How do VR headsets work?

This is a question we’re regularly asked at TheRealitySandwich so in response we’ve written an article about VR and how it can bring to life such fantastic worlds and mind-bending experiences. Firstly to get truly immersed into a virtual world you need the basic elements which together help to conjure up virtual reality and they are a PC/ smart phone, an app/ game, a HMD (head mounted display) and input (such as a controller).

The objective behind all these elements is to create a fully immersive virtual environment (differing to augmented reality which takes your actual world and overlays graphics). So how does it work exactly? Well for those lucky enough to have an Oculus or similar device, video is streamed to the HMD via a cable, whilst those using cheaper versions of a HMD get there input from the slotted smartphone such as an iPhone.

VR headsets use either two LCD displays or two feeds sent to one display. In addition you’ll find there are lenses which are placed between your eyes and the pixels. The reason we see a 3D image is because the headset angles the two different 2D images (one for each eye) to mimic what the eyes would see but changes it slightly to create the illusion of 3D. As well evolved beings we’re not fooled that easily so to create a convincing virtual reality the frame rate for the game or movie must be a minimum of 60 frames per second to trick the eyes.

vr headsetSo now you understand the basic mechanics of VR headsets, what else can they do? Well for a truly immersive experience we want to be able to interact with the environment and for it to move around as we change our direction of vision. starters motion tracking is a powerful addition to the virtual reality experience

Head tracking is one way we can become one with a virtual reality. It works by utilising a system called 6DoF that measures the movement of your head across various axis. Various HMDs use different systems, for example an iPhone will use a gyroscope and an accelerometer whilst Sony’s Morpheus uses LEDs to give a sense of head movement. With the advent of superior technology developers can now also minimise the lag time between the changes to the VR environment and our head movement to give a realistic feel to the scene.

Although motion tracking is in its infancy it’s certainly an area developers are investigating. Imaging moving your head and then looking down and there are your hands swinging by your side. Motion tracking takes VR to another level. One recent innovation – Oculus Touch – is an interesting stab at attempting motion. It uses wireless controller which makes you believe you are controlling your own hands in the artificial reality. Keep your eyes peeled in this area as it’s certainly getting decent levels of investment.

Overall this sector is experiencing some strong investment so expect to see some remarkable software from realistic eye tracking through to fantastic immersive games. The future is certainly bring for VR.