Virtual reality (VR) seems to hold the promise of an immersive experience. The entertainment industry seem to be the most enthusiastic about VR, as VR games and virtual worlds are promoted for audience engagement. Virtual tours of museums, art galleries, tourist sites and other locations in and out of this world can be experienced. And on a serious note, VR can be used to advance the fields of design, manufacturing, engineering, medicine, education and training. Some of these VR experiences can be seen on a desktop computer, while others need a VR headset for viewing. A full immersive experience would include a headset (a head-mounted display) and other wearable devices.
Figure 1: Virtual reality experience in a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment
Virtual reality (VR) has been seen as a tool for simulation in computer-generated settings where users act in real-time at artificial locations interacting synchronously via an interface that can track and display the users actions (Innocenti, 2017). As Yang, Chen, & Jeng (2010) note VR is a highly interactive environment where users interact with various stimuli in the computer-generated world or virtual world. VR devices allows a user to experience the virtual environment as the devices senses the real-time reactions and motions of the user, creating the illusion of interacting and being immersed in the virtual world (Tussyadiah, Wang, Jung, & tom Dieck, 2018). The immersive nature of virtual environments is more obvious in a 3-dimensional environment.
Types of Virtual Reality Environments
There are two types of environments for the application of virtual reality technology which Innocenti (2017) differentiates by the degree of immersion of the user, as follows:
1. Low-immersive virtual environments (LIVE) which are computer screen-based renderings of real environments or virtual worlds, where users interact through avatars embodying their virtual selves. Examples are Second Life, World of Warcraft, EverQuest, The Sims.
2. High-immersive virtual environments (HIVE) which are enclosed boxes or head-mounted displays (HMD) projecting images on multiple interior screens, or specialized displays in a Cave Automatic Virtual Environment. HMD such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard, or augmented or mixed reality devices, like Microsoft Holographic and HoloLens headsets are equipment used for these virtual worlds. The technical equipment which includes head- phones, body trackers, gloves or touch controller, enables interaction in the virtual world as users' senses are stimulated in the virtual worlds (Innocenti, 2017).
Virtual reality applications can also be differentiated as Desktop Virtual Reality and Wearable Virtual Reality (Yang, Chen, & Jeng, 2010). Yang, Chen, & Jeng (2010) note that:
- Desktop VR is associated with low-immersive virtual environments, but costs less and can be adopted to educational settings.
- Wearable VR uses wearable devices such as HMD, trackers, and sensors to detect users' interactions. These are sensitive and yet heavy and expensive devices.
Wearable VR, specifically the head-mounted display (HMD) devices can be further differentiated. Tussyadiah, Wang, Jung, & tom Dieck, (2018) divides these headsets as follows as they elaborate:
- Untethered headsets (mobile VR). A mobile device, such as a smartphone owned by most people, is used for display in these headsets. However, the quality of the mobile device's processing power for real-time 3D content may be a limitation. These mobile VR headsets include Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and Google Daydream.
- Tethered devices. These headsets contain a display and normally come with internal and/or external sensors to track the user's position. A personal computer (PC) is needed to process the graphics to ensure superior quality, as well as real-time tracking and interactions, and the user is attached to the PC via a cable. These devices include the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR.
Equipment for Virtual Reality Environments
From the description of LIVE and HIVE, can you list the equipment required for a VR experience. Check your list against the equipment listed in this article.
Yang, J. C., Chen, C. H. & Jeng M. C. (2010). Integrating video-capture virtual reality technology into a physically interactive learning environment for English learning. Computers & Education 55, 1346–1356