Virtual reality 101

September 16, 2015
Julianna Longo

Matrix and Second Life. That’s when I first heard about virtual reality and must confess: they both confused me to the point where I put them in the box of things too complicated to try to understand. It took me a long time to figure that a virtual world experience could in fact enhance journalism and storytelling. In my mind one thing was diversion and the other a “serious” business.

Google's virtual reality cardboard mount aims to democratize VR everywhere.

Google’s virtual reality cardboard mount aims to democratize VR everywhere.

More than 10 years later here I am in my second week of classes at Northeastern University trying to get the necessary courage to plunge and join the team of content developers for VR devices.

As a result of my frantic efforts to better understand virtual reality I found out tones of information about the history of virtual reality, the how and why major players are investing hard on the field. I bought my first Google Cardboard and discovered how incredible researches are linking the fields of psychology and education to virtual reality. But I also noticed that the industry is still running against the clock to perfect the hardware needed to provide a fully immersive VR experience.

Here is a compilation of the answers to the basic questions I have been asking the Web (and everyone I know) in order to understand the current affairs of virtual reality. I’ll keep my post short and provide interesting links on the subject. If you are like me and incapable of seeing a link without clicking it, you should have a pretty good notion of virtual reality by the end of this. 

How virtual reality works?

The key word here is telepresence: the combination of immersion and interactivity. Imagine a 3D movie. With VR you are inside the movie and the movement of your head and body controls what you see. Also, you can interact with objects and the surroundings of that particular virtual world.

Technically, in order to make virtual reality films you need a “360°, stereoscopic 3-D camera system and an audio system that can record sound from all around”. That is the very reduced version of the technicalities of it, since the production and post production of VR film seems to be much more challenging. More on that in later posts.

Who are the major players?

Virtual reality is not a new thing. The recent hype is mainly due to some big names in the industry investing on hardware and software for VR. Facebook recently bought Oculus Rift for $ 2 billion, Project Morpheus by Sony will be release in early 2016 and reviewers say it is the best so far to deliver virtual reality for console gamers.

Microsoft works on HoloLens, which focus more on augmented than virtual reality. Samsung was the first to put its product in the market with Gear VR. Samsung’s potential competitive edge might be in the portability of the product, since developers for Oculus Rift are trying to make the head mounting device lighter while Sony and Microsoft’s devices only work with Xbox and PlayStation.

Then there is Google Cardboard with a different strategy: a device made of cardboard that costs about $5 and an open-source development app.

What are some of the industries VR might disrupt?

Tourism

Education

Film

Social Media

Journalism

Stay tuned for more talks on virtual reality!

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