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Virtual reality: the journey has begun

Avatar, Matrix, Total Challenge, eXistenZ, Tron… For many years, cinema has dealt with the subject of virtual reality from many different angles and perspectives. In most of the movies, especially those from the 90s and 2000s, our desires, doubts and fears of what that new world of virtual reality would be, a world where people interact in a fictitious environment – but apparently real- generated by computer technology .

Virtual reality was a technological trend that, in the past, never really caught on. Over the last 30 years, the failures due to rather crazy systems meant that this technology never really caught on in the market. However, nowadays, with the arrival of another reality, augmented reality (later we will discuss the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality), technological innovations and the growing popularity of Oculus Rift headsets, it seems that this technology is making a comeback. Have a golden opportunity to consolidate.

This is what the specialized media, manufacturers and video game creators think, at least, who agree that 2016 is going to be a key year. The big technology companies, such as Facebook, Samsung or Sony, do not want to be left behind and have already presented their own devices. In this article we will try to explain what virtual reality is and how it works.

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality (or VR, in English) is the sensation of being immersed in an environment with objects or scenes that appear real but are generated by a computer. This technology immerses the user in a 360º virtual environment and makes him believe that he is part of it. To achieve this, it makes use of various technological devices, such as virtual reality viewers (helmets, glasses).

For example, when we play a video game we do it looking at the screen, outside of it. By putting on a VR headset, we immediately put ourselves in the middle of the scene, as if we were inside the same screen, inside the game. For this reason it is said that thanks to virtual reality we can enter a world different from ours.

The world of video games -where the user experience is more real than ever thanks to the levels of realism reached- is the spearhead to introduce VR in society and consolidate it, but there are many other areas that will change due to the virtual reality. Thus, it can be used for other purposes, such as medical (therapies for mental or physical illnesses), training (in the sports or military field), in aviation, in advanced journalism (the United Nations recently released a VR film about the life of a girl in Syria) or for brand promotion (the firm Leroy Merlin has recently incorporated immersion into its catalog with the Oculus Rift headset).

Virtual reality technology is increasing by leaps and bounds. Currently, devices have already gone on sale to experience it with the help of mobile phones and during 2016 it is expected that very powerful VR headsets will go on sale for everyone, such as the Oculus Rift itself. Meanwhile, if we want to try this new experience, we will have to settle for going to video game fairs or conferences, where we can test these new “toys” freely.

Differences between virtual reality and augmented reality

VR should not be confused with other interactive experiences such as augmented reality, which is a digital projection method that projects images onto what is already around us. That is, it does not create a new alternative reality, but rather adds information to what already exists . A good example of this is what Google Glass does, which provides information, graphics or images superimposed on the real environment, in such a way that it enriches it.

Augmented reality is becoming more widely available as it requires less investment than virtual reality. Microsoft is also currently working on this technology and will soon launch HoloLens glasses , and many brands of all kinds are beginning to use it, such as Disney, which has developed an app for iOS and Android capable of turning any drawing into an animated object to be displayed on the screen of a mobile device.

Devices to experience virtual reality

As we have already mentioned, to enjoy virtual reality you need a virtual reality viewer to reproduce it. In general, it is a small helmet that covers the part of the eyes in which the images are emitted, capable of detecting and capturing the movements of the head. Each eye has a separate screen, which is better perceived 3D sensation.

The Oculus Rift is the goggle that sparked interest in the technology back in September 2012. While still in development, they’ve come a long way thanks to their purchase by Facebook in 2014, and the brand is due to release a version for the general public with an affordable price (there is talk of around €300) for the beginning of 2016.

The Oculus Rift will come with a console controller as the basic form of VR control. However, the company has assured that it is developing a more advanced controller that it will launch in the middle of next year and that will allow us to see our own hands in the virtual world.

Oculus is the best known platform, but not the only one. Sony’s Project Morpheus headset, Samsung’s Gear VR headset, and HTC’s Vive system will also hit the market over the next year. Virtual reality is one of the great priorities of Facebook and other networks such as YouTube and Periscope, as can be seen with the announcement of the possibility of sharing 360º videos on the social network in the future. Another giant, Google, has in mind that it could be used in schools to travel in other countries and see other cultures, and Samsung is studying offering immersive movies and videos with its viewer.

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