You are reading this book to learn to make Virtual Reality (VR), but what is Virtual Reality?
It seems like a simple enough question, but the answer is all over the map. Most people think VR means virtually real or alternate reality.
That is not what Virtual Reality is.
I think this is because the word virtual can mean several different things. To a computer scientist, the word virtual means something that simulates the thing it virtualizes. In other words, a virtual hard drive pretends to be a hard drive.
The virtual object acts like it is real, but it isn't--frequently, its more flexible and easier to control, modify, and support than a physical object. In many ways, it is better than the physical object. A virtual disk, for example, acts just like a computer disk. It can store data. Yet that data could be on a physical spinning disk, in a solid-state drive, or even in memory. The virtual disk can be resized, whereas a physical disk can only be copied to a larger (or smaller) disk. A virtual disk is more flexible.
Some people think virtual means almost. If a Tesla drives by, they might say, "That's virtually noiseless!" People know it's not really noiseless, but it is much quieter than a big V8 driving by. Or, that person is a virtual saint about a person they like. In this case, it means nearly or in all but name.
Virtual can also mean someone with virtue. A person who behaves ethically is virtual, although this is not the normal usage of the word (virtuous would be). This is where the word came from; in Latin virtualis means strength or virtue. Yet, in our case, we mean something that seems real, but isn't.
I think this is the misconception about Virtual Reality. People think it means almost real. Many people think VR isn't there yet because it doesn't look nearly like the real world. It will be quite some time before the view through a VR headsets looks just like the real world; other senses, especially touch and taste may take quite a while until they can be simulated.
Yet, this is not the point; the point with Virtual Reality isn't that it's nearly real. The point is, when you are in it, it seems real, even if it looks nothing like reality.
I'll say this again as it's an important distinction. Virtual Reality, or for that matter Augmented Reality, doesn't need to be nearly real, but it will seem real when you are in it (even if it doesn't remotely look real).
By the end of this chapter, you'll learn:
- What Virtual Reality is and how it works
- Some of the history of VR -it's not new, the technology is over 50 years old!
- User agency - interacting with the world through controllers
- Rendering hardware
- How to view VR
- Types of headsets