The Realities of Virtual Reality: Pros and Cons
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Virtual reality allows people to experience the world in ways they never could before. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stand on top of a waterfall, fly with the birds, or visit Paris for a couple of hours? VR technology gives you the ability to go on adventures and travel around the world—even outer space—without leaving the comfort of your home.
Although this may seem futuristic or inaccessible, there’s a solid chance virtual reality is in your life already. For instance, many video games allow players to engage with virtual worlds and characters, using VR technology to make the experience feel more real.
In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of virtual reality technology, its limitations, and what the future holds. Let’s dive deeper into the realities of VR.
What is Virtual Reality? Understanding the Meaning of VR
Virtual reality (VR) refers to a computer-generated simulation or recreation of a three-dimensional (3D) environment that users can interact with using specialized hardware and software, such as a VR headset or helmet. This technology creates an immersive illusion that the user is somewhere else.
There are three types of virtual reality: non-immersive VR, semi-immersive VR, and fully-immersive VR. Each one offers varying levels of immersion and interaction, catering to different use cases and budget considerations.
Here’s an overview of each:
Also known as desktop or 3D VR, non-immersive VR is the most basic form of virtual reality. In this type, users experience virtual environments through a computer screen or a handheld device, such as a smartphone or tablet. This means that users can view the virtual world on a screen and observe their real-world surroundings simultaneously. Some examples of non-immersive VR include virtual tours, 360-degree videos, and flight or driving simulators.
Semi-immersive VR offers a more immersive experience than non-immersive VR but does not fully engulf users in a virtual environment. In this type, you typically wear a head-mounted display (HMD) that covers only part of your field of view. The HMD may include motion tracking, allowing you to look around the virtual space by moving your head. However, your body movements are not fully tracked, which can limit the level of immersion. Applications of semi-immersive VR include gaming experiences and training applications where you can interact with virtual environments through your head movements.
The third type of VR—fully immersive—provides the highest level of immersion and presence, offering a realistic and seamless virtual experience. For this type, you can wear special head-mounted displays (HMDs) or VR goggles that cover your eyes and ears. These allow for 360-degree view and sound, which creates a real sense of presence within the virtual world. The displays also typically have high-resolution screens for each eye that can help enhance depth perception. With this gear, you can interact with the virtual environment using both head and body movements. Some fully-immersive VR setups include additional accessories, such as motion controllers or haptic feedback devices, to further enhance the experience.
Examples of fully-immersive VR include high-end gaming experiences, virtual simulations for medical training or pilot training, and advanced architectural visualization tools that allow users to walk through virtual buildings.
What Is Augmented Reality?
While augmented reality (AR) often comes up in conversations about VR, there are notable differences between the two. The underlying technology is, in fact, closely intertwined, but AR is basically the cousin of virtual reality. AR’s defining characteristic is that it still has one foot in the real world. The technology is used to simulate artificial objects within reality, meaning objects and images are placed in the real world. Virtual reality, however, doesn’t feature any existent territory and instead happens within an entirely artificial environment.
One of the most well-known examples of AR is the game Pokémon Go. In it, you can walk around your neighborhood while virtually catching Pokémon.
It’s worth noting that although VR and AR are different, they can be used together. For example, both are fields of the Metaverse, which you can learn more about here.
What Are the Best Things About Fully-Immersive Virtual Reality?
VR technology, when used for good purposes, can offer endless possibilities, opportunities, and excitement. It can benefit a wide range of fields and industries, such as education, medicine, architecture, and entertainment. The technology can also simulate senses such as hearing, touch, and even smell.
Below, we’re breaking down some of the main advantages of virtual reality.
The VR world enables interactive and experiential learning, making education more engaging and enjoyable. Complex subjects can be simplified and presented in a visually stimulating manner, leading to better retention and understanding. Plus, it’s possible to conduct activities virtually; teachers can lead virtual excursions for educational purposes. Many schools are already taking advantage of these capabilities to enrich lesson plans.
Entertainment and gaming
The world of gaming has been revolutionized by virtual reality. VR gaming allows people to place themselves in a game as if they were one of the characters. It’s an entirely new level of immersion and interaction. Now, players can be fully engaged in a game's world, leading to enhanced enjoyment and a more memorable gaming experience.
Training and education
VR has proven to be highly effective for training in various industries, such as healthcare, aviation, military, and manufacturing. It allows trainees to practice and simulate real-life scenarios in a safe and controlled environment, improving their skills and decision-making abilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry utilized VR for training workers in infection control protocols and personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.
Experiencing adrenaline without any risk is also a VR benefit. You can get an adrenaline rush from “riding” rollercoasters, bungee jumping, scuba diving, or skydiving while avoiding the danger or risk associated with these activities.
In the realm of architecture and real estate, VR allows stakeholders to take virtual walkthroughs of buildings and spaces before they are constructed. This helps with identifying design flaws, making informed decisions, and offering clients a more realistic preview of future projects.
Design and prototyping
Virtual reality facilitates the creation of virtual prototypes for various products and designs. Designers and engineers can test and refine their ideas before moving to physical production, which can help reduce costs and time-to-market.
Accessibility and inclusivity
When it comes to accessibility and inclusivity, virtual reality can be a valuable asset for individuals with physical disabilities. VR developers can incorporate accessibility features, such as text-to-speech, closed captioning, and customizable user interfaces, to cater to a broader audience. This VR world allows users to experience movements and explore virtual environments without physical limitations. They can travel, explore, and participate in activities that may not be feasible in the real world.
For education purposes, VR can cater to different learning styles and abilities. You can use it to provide interactive learning experiences and make complex concepts more understandable and engaging for students with learning challenges. Social interaction can also be improved since VR allows people to connect and interact in virtual spaces—this could be especially beneficial for individuals who have social anxieties or physical limitations that can hinder face-to-face interactions.
What Are the Negative Aspects of Fully-Immersive VR?
As we’ve outlined, there are plenty of positives that come with virtual reality. But it’s smart to understand potential challenges and negative aspects as well. For instance, VR can cause motion sickness and eye damage due to extended use of the devices.
Let’s dive into some of the negatives below:
Motion sickness and discomfort
Motion sickness can be a potential hazard of virtual reality. VR headsets play tricks on your senses, and the mismatch between body movements and what you see in the virtual world can cause dizziness and nausea. Additionally, VR may cause eye strain due to the immense visual stimuli that often exist in virtual experiences. This can lead to eye damage over time.
Content quality and control
The quality of VR content can vary significantly, and some experiences may contain inappropriate or disturbing content, especially in unregulated environments. Ensuring content is appropriate for different age groups can be challenging.
VR also allows people to be whoever they want to be. Though this can be viewed as a good thing, somebody could take advantage of this ability for deceptive purposes. And, it’s important to note, VR systems are not immune to cybersecurity threats.
Costs and (lack of) accessibility
High-quality VR experiences usually require expensive equipment, including powerful computers and VR headsets. This makes VR inaccessible to a lot of people. As technology rapidly advances, newer and better VR hardware is regularly released. Staying up-to-date with the latest VR technology often requires continuous upgrades, leading to additional expenses.
Extensive use of VR can lead to social isolation and less human contact, with users becoming engrossed in virtual worlds. People can end up neglecting their real lives, the real world, and the people in it.
Keep in mind, not everyone will experience the negative aspects of virtual reality technology, and advancements in technology and user experiences may help address some of these issues over time. Understanding these potential drawbacks can help users make informed decisions about their VR usage.
The Future of Virtual Reality
The future of virtual reality (VR) holds tremendous potential, and we can expect a lot of exciting developments and advancements. Some things to look forward to:
- AI and VR integration: Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a significant role in creating dynamic and adaptive VR experiences. AI algorithms can personalize content based on user behavior, preferences, and real-time interactions, making VR applications more engaging and tailored to individual users.
- Expanded applications in education and training: It is likely that VR will find broader applications in education and professional training. It will be used not only for medical simulations and pilot training but also for soft skills development, team-building exercises, and language learning.
- Entertainment and gaming: VR gaming will continue to grow, with more sophisticated and interactive experiences and scenarios becoming available. Game developers are likely to invest in VR titles, pushing the boundaries of storytelling, graphics, and gameplay.
- Enhanced hardware: In terms of the hardware used, future VR devices will probably become more lightweight, comfortable, and user-friendly. Advancements in display technology may lead to higher resolutions, wider field-of-view, and reduced motion sickness.
As technology continues to evolve, the lines between the types of VR may blur, and VR experiences are likely to become even more realistic and accessible. Also, in the future, we can expect to see mixed-reality experiences where users will be able to seamlessly interact with virtual objects and environments superimposed on the real world. This will create new possibilities for gaming, education, and work applications. And through all of this, having a strong Internet connection and good mobile service will be more necessary than ever.
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