Until recently, virtual reality was a pipe dream for storytellers and engineers. In his 1935 short tale Pygmalion’s Spectacles, American science fiction writer Stanley G Weinbaum described something resembling virtual reality.
Since Ludwig’s magical spectacles were published, there have been decades of experimentation with virtual reality, from the first head-mounted VR system in the late 1960s to the first commercial products in the 1980s – not to mention Hollywood’s interpretation in the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man, which shaped mainstream perceptions of virtual reality, or VR, for some time afterward.
The modern era of virtual reality began in 2010 when an American adolescent constructed the first prototype of a VR headgear that would eventually become the Oculus Rift. Two years later, he launched a $250,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding effort to commercialize it, and after $2.4 million in contributions, the tech industry’s interest in VR was reignited. Two years later, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was a big fan of the Rift.
Since then, a number of rivals have arisen, ranging from the HTC Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR to smartphone-powered headgear like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard. Meanwhile, hundreds of developers are creating VR games and applications, filmmakers are investigating the possibilities for documentaries and animation, and Facebook and YouTube have joined on board with 360-degree movies.
But where should you begin if you’re new to virtual reality? Here’s all you need to know about hardware, applications, and games in the absence of a passing professor with magical specifications.
The headset, which looks like a thick pair of goggles that fits over your eyes, is the most significant element of virtual reality equipment. The more costly, higher-quality headsets require a computer connection to operate apps and games, although some of the less expensive ones use a cellphone hooked to the front of the headset.
All headsets must be worn in conjunction with a decent pair of headphones, and various optional equipment ranging from hand controls to treadmills are available to improve your virtual sensation of being in another world. Hand controllers, as well as typical gaming joypads, transform your real-world motions into any game or program you’re playing.
VR systems, like smartphones, have their own app stores where you can explore and download games and apps. Some of these stores are accessible via the device itself, while others, such as the VR part of the Steam digital games store, may be accessed via your computer.
The Oculus Rift
The first commercial version of the Oculus Rift was released in early 2016, four years after its first crowdfunding effort, and was initially offered through the Oculus VR website before gradually making its way to stores across the world.
Using the Oculus Rift required a powerful PC. The official website lists the minimal specifications for an Oculus-Ready PC, with Dell, HP, Alienware, and Asus all selling VR-ready computers. Oculus VR has also released Rift PC packages, such as the $2,050 Alienware deal.
However, Oculus has now revealed that owing to “asynchronous spacewarp” technology, the Rift will now function with PCs for as little as $500.