Which industries will the VR disrupt virtual reality?

Virtual reality : The 360-degree computer world

Do you remember Geordi La Forge - known from the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation"? Most likely not. But maybe because of his chic, silver glasses: the VISOR. Thanks to the eye attachment, which is reminiscent of ultra-modern glasses with lamellas, the commander of the spaceship USS Enterprise could see. Geordi La Forge was blind from birth.

More than 20 years after the end of the legendary science fiction series, more and more so-called "virtual reality glasses" are coming onto the market. At the current Consumer Electronics Show (CES) they are the absolute hit. However, unlike Geordi La Forge's glasses, they do not support eyesight. Instead, however, they allow the user to immerse themselves in a virtual world that can hardly be more real.

Virtual reality - the concept

The functional principle of virtual reality glasses is quickly explained - but the technology behind them is highly complex. The actual glasses (or headset) are equipped with two individual displays, which are positioned a short distance in front of the user's eyes. Thanks to a special display form and using lenses (similar to binoculars), the displays fill almost the entire viewing angle of the human eye. Means: No matter where the user looks, he sees a computer-generated world.

The headset's displays are protected from outside light. Movements of the eyes and head are tracked by sensors in the headset - a computer calculates a realistic reaction of the virtual world shown on the displays within a few milliseconds.

The screens are also staggered - creating a 3D effect for the viewer. An extremely high pixel density and a computer world created in all directions creates a deceptively real reality - only completely virtual. The user can literally immerse himself in the action, look around freely in 3D worlds and, depending on the model and connected technology, even interact with the virtual content.

A new megatrend

Virtual Reality has been the new trend in the gaming world for years. Game developers are working on ever finer and more realistic computer worlds, but so far these have always been tied to the screen. Virtual reality, on the other hand, enables a much more intense gaming experience.

Meanwhile, a whole range of companies are about to launch their own virtual reality glasses.

Nevertheless, the technology is still comparatively young. Industry pioneer Oculus kicked off the trend in 2013. Just one year later, Facebook bought the American start-up for around 2.3 billion US dollars. Sony is pursuing similar plans with Project Morpheus for its Playstation 4 stationary game console.

Google's Cardboard and Samsung's Gear VR take a different approach: Their headsets are only used as mounts for smartphones. Special software then uses the mobile phone display as a gateway to the virtual worlds.

Many more question marks

The virtual world seems all too tempting. However, there are sometimes considerable differences between the individual models - also in terms of price. At around 20 euros, Google's Cardboard is unbeatable: However, it is largely made of cardboard and must first be put together by the buyer.

Samsung's Gear VR has a similar operating principle but is made of significantly higher quality material - but it also has its price at around 150 euros. Both models, however, are pure brackets. Compatible cell phones should therefore ideally already be available.

But not only the list of suitable smartphone models is short: Hardly any programs and games support the virtual worlds: So far, Google's "Android Playstore" only contains a small number of mostly simple animations or short games. Apple has not yet offered any mounts for its iPhones.

A powerful computer is a must

In contrast, the "real" virtual reality headset from Oculus is significantly more expensive. Oculus' first virtual reality glasses "Oculus Rift" can be introduced since yesterday. We won't deliver the headset until the beginning of May.

Official information on the final price is not yet available - for pre-orderers from Germany the glasses cost around 750 euros - including shipping and customs. The enormously high price caused harsh criticism in social networks: the two developer versions cost only half at 300 and 350 euros.

However, the price of the final version includes a controller for operating the headset and two games. Manufacturer Oculus announced that the sale of the headset will initially not make a profit but will only cover the development costs.

Instead of the cell phone, a computer connected by cable takes over the calculation of the virtual world. However, this must be equipped with very powerful hardware. Due to the complex technology and the high resolution of the two displays, the computer has to provide up to seven times more power than a conventional computer game. Oculus warns: this is hardly possible with a laptop.

Industry experts assume that just one percent of all computers worldwide can provide this enormous performance. In return, the virtual world at Oculus should appear all the more realistic and natural. There are also significantly more applications available with Oculus. In addition to various game developers, the American streaming service Netflix has announced its own software for the virtual experience.

Microsoft is expanding reality

The computer giant Microsoft is taking a completely different path. His "Hololens" headset has a transparent field of vision. A connected computer calculates the exact position and distance of objects, for example in a room, by evaluating sensor data from the glasses.

Software can then display interactive 3D projections in the immediate vicinity. These are only visible through the glasses of the glasses. However, the projections do not represent holograms and are not represented by pixels or grids, but by projected points of light.

The user can interact with the 3D projections using gestures, language, head and eye movements. This technology is also referred to as "augmented reality" through projection. However, the technology is still under development. From the first quarter of this year, Hololens should be available - for at least 2,700 euros.

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