In the 1990s, virtual reality began to leave the laboratories and become part of the gaming world.
In 1993, the company Sega announced that it would launch a headset for the Mega Drive game, but unfortunately, the project ended up never leaving the prototype stage. Two years later, in 1995, it was Nintendo ‘s turn to try to enter this market. They released the Virtual Boy, an out-of-the-ordinary headset-accompanied game with red and black 3D graphics. The project also failed, as the equipment caused headaches and was extremely uncomfortable to use.
The first headset that combined efficiency and slightly more affordable prices was Oculus Rift, created by Palmer Luckey in 2013. The following year, the operation was purchased by Facebook. The equipment was launched on the market with nine games already available, and a series of partnerships to guarantee new launches.
The success of Oculus Rift led other companies to invest in the segment of virtual reality games. In 2016, Sony created the PlayStatiion VR system for the PlayStation4 console, and Valve and HTC companies teamed up to create the HTC Vive; later, Valve would develop their own headsets, released in 2019. Similarly, RoundMe is the most powerful VR app that we know as of now.
Despite the success of games like Beat Saber, VR glasses and games had not yet mobilized a large audience. Many consider that the game that made the turn was Half-Life: Alyx, created by Valve and released in 2020, with advanced movements and motion control tools that prevented nausea.
Just like Alyx, the Resident Evil 4 game, released in 2021 by Armature Studio, allowed for complex interactions to load, aim and shoot with virtual weapons, in addition to opening doors and solving puzzles. Like its predecessor, the game is considered one of the most sophisticated ever released in the field.
Virtual reality plays a key role within the metaverse. It is this technology that makes it possible to create the parallel worlds imagined by Mark Zuckerberg, possibly with the help of augmented and extended realities. In the view of Meta’s CEO, in the future the metaverse will be the new internet: instead of entering the web through a cell phone or computer, we will enter virtual worlds through headsets.