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How do virtual reality headsets work?

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Virtual reality (VR) is currently the fastest growing content segment in the world.

According to PwC research, VR content will grow at a compound annual rate of 30% between 2021 and 2025, surpassing over-the-top (OTT) video, video games, and even traditional movies.

VR headsets allow users to consume VR content by providing an immersive, three-dimensional experience.

What is a virtual reality headset?

A VR headset is a head-mounted device with a display screen, stereo sound, sensors, and compatible controllers to provide an immersive, interactive audiovisual experience.

When a user wears a VR headset, they can no longer see the world around them, but instead see what is projected onto their display screen, such as a 360-degree video or VR game, workspace, or conference room for other activities. Only VR content is displayed.

Unlike augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) headsets, VR headsets do not allow users to see elements of the external physical world.

In addition to the headset itself, users use a series of VR controllers to navigate the experience. As previously mentioned, the device provides an interactive experience, with controllers to point, select, drag and drop, scroll up and down, move between different VR spaces, demarcate, and perform other functions. need.

Most VR headsets on the market use handheld controllers that function similarly to joysticks. More futuristic models may offer haptic gloves that allow users to navigate virtual worlds using fingers, gestures, touch, and other natural movements.

All VR headsets consist of four components:

Basic components of a VR headset

array of sensors

Unlike 2D video, virtual reality is not a passive experience. The user interacts with a virtual world that adapts according to the user’s continuous input.

To achieve this, VR headsets are equipped with a large number of sensors, and some devices are equipped with a 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) system for head tracking.

Using gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other sensors, the 6DoF system tracks your head movements and repositions the display accordingly. Some headsets also have eye-tracking sensors that can understand when your eyes are focused on a VR object or location.

lens and screen

The lens and screen setup is a large part of the VR headset hardware. There is a stereoscopic lens placed between the screen and the eyes, which distorts the image and makes it appear three-dimensional.

Two images pass through a lens, similar to how our eyes perceive and process vision in the real world. Additionally, the images in the VR headset appear to move left and right to recreate his 360-degree experience. This is achieved by subtly moving display content in response to head tracking data.

immersive audio

Stereo audio feeds are sent from two directions, or one to each ear, but in the real world, users experience a much more layered sound experience, where audio is directly linked to their perception of distance and space. To do.

VR headsets mimic this experience using 360-degree or immersive audio technology. Binaural audio is his one such technology. New spatial audio developed by companies such as Apple marks another milestone in VR audio innovation.


Finally, VR headset controllers are the bridge between the real and virtual worlds. Interestingly, apart from the usual set of two handheld controllers that most headsets come with, there are various controllers you can use.

Samsung, for example, offers a one-handed motion controller for its Gear VR kit, and the HTC VIVE also has a one-handed joystick-like controller that comes with a base station to dock them.

Meta is reportedly working on a series of haptic-based controllers that enable pressure-sensitive touch and navigation. Valve Index has also put their own take on a controller that incorporates a clenched fist design.

Understand the capabilities of your VR headset

All these components and sophisticated VR software make the headset work just fine. When the headset boots up, it greets the user with a realistic virtual environment that acts as a lobby, equivalent to a computer’s home page. While there, users can select different apps from this space, hang out with other virtual users, change settings, update their devices, and more.

Images, on the other hand, are fed via video sources such as smartphones, desktops, or a cloud of modern headsets. The lens splits the video image into two and adjusts them into a stereoscopic 3D image displayed on the screen. Thanks to built-in sensors, the environment subtly changes when you look around, change the focus of your eyes, or raise your hand.

Apart from this basic functionality, VR headsets are very powerful. For example, there are productivity apps that let you create product designs in VR and save the designs as 3D files in the cloud. Sophisticated VR headsets feature extremely high screen refresh rates to render and update content instantly.

What Makes a Good VR Headset?

There are several key features that characterize a good VR headset.

● Lightweight form factor – Screens and sensors can add bulk to headsets, and anything heavier than 500-600 grams is typically difficult to use. This is why the current 150-gram weight of Apple’s upcoming mixed reality (MR) headset is a breakthrough.

● Easy-to-use controllers – Controllers inevitably come with lots of buttons, wheels, and sticks to help you navigate in VR. It should be ergonomically designed and offer a seamless user experience.

● Onboard Storage – Most VR headsets rely on the internet and the cloud, but having at least 32GB of onboard storage helps install applications, ensure timely updates, and slow down the system You can save some files without

According to IDC’s December 2021 report, VR headset shipments are expected to reach 13.59 million units worldwide by 2022, after surpassing 9.36 million units in 2021. As demand grows, we expect new innovations that build on these existing core capabilities to create richer, more seamless, and more accessible VR experiences.