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It’s been an interesting year for entertainment, and the next few years promise to be even more curious, as virtual reality goes beyond that of science fiction into something real and usable thanks to Samsung and Oculus.
What is VR?
You’ve probably seen the term over the year, and the initialism pops up more often than the term itself, but you might not quite understand what VR is.
Simply put, “VR” translates to “virtual reality”, and the name couldn’t be more indicative of what the topic is.
Basically, it is a world shown to you that is so enveloping, you believe — even temporarily — that it’s your own world.
Messing with one’s senses isn’t easy to do, and so to make virtual reality happen, you wear a headset that pushes a screen close to your eyes. When you do that, a small screen can look large, so large it can appear like a massive movie theatre, which was the case with the old head-mounted displays.
But VR goes a little further than that, utilising movement sensors like a compass and accelerometer to change your position in the virtual world. This means instead of looking at one thing and having that travel with your head, as was the case with the classic head-mounted display, when you turn in the VR world, the device picks up on that position and moves you in the 3D world, shifting your direction so that the world rotates around you.
This neat trickery not only gives you a greater world to look through — one might say a virtual world, even — but also convinces you temporarily that you are somewhere else.
Developers have to be a little playful to make apps and games work in this way, because typically they’re designing for one view, not a 360 degree video, and even filmmakers have to shake up their directorial skills, because in that medium, the view is everywhere and not one location.
Still, over the past few years since Oculus first popped up on Kickstarter promising to revive the VR movement of the 90s, and then subsequently was bought out by Facebook, the virtual reality effort has been in full swing.
What is the Gear VR?
Gear VR is Samsung’s attempt to capitalise on the virtual reality movement ahead of other players, because while game makers Sony and Valve are each working on separate devices designed to talk to consoles and PCs, Samsung wants to use the devices it’s already selling to consumers.
Specifically, Samsung wants to leverage the powerful screens used in its smartphones to make virtual reality possible.
That’s important, too, because virtual reality needs a good screen.
We talk about screen technology in our reviews because it’s significant, not just from a picture point of view, but for your eyes. In theory, there’s a technical limit to what our eyes can see, but better screens are better overall.