What is Virtual Reality?

  • Post last modified:24 February 2023
  • Reading time:36 mins read
  • Post category:Technologies
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What is Virtual Reality?

The term ‘Virtual Reality’ is used to describe a 3D computer-generated virtual environment that appears to be real to its users. A user can explore and interact with that environment. The virtual environment changes as per the users’ movement in their surroundings. Users are supposed to be a part of this virtual world and can manipulate/change the objects in the virtual world as well as take a series of actions to have an immersive experience.

Evolution of Virtual Reality

Basically, by the term ‘virtual reality’, we mean ‘near reality’. Jaron Lanier coined the term Virtual Reality in 1987. The major applications of virtual reality systems are in the entertainment and video games industries but there are other potential applications of virtual reality such as:

  • Education and training
  • Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Architecture
  • Sport
  • Fine arts
  • Entertainment
  • Retail
  • Media
  • Marketing

The concept of virtual reality has been traced back to the 1940s and earlier. A view master can be considered as an early days’ virtual reality. Most probably we all might have seen it in our childhood. A cinematographer, ‘Morton Heilig’, in the mid-1950s thought of a theater as an experience that would stimulate all the senses of the audience and let them enter more effectively into the stories. It was called ‘Sensorama’.

In 1960, Heilig designed a single-user console that included a stereoscopic display, stereo speakers, odor emitters, fans, and a moving chair. He also designed a head-mounted television display, which meant to allow its users to watch television in 3D.

In 1961, the engineers of ‘Philco Corporation’ developed the first head-mounted display and called it ‘Headsight’. It had a video screen and a tracking system which was connected to a closed-circuit camera system. It was meant for dangerous situations for remotely observing the real environment.

In 1966, he developed an HMD that could be connected to a computer system. The graphics required for the display was provided by the computer system. As the HMD was too heavy, Sutherland used a suspension system to hold it.

Applications of Virtual Reality

People are always unsure of the applications of virtual reality. They generally link virtual reality only with one of its applications i.e. gaming. However, virtual reality is applicable in many areas ranging from academic research to engineering, design, business, arts and entertainment. Actually, virtual reality produces data that is further used to develop new models, training methods, communication and interaction.

Let us discuss in detail some areas of application of virtual reality:

Education and Training

In the education sector, virtual reality creates a 3D environment wherein students can easily interact with their teachers or trainers. Virtual reality can present complex concepts in an easy and accessible way, which students can find interesting and enjoyable too.

Fine Arts

David Em was the first artist, who created a virtual world in the 1970s. He used mainframes at Information International, Inc., Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and California Institute of Technology for this purpose. Now, the new generation of artists is more interested in producing virtual reality artworks for displaying them in their art galleries or making them freely accessible online.

Virtual reality enhances the artist’s toolbox. The imagination, vision, and skill of the artist definitely expand in many ways by making the use of virtual reality.

Virtual reality has taken fine arts to a newer level of interest, learning, communication and expression. With the help of virtual reality, artists can create interactive art that allows a spectator to become part of the artwork. On the other hand, spectators can now experience art in a more realistic and immersive way. Apart from this, opportunities and avenues offered by virtual reality to the field of fine arts are boundless. An artist could combine traditional art with the virtual world in order to give a different and memorable experience to the viewers.


In engineering, virtual reality can be used for more effective and productive design, manufacturing and other engineering processes. Various 3D modeling virtual reality tools and preview and visualization techniques can be used across various phases and processes of engineering.

Virtual reality can be used to view engineering designs in 3D and explore them thoroughly so that errors, if any, can be detected at an early stage. It would help in identifying and mitigating probable risks before building the final product, which results in cost savings.

Virtual reality can help in creating detailed and in-depth product models that allow engineers to perform a complete analysis and test- ing of the product in a virtual environment before actually producing the product.

In engineering, virtual reality can be used in almost all the phases starting from product conceptualization, design planning and implementation. It helps in the early detection of structural weaknesses, design flaws, product faults and other engineering issues before sending it for final production.


Virtual reality in physical or occupational therapy proves to be a boon for medical practitioners. Before actually prescribing any therapy to patients, practitioners can test the results of therapy by using the virtual reality technology.

Apart from this, virtual reality can also be used for providing training to patients about therapy. The suggested exercises can be shown to patients in virtual environment so that they can have a better understanding of the steps/activities to be performed during the exercises.

Virtual reality helps practitioners to understand the patients’ response and emotions clearly to certain therapies and treatments. This helps practitioners to decide the best suitable therapy for a particular patient without using any invasive methods. Thus, the therapy can be customized as per the individual patient’s response to the virtual therapy.

Patients can better remember and understand the sequence of steps during exercises by visualizing it through virtual reality. In addition, virtual reality can be effectively used for the treatment of psychological conditions.

Theme Parks

Virtual reality in theme parks has taken the entertainment and fun experience of visitors to a newer level. It can create scenes, spaces and models that seem to be nearly impossible or are difficult to build in real life. It can create supernatural characters in the virtual world that cannot be easily created in the real world.

Virtual reality creates a big attraction for the visitors. Theme parks can change the digital experience of the visitors now and then. The theme park developers are not required to change the physical infrastructure. They have to only change the 3D virtual environment for the whole experience to change. It lets visitors have a feel of being in a different world altogether.

Universal Orlando is a popular theme park resort in Orlando, Florida, US which is based on the concept of virtual reality. There is a new attraction for its visitors called the ‘Halloween Horror Nights’. Apart from its usual ‘Haunted Houses’, it provides ‘Supernatural’, a virtu- al environment, to its visitors which lets the visitors have a different experience.

Walt Disney is also exploring various possibilities of virtual reality in its theme parks. Virtual reality is proving to be a cheap alternative to add new features and attractions to theme parks or extend the functionalities of the existing attractions without building any structure, erecting high towers, building theme sets or using seats that are hydraulic powered.


Retail design, plans and strategies can be tested virtually and then applied in physical stores. Moreover, virtual reality helps in creating product stories in a 3D environment in order to communicate the features, functions and benefits of the product to customers, which aim to provide a different shopping experience to the customers.

The introduction of virtual reality in retail has transformed the way of advertising, communication and product demonstration of retail chains.

As smartphone configurations are continuing to enhance, virtual reality experience on the phone is becoming more realistic and immersive. High-tech smartphones are becoming more common and can be accessed anywhere and anytime. So, most retailers prefer to develop mobile-based VR apps.

By using virtual reality technology, retailers can allow their customers to try out various combinations of the product’s color, text, and fabrics to see which one suits them the best. In this way, retailers can build strong and long-lasting relationships with their customers. It would not only help retailers to attract new customers but also retain the existing ones.


Virtual reality has the potential to change the way marketing is done. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of marketing is virtual reality. Virtual reality can help companies to gain an edge over their competitors by providing:

  • enhanced content
  • better product demonstration
  • immersive storytelling

Virtual reality in marketing could convey the message more effectively. It has the potential to emotionally connect with customers, which results in value addition to the brand. british Columbia, Marriot, Thomas Cook, Mercedes, GE, Xfinity & Nascar, Expedia, Oreo and Lipton are some brands that are using the virtual reality technology in their marketing strategies.


Virtual reality can also be used in measuring and analyzing the performance of various fitness-related activities and designing fitness equipment, accessories, and clothes. Apart from this, virtual reality can be used to provide fitness training wherein a trainee can perform in a virtual world. It helps in improving the confidence level of the trainee and removing any kind of fear related to fitness exercises and activities.

Certain steps in fitness and performance can be fine-tuned using virtual reality technology. The 3D virtual environment could also be used to suggest some changes in the training/schedule/techniques in order to achieve the desired results.


Virtual reality finds its application in the media in various ways and forms. This may include social media platforms, music, films, books, visual communication, TV, and radio. Some movies in which virtual reality technology is applied are:

  • The Matrix
  • The Lawnmower Man
  • Tron (1982)
  • ExistenZ

Some TV shows in which virtual reality technology is used are:

  • Red Dwarf
  • Doctor Who
  • Star Trek

Apart from this, there are some very good examples of books and music where a virtual environment is used.

Achieving Virtual Reality

Virtual reality can be achieved by having the right combination of hardware, software, and relevant content. It synchronizes visualization with sensors to achieve something that we call a ‘sense of presence’. Here, the user feels as if he/she is actually present in that virtual environment. The following are some prerequisites for achieving a true virtual reality experience:

  • High visual quality
  • High sound quality
  • Highly intuitive interactions
  • High pixel quantity and quality
  • Spherical view
  • Stereoscopic display
  • Minimum latency
  • Natural user interfaces
  • Precise motion tracking
  • High quality audio

In order to have an immersive experience into the virtual world, pow- erful hardware is required which can process a large amount of data in real time. There are various devices developed for virtual reality, such as head mounted displays (HMD), headsets, special gloves, and omnidirectional treadmills, etc. They stimulate the senses of users in order to give an ‘illusion of reality’.

Virtual reality technology takes human physiology into consideration in order to provide a real-world immersive experience using virtual reality devices. These devices create a 3D environment that appears to be realistic and without any boundaries that are usually associated with computer screens or TVs. So, whenever the direction of viewing is changed, the screen is mounted on the face of a user follows the movement of the direction of head.

Generally, video is sent via a High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cable from the computer or console to the virtual reality headset. In the case of mobile-based headsets, it is already on the smartphone that can be slotted into the headset. A VR headset generally uses either two feeds sent to one display or two LCD’s, one per eye.

By increasing the field of view using lenses, a virtual reality headset increases immersion. It is nothing but a view that shows how wide a picture can be. Most of the headsets use a 100/110-degree field of view to do the trick.

To avoid stuttering of images, a minimum of 60 frames per second frame rate is needed. Most headsets use 90 to 120 frames per second. Headsets also make use of head tracking, eye tracking, and motion tracking technology in order to adjust the display.

Companies Working in the Virtual Reality Sector

There are many companies working in the virtual reality field catering to the different verticals. Some are into gaming, some provide virtual reality headsets, some provide virtual reality software development kits, some create 3D models, some are into virtual visualization, etc. The following are some major companies working in the virtual reality field:


This company is considered to be a leader in the field of virtual reality. It has been acquired by Facebook. Oculus has top game developers on its board. Its popular product is Oculus Rift.


This company makes virtual reality headsets made of cardboard, known as ‘Google Cardboard’. It has been designed specifically for making virtual reality apps meant for Android smartphones. At present, its emphasis is on games. Google encourages developers to develop and sell virtual reality apps in Google Play. It does not develop virtual reality software like Oculus.


This company specializes in making 3D immersive and interactive simulations as well as visualization solutions. These are targeted mainly at government institutions, universities, and businesses. The software made by WorldViz lets its customers build 3D models that can be used for architecture and product visualization, safety training, etc.

The software made by Bricks & Goggles helps transform designs from some 3D modeling and CAD software into a 3D virtual reality environment. These can then be viewed in a life-like ‘3D Image’ making use of any of the available virtual reality headsets.

Marxent Labs

This company develops software meant for manufacturers and retailers. The software allows users to create 3D designs and showrooms for live demonstrations of their products. Customers can see and feel the demo product before its development.

Unity Technologies

This company provides a platform for developing virtual reality games. It is a leader in 3D game tech.


This company develops a virtual reality headset known as ‘HoloLens’. It has developed a ‘Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) on its own. It integrates and processes data from sensors and also does spatial mapping, voice and speech recognition, gesture recognition, etc.

Magic Leap

This company is into the making of a Head-Mounted Virtual Retinal Display. It is somewhat different from other virtual reality vendors. It places ‘3D Objects’ in the person’s field of view of the physical world.


This company makes virtual reality devices that are used to give 3D immersion in video games. M100 and M300 are two popular virtual reality devices.

Cast AR

This company makes software that allows projecting a ‘3D Holographic Image’ onto the user’s view. It thus places a virtual layer on top of the physical world.


This company makes a headset that is accompanied by ‘Hand-Held Controllers’ and a ‘Central Base Station’ in order to have an ‘Electromagnetic Field’ in a radius of around 8 feet. It offers immersive gameplay by detecting hand-held sensors’ movement.

Retinal Analytics

This company provides a ‘heatmap’ of user behaviors to companies regarding their browsing, navigation, and purchasing behavior on e-commerce websites. This enables companies to have a ‘3D visualization’ of user behavior and statistics. It helps virtual reality advertisers to monitor, track and analyze data and customize their ad strategies accordingly.


This company specializes in simulation and modeling, Big Data visualization and collaboration. In order to project a virtual reality environment on the walls of a ‘Room-Sized Cube’, it makes use of ‘CAVE’ which is a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.

Virtually Live

This company creates a stadium and player images in a virtual reality environment. It allows you to be in the stadium. It recreates the actual scene and allows you to walk through the stadium. You can even invite your friends to sit together. It is just like a real-life game.


This company gives an immersive shopping experience to its online users. It offers solutions designed especially for home decor and furniture companies. These companies can scan their products and convert those products into 3D models. The customers of these companies can scale models to fit in a virtual room and can see how it will look when they place it in an actual room.


This company develops software that creates virtual visualization and 3D displays of very large data and CAD designs. It lets ship designers have a walk-through of the ship before building it. It also offers design reviews, in-depth rehearsal of training activities, validation of maintenance tasks, and verification of the manufacturing and assembly processes.


This company creates a headset that is spatially aware and combines virtual reality with augmented reality. It also makes graphics cards that are high-powered and specifically designed for virtual reality content developers and creators. The company also provides ‘Liquid VR SDK’ for developing different virtual reality apps.


There is a virtual reality product from HTC known as ‘HTC Vive’. It is a headset with two hand-held devices and some sensors that are placed around the whole room so that your movements can be tracked. In partnership with the company ‘Valve’, HTC creates games that can be scaled to the whole room.


It has a virtual reality product known by the name ‘Samsung Gear’. It works with the latest Samsung phones. When you slide a Samsung phone into the holder of the headset, it acts as a computer device. At present, there are only gaming apps available on it.


There is a virtual reality product from Nvidia known as ‘VRWorks’. It is a development suite for building a variety of virtual reality apps. It helps developers to create imagery of high resolution and lower latency. It provides quicker image adjustments as per the user’s head movement and the imaging itself is more realistic.

Challenges Faced With Virtual Reality

There are various challenges that need to be addressed in the field of virtual reality. Some major problems are highlighted below:

  • High Cost
  • Out-of-reach technology
  • Computer dependency
  • Bandwidth intensive
  • Latency
  • Scarce/custom content
  • Big virtual reality headsets
  • Health concerns
  • Compatibility
  • Security

Virtual reality is yet to achieve its full potential. It requires more powerful computing resources. The overall concept of virtual reality is more promising, and it is also true that the expectations of customers are more demanding. Virtual reality requires just the right mix of hardware, software and the content in order to get a smooth virtual reality experience. There is still more time for virtual reality to become a mainstream technology.

Virtual reality is yet to achieve its full potential. It requires more powerful computing resources. The overall concept of virtual reality is more promising, and it is also true that the expectations of customers are more demanding. Virtual reality requires just the right mix of hardware, software, and content in order to get a smooth virtual reality experience. There is still more time for virtual reality to become a mainstream technology.

  • Visuals
  • Haptics
  • Audio
  • Tracking
  • Interactivity
  • Noise cancellation Visuals
  • Content
  • Social presence
  • User experience
  • Heavy device
  • Power source
  • Health concerns
  • Legal issues
  • Consumer awareness

What is Virtual Reality Systems?

Virtual reality systems present a virtual world that appears real to its viewers. There are a variety of virtual reality systems; however, they all have the same characteristic of enabling a person to view computer-generated 3D images. These images appear to be ‘life-sized’ to a person.

The goal is to have a seamless mix of the user’s head and eye movement and the corresponding appropriate response. This makes sure that the presented virtual environment appears to be realistic and enjoyable. There should be real-time coordination between the user’s actions and the corresponding virtual system responses.

There should not be any noticeable delay in the response; otherwise, the user’s experience would be disrupted and the virtual environment created by the virtual reality system would not appear to be realistic to its users. If there is any latency in the response, the virtual reality system would not be truly interactive with the user.

Virtual Reality Devices

A virtual reality device is used to provide a virtual or realistic environment to its wearer. As mentioned earlier, virtual reality devices are widely used in almost all the fields such as education and gaming. Due to several benefits, virtual reality devices are growing in large numbers. Some devices need a powerful PC whereas some work even with smartphones.

Some are purely virtual reality devices and some are mixed reality devices:

Google Cardboard

Google cardboard, created by Google, is a virtual reality platform that is used with a head mount attached to a smartphone. This low-cost platform is created to arouse people’s interest in the development and use of VR applications. It offers a good starting point to experience virtual reality. Google cardboard is entirely made of grooved paper.

Samsung Gear

Samsung Gear provides an exciting virtual reality experience to its users while watching movies, playing games, etc. There is no need to plug the headset into a PC or a gaming console. It works only with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 series of smartphones. It can be bought for just $199 (price may vary). It is considered to be an entry-level virtual reality device.

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality device .which has advanced display technology integrated with its precise and low-latency constellation tracking system. It gives users a sense of presence that he/she is there. It has an external tracking camera so the user can move along the length of the cable. It can be used only with a PC. There is no mobile version available.

HTC Vive

HTC and Valve Corporation developed a virtual reality headset known as HTC VIVE. It is considered to be a competitor to the Oculus Rift. This headset is developed using room-scale technology which can transform a room into 3D space using sensors. It is also to be used with a PC. There is no mobile version available. It is developed in partnership with Valve technology. It has a sensing capability of room scale.

Sony Playstation

Sony PlayStation is a virtual headset that is compatible with the popular home video game console PlayStation 4 (PS4). The PlayStation virtual reality system is capable of displaying a picture simultaneously with both PlayStation virtual reality headset and a television. The television can either mirror the picture shown on the headset or show a mutually exclusive picture for competitive or supportive gameplay. It seems to be gaining popularity due to its compatibility with PS4 and because of its low price. It costs $399 (price may vary). You must have a PS4 to experience it.

Google Daydream View

Google Daydream View is the first virtual reality headset that allows users to set up virtual reality cinema and play games in a highly interactive manner. According to Google, it is nearly 30% lighter than virtual reality headsets that are available in the mobile segment. At present, it is compatible with only a few smartphones. It is priced at $79 (price may vary).

Microsoft Hololens

Microsoft HoloLens is also a kind of virtual reality device that brings together people, places, and objects from the real world and digital worlds. It is developed by the well-known IT giant Microsoft. It does not require a PC to experience virtual reality. It is available only in the developer edition. No retail version is out there. It is a bit heavy device that uses its holographic processing unit.

Fove 0

Fove 0 is a virtual reality device having the distinctive feature of ‘Interactive Eye-Tracking’. This makes it different from other virtual reality devices. It knows exactly what the user is looking at. Thus, it offers more realism. It is lightweight, yet offers better efficiency. It aims to explore a medical condition with the movement or behavior of the eye.

Razer Osvr Hdk 2

OSVR stands for Open Source Virtual Reality Hacker Developer Kit. The OSVR project aims to add the capability to headsets and game controllers such that they can be used with any game irrespective of the vendors of the headsets and controllers. The OSVR has two components which are open-source hardware and open-source software. The hardware comprises a virtual reality device known as Hacker Development Kit or HDK which costs around $199. It can be used with a PC as well as a mobile phone. You can also add controllers to it. It is targeted more toward hackers and developers.

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