How Does Virtual Reality Work?

by Ezmeralda Lee

From the silent movie and black and white era through full color and 3D animation, virtual reality has come a long way. Electronic and computer engineers are in continuous pursuit of new ways to dramatically enhance the virtual reality experience. But what is virtual reality, and how does virtual reality work? While there is more than one definition of virtual reality, possibly the simplest and perhaps, a reasonable definition reads like this--in essence, virtual reality is a 3-dimensional, computer-generated graphic representation of objects or scenes with the aim of giving the viewer an illusionary sense that such objects or scenes exist in reality. Virtual reality has been designed to address one or more of our senses--visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (feel) and olfactory (smell). As of now, computer and electronic scientists and engineers are working on a system that will include the sense of taste.

It is important to note that for the creation of a virtual world, several technologies are needed, each of which, have advanced technologically and separately. However, the very basis of virtual reality is a combination of hardware, software and electronics. These are the three primary computer related technologies that combine to make virtual reality work. For virtual reality to work, there are three imperatives--a computer, special software and the individual user. There are various input devices to greatly enhance the virtual reality experience and make it work--items such as helmets, glasses, joysticks, mice and wands. These input devices are designed to record and measure electronic signals and convert them into a physical world. The output devices permit the user's brain to process the computer-generated physical world that is created. The user then simultaneously interacts with this physical world while his or her brain interprets the sensory data. The main power of a virtual reality system is the reality engine. This engine is designed to process the information and create the virtual world. It can either be made up by a group of computers, or one powerful computer. This is because the reality engine is required to generate complex graphics.

While there are highly advanced helmets hooked to powerful computers to experience virtual reality, the most common item to enjoy virtual reality is a visor that wraps entirely round the normal field of vision of the user. On activation of the virtual reality system, the computer displays or projects visual, 3-dimensional objects or scenes within the visor which are entirely different than what the user would usually see in normal computer-generated viewing. The most enjoyable part of this virtual reality experience is due to a number of motion sensors that are built into the visor. These motion sensors match every movement of the user, for example, if the user turns or tilts his head or moves his body in any way, the display within the projector will do likewise. This will create the illusion to the user and make him feel that he is actually moving around within the 3-dimensional world of the computer.

The sole objective of virtual reality is to give the user an environment as realistic as possible and a thrilling sensory experience. The technology of virtual reality is advancing rapidly and it won't be long before it becomes a most exciting source of entertainment in our homes.